My thoughts: I'm typically a huge fan of historical fiction featuring strong female characters. Yet as I read The Queen's Vow, I struggled to articulate why I wasn't really enjoying it. I read it quickly, and I was impressed with Gortner's use of historical language. This was certainly not a novel guilty of having historical figures speak in modern vernacular. The novel, too, was firmly rooted in its time. Gortner writes with a rich detail about life in 1400's Spain, yet he doesn't treat the reader as dumb. He strikes a delicate balance in this regard. So what is it that kept me from truly immersing myself in this novel? I'm still not sure, but I know this: I didn't quite buy Isabella.
I'm not an expert on Isabella herself, so I won't speak to the historical accuracy of her character. I will, however, speak to Isabella the character. She wasn't particularly likable, which I'm fine with, but she wasn't particularly unlikable either. For a character who is the focus of a book, I typically like to haven a opinion on her. When the book begins, Isabella is a child, and her lack of temperament makes sense. Yet as she ages and accomplished extraordinary things, particularly for a woman of her time, it struck me that the action often happened around her rather than in her or through her. Admittedly, characters who sit by quietly and face inner turmoil over speaking up annoy me, and Isabella's 'gee whiz' attitude was particularly irritating to me. Again, I won't speak to the historical accuracy, as Isabella the character was acting like a woman of her time, yet I'm not convinced she acted as a woman of her status.
The verdict: Despite a strong historical setting and writing, I could never commit to Isabella as a character in this novel. As a character she felt flat, and as she is the focus of this novel, the novel as a whole fell flat for me.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 400 pages
Publication date: June 12, 2012 (it's out in paperback now)
Source: publisher via Historical Fiction Virtual Tours
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