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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting and eloquent portrait of a Spanish queen
I've been waiting for two years for this book, ever since the author announced it on his website. For his second novel, C.W. Gortner turns his masterful pen to Renaissance Spain - a diverse and complex land recently united by the Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. This tale of Spain, which is unfortunately not explored nearly as much as it should be by historical...
Published on 1 Aug 2006 by Paula L. Fener

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well-written story - let down by inaccuracy
Juana of Castile, the Queen of Spain who never ruled, is a fascinating subject for a novel - a life full of intrigue and drama. The second daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sister of Henry V111's queen Katharine of Aragon, she is married at sixteen to the Archduke Philip, heir to the Emperor Maximilian. Reluctant to leave home, she falls in love with her husband at...
Published on 28 April 2009 by juliana


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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting and eloquent portrait of a Spanish queen, 1 Aug 2006
By 
I've been waiting for two years for this book, ever since the author announced it on his website. For his second novel, C.W. Gortner turns his masterful pen to Renaissance Spain - a diverse and complex land recently united by the Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. This tale of Spain, which is unfortunately not explored nearly as much as it should be by historical fiction novelists, comes to vivid life through the eyes of Juana la Loca, arguably the most beautiful and certainly the most enigmatic of the Catholic monarchs' four daughters. Known to history as the Mad Queen and the older sister of Katherine of Aragon (Henry VIII's first wife) Juana has often been neglected as a figure in her own right. This novel restores her to her proper place - and what a dramatic place it is! Through vivid prose and an intense feeling for emotional characterization, Juana tells us her story - from her arranged and ultimately tormenting marriage to the Hapsburg Emperor's son Philip to their lethal struggle for the throne of Spain, which Juana inherits through tragedy. Incredible characters like Queen Isabel, wily Fernando of Aragon, as well Henry VII of England and Louis of France, make memorable appearances; Isabel in particular is a compelling combination of steel and sacrifice. But it is the courageous, amazingly young, and very human Juana who dominates the story, and the secrets she reveals are startling and unexpected. A sumptuous feast for the senses, this novel exemplifies the best of historical fiction - accurate and yet daring in its approach, respectful of the facts but focused on the human elements; you are captured by Juana's story until the very end, when you find yourself both awestruck and haunted by this queen who truly has been forgotten by most of the world until now.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passionate and uncompromising historical fiction, 3 Aug 2006
By 
Linda Dolan (San Francisco, CA) - See all my reviews
From the opening line: "Midnight has become my favorite hour," you know you are in the hands of a master storyteller, one who has turned the tables on popular history to present an erudite and compassionate view of one of history's most difficult personages.

Known as the Mad Queen, in her own words Juana of Castile tells the story of her life, and what a life it is - filled with passion, intrigue, and terrifying betrayal. To my relief, I found Juana to be neither self-pitying nor morbid. In her candor and wit, Juana demonstrates a singular humanity that highlights the ruthlessness of her 16th century world. She is a brave and decisive woman, far removed from the "victim" that she has so often been portrayed. Readers who known about her from films like "Mad Love" will be intrigued by Gortner's deft handling of her mental state, and surprised by her own secret admissions.

This is a refreshingly vivid and well crafted example of historical fiction that does not compromise, from a writer who obviously cares both for his subject and for the intelligence of his readers.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well-written story - let down by inaccuracy, 28 April 2009
By 
juliana (NE Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Queen (Hardcover)
Juana of Castile, the Queen of Spain who never ruled, is a fascinating subject for a novel - a life full of intrigue and drama. The second daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sister of Henry V111's queen Katharine of Aragon, she is married at sixteen to the Archduke Philip, heir to the Emperor Maximilian. Reluctant to leave home, she falls in love with her husband at first sight. But the marriage turns stormy as Juana is torn between conflicting emotions and political demands. She finds herself in the middle of a bitter power struggle between her husband and father - a struggle in which she can only be the loser.

Unlike her parents and sister, the real Juana wrote very few letters, and her personality therefore remains an enigma - perfect material for a novelist.

Does Mr. Gortner pull it off? Well, in part yes. He writes well, with a gift for conjuring up the sights and sounds of Renaissance Europe. His characters are lively and the story grips as it moves along at a fast pace. The twists and turns of the political machinations which surround Juana are well described, as is Juana's increasing bewilderment and sense of isolation.

But he plays fast and loose with the facts from the very beginning. His description of the surrender of Granada bears little relationship to the true story and his account of the conquest of Naples is even less accurate. Some characters - most notably the Emperor Maximilian - bear virtually no resemblance to their real life counterparts. Most crucially, he turns Juana into a helpless victim by underplaying or omitting some of her more bizarre behaviours. He also overplays the sexism angle - it was Juana's personality, not her sex, which convinced her family that she was unable to rule. Even her mother and sister considered her incapable and unstable. The novel's 'afterword', apparently factual, is riddled with inaccuracies.

Does this matter? Well, yes. In a novel where all the characters are real people, the novelist must of course invent dialogue and interpret events, but must surely base this on events that really happened. Mr. Gortner fails in this regard. A pity, because this book has many good qualities.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful and haunting tale, 12 Feb 2012
By 
Ben Kane (Nr Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
I read The Last Queen some time ago, and although I meant to post a review of it, it slipped my mind. Prompted by the discovery that C.W. Gortner is to release a new novel this summer, I thought I would post this. To be perfectly frank, the time period and subject matter are not my normal choice, but from the first chapter I was drawn in by the excellent portrayal of the time, but mostly of course, by Juana herself. Soon, I couldn't put the book down. Other reviewers have given excellent descriptions of the plot, so I won't go into those details. Suffice it to say that the sights, sounds and smells of Habsburg Flanders, and the Spain of Fernando and Isabelle, ar richly brought to life, as are the injustices that were meted out to women of the time. I was deeply moved by this book, in places to tears.

The Last Queen is an outstanding achievement, superbly written. I can really see the love and craft that Gortner poured into it over the years that he took to write it. What a formidable, interesting and tragic character he has described in Juana la Loca. She is a woman whose story was sadly forgotten for centuries. Well, not any more. I can honestly think of only a handful of historical fiction novels of any time period that I have enjoyed as much in the last few years. These would include The Law Of Dreams by Peter Behrens and Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon.

Ben Kane, author of Spartacus: The Gladiator.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars THE LAST QUEEN OF SPAIN..., 6 Oct 2009
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
This is an excellent work of historical fiction of a Queen about whom very little is known, Juana, the second oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Spain, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Juana's parents would drive the Moors from Spain with the defeat and capture of Boabdil, the last Moorish King of Granada.

Ruling the newly united Spain was a formidable task, and much was expected of the five children of Isabella and Ferdinand. Their marriages were political ones, meant to secure Spain from its enemies and solidify its union. Juan, their son and heir, would marry Margaret of Hapsburg. The eldest daughter, Isabella, would marry Alfonso, the Prince of Portugal, while the youngest, Catalina, would first marry Arthur, the oldest son of King Henry VII of England, and later would go on to marry his younger brother, Henry. Maria would marry King Emanuel of Portugal. At sixteen, Juana was married to Phillip the Fair of Hapsburg, Archduke of the duchy of Flanders and heir to the Hapsburg Empire.

In Flanders, Juana becomes besotted with her husband, and just when true happiness seems to be within her grasp, with her children about her and her love for her husband paramount, the unthinkable happens. Her situation suddenly and drastically changes with the unexpected deaths of her brother, Juan, and her older sister, Isabella, making her the heiress to the throne of Spain. This changes the tenor of her relationship, as well as the balance of power, with her husband, who is no more than a puppet in the hands of his greedy and grasping Chancellor, the powerful Archbishop Besancon.

When Juana goes to Spain with her husband, she finds herself continually battling for power with him and struggling to retain her kingdom. She finds foes where she would least expect to do so and is pretty much left to fend for herself. Upon her husband's death, she carries her husband's coffin about with her, vowing to fight for what is best for Spain. She soon discovers that others do not share her vision. As rumors of her mental instability fly, Juana finds herself continually disenfranchised from her kingdom, heralding the beginning of the end for her reign, the last queen of Spain, and the end of life as she knows it.

Absorbing and well-written, the author's interpretive efforts bear much fruit, as he spins a story that captures the reader's imagination. This queen, about which so little is known, comes to life on the pages of this book. Written in the first person, it is a fascinating story of political intrigue at its most diabolical, replete with familial betrayal and great passion. Those who enjoy the books of Jean Plaidy and Philippa Gregory will, undoubtedly, enjoy reading this book, as well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Duties of a Spanish Princess., 28 April 2009
By 
Mrs. C. J. Mcquade (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
As well as being an excellent read, this book is very informative.
Knowing practically nothing about Juana, other than she was the sister of Katherine of Aragon, I now have a good insight into her life.
Juana did not have much say over how her life was to be lived, as was the case of princesses at that time.
This story brings to life the trials and intrigues that a royal princess had to survive.
The author's sympathy is definitely with the princess and the reader must concur with this.
The betrayals which deny Juana her rightful place as monarch, would test anyone's physical and mental strengths.
This book gives a good insight into the wheeling and dealing of European courts during the 16th century.
An extremely good read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spanish perspective, 10 July 2011
By 
cholser (Perth, Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
Juana la Loca, the last queen of Spain, narrates her life story which is defined by her marriage to Philip (heir to the Hapsburg Empire) and it's implications/aftermath.
The book weaves an accessible tale of the complex inter-relationships of the great European powers of the time and centres it from the Spanish perspective (the author is half Spanish) - a view not normally considered in Anglo-Saxon writings of history. In addition to this, and what makes it all work, is the love of Spain that infuses the book - descriptions of the smells of jasmine and sounds of water trickling in the Alhambra, to images of the vast arid plains and fierce mountain passes. This deep affection flows from Juana - from her steely resolve to hold the kingdom her mother created, even if it brings her harm, to her reminiscences and yearning to be in her native land when living abroad.
Juana struggles terribly with the conflicts of a sense of duty (invoked by her mother, Queen Isabel) and her marriage to Philip - eventually the forces become so polarised and political scheming overtakes her that it is no wonder she slips into mental turmoil.
Not only is it a great work of historical fiction, based by all accounts on the most accurate information available - because of how congruently it is voiced by Juana it becomes a thrilling, page turning, tragic love-story which left me with a keen sense of the injustices of life of a female ruler in a man's world.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fiction About a Different Queen - A Nice Change, 2 Aug 2009
By 
This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
Historical fiction readers are inundated with novels about Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I. If they do a little digging, they might be able to find something on Mary Queen of Scots or Marie Antoinette. Not that these aren't interesting people, but I was beginning to wonder if there was any other historical figure out there about whom an author might write. C.W. Gortner's "The Last Queen" is the answer to that question.

I knew absolutely nothing about Juana of Castile, so I brought no preconceived notions to the novel. I was able to read it without thinking "this is where that will happen," because I simply wasn't aware of the historical background. Juana of Castile had a life full of betrayal (I'm giving nothing away unless you skip reading the jacket blurb). Her story exemplifies the truth that women were nothing more than political pawns, meant for marrying well and breeding sons. Though Juana was daughter to a powerful Queen, even this did not protect her.

Overall, I found the story quite interesting (thus four stars), though the writing often suffered. The book is written from Juana's point of view, but most of it is not written as a woman of any era would speak, in my opinion and, given that I am female, I think I have a basis for expressing that opinion. I made this determination before I knew C.W. Gortner's gender, but as I read, I guessed that a man had written it. The bad guys were telegraphed so far in advance that I would have had to have been blind to miss the foreshadowing. There were a few surprises, but I would have preferred to find things out when Juana did, not see them coming 50 pages ahead of time.

The Last Queen did serve an important purpose, in that I would like to know more about Juana of Castile. It was surprising and intriguing news to me to hear that two films, and several books, had been released regarding her life, and I will be investigating those quite soon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFULL, 22 April 2009
By 
Mr. R. D. Cull "peppercull" (ENGLAND) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Last Queen (Hardcover)
I cannot rember the last time that i enjoyed a book so much, its wonderfull, we all know the story of Catherine of Aragon, and only a few bits about her older sister, Juana,this book brings everything to life it has it all, but beware if you read at night , you will still be reading it in the morning. you can smell Spain and the heat , please lets have more books that are so well writen, but someone who knows not only how to write, but knows there stuff,cannot wait for a second book
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read marred by some irritating writing glitches., 5 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Last Queen (Paperback)
I greatly enjoyed this historical novel by C. W. Gortner. It was a truly gripping read, marred only by a few very misguided Americanisms. Now, I have no problem with American spelling, but in a book covering European royalty I was quite irritated to read words like "stomped", "snuck" and (horror of horrors) "gotten". And "gotten" was repeated quite a number of times. But I look forward to Mr. Gorner's next work - hopefully without such needless irritation.
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The Last Queen
The Last Queen by C W Gortner (Paperback - 8 Jan 2009)
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