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The Last Queen: A Novel Paperback – May 5, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The 1492 conquest of Granada makes for high adventure and royal intrigue in this second sparkling historical from Gortner (The Secret Lion). Spanish Princess Juana, 13, watches as her parents, King Fernando and Queen Isabel, unite Spain, vanquish Moors and marry their children off to foreign kingdoms for favorable alliances: Princess Catalina becomes first wife to Henry VIII; Princess Juana, who narrates, is shipped off to marry Philip of Flanders, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. Although Juana balks at leaving Spain for the north and a husband she has never met, their instant chemistry soon turns to love. Years and children later, Juana unexpectedly becomes next in line to the Spanish crown and must carefully navigate every step of the journey from Flanders to Spain, fearful of alienating husband or parents or both. Emotional and political tensions soar as Juana's loyalties are tested to their limits. Disturbing royal secrets and court manipulations wickedly twist this enthralling story, brilliantly told. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“This moving tale of Juana la Loca (the Mad) vividly re-creates the passion, politics, and betrayals that drove a smart and spirited queen to the brink of insanity . . . or perhaps, as C. W. Gortner suggests, to the pretense of insanity–a pretense that baffled Juana’s enemies and led to triumph for her children and her country. The Last Queen is an absorbing account of one of history’s most fascinating women, from her never-before-told point of view.”—Donna Woolfolk Cross, author of Pope Joan

“I ached for this intelligent, one-of-a-kind queen. Her struggle and passion kept me up until the early hours of the morning. A page-turner, a nail-biter, an eye-opener: I loved being possessed by The Last Queen!”—Ki Longfellow, author of The Secret Magdalene

“A vibrant tapestry of love and hate . . . brings to life an extraordinary queen at an unforgettable time in history.”—Sandra Worth, author of Lady of the Roses

“An exquisite evocation of a dangerous era and of a forgotten queen.”—Holly Payne, author of The Virgin’s Knot

“Gripping and unforgettable . . . captures Juana of Castile’s electrifying drama.”—Judith Merkle Riley, author of The Water Devil


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345501853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345501851
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Paula L. Fener on July 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I've now read the new version of this novel, which was sold to Random House in a two-book deal. Not only has the author finally gotten recognition for his efforts, but the new scenes and edit have refined and smoothed whatever rough edges this book once had. C.W. Gortner writes with eloquence and style; he turns his masterful pen to Renaissance Spain and conjures a diverse and complex land recently united by the Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. Spain is unfortunately not explored nearly as much as it should be by historical fiction novelists and Gortner brings it to life through the eyes of Juana la Loca, arguably the most beautiful and certainly 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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Format: Hardcover
The Tudors of England have enjoyed surging popularity in the past year, with a hit Showtime series and Philippa Gregory's acclaimed historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl, which was adapted to the big screen last winter. But few people know about Juana of Spain, also known as Juana la Loca, sister to Henry VIII's first wife Katherine of Aragon. In The Last Queen, C.W. Gortner proves that Juana's story is just as complex and captivating as that of her more famous younger sister.

The novel opens in 1492 when Juana is 13 years old. Her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, have just conquered Grananda, ending 300 years of Moorish rule. Juana has never known life apart from the crusades and her parents' all-consuming dedication to uniting Spain and expelling the Moors. Ferdinand and Isabella passed their passion and fierce nationalism on to at least one of their four daughters: from childhood, Juana harbored an intense loyalty to her native land.

In 15th century Europe, royal children were betrothed in marriage not for love, but to facilitate political alliances. Juana was no exception. Her parents arranged a marriage between Juana and Philip the Fair, Hapsburg heir and archduke of Flanders.

Initially resistant to the marriage, Juana eventually fell in love with Philip and resigned herself to life in Flanders, outside her beloved Spain. But everything changed when, through a succession of family deaths, Juana became direct heir to the Spanish throne; she suddenly saw an ambitious, calculating, even cruel side of her dashing husband.

Chaos ensued. The life Juana had built in Flanders crumbled as everyone around her scrambled to exploit any and every possible political advantage. Her husband was influenced by deceitful, unscrupulous advisors.
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Format: Paperback
Reading books like this make you realize how lucky you are not to have been born a princess in 1400's Europe. In this novel about Juana of Castille - the second daughter of Ferdinand, King of Aragon, and Isabella, Queen of Castile - Gortner allows you to witness the delicate balance of power and impotence that marked Juana's life. Married off to Philip the Handsome at a young age, her life was continually marked by the power she could potentially wield and the control men had over her. Although she eventually became heir to the Crown of Spain, her husband and father never allowed her to claim her throne. Her once passionate marriage to Philip transformed into one marred by his thirst for power, and even turned abusive when he began spreading rumors about her "madness" in order to justify keeping her locked up. Indeed, her own father and son used the madness card to imprison her in the tower of Torsedillas for fifty-five years, until her death in 1555. Gortner takes some liberties with the storyline, changing for instance, the method of Phillip's death, but his modifications add depth to the story and in the afterword he fully admits he took liberties with Juana's history. He also gave Juana the benefit of the doubt when it came to questions of her sanity. While many historians believe she suffered from schizophrenia, Gortner gives us a woman whose life pushed her to the brink of human endurance and sanity.
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Format: 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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