Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Last Queen.
History has depicted Juana of Castile – the third child of venerable Spanish monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand – as a woman who went completely mad with grief when she lost the love of her husband, Archduke Philip of Flanders. In his second novel, The Last Queen, C.W. Gortner sets out to dispel the myth of “Juana La Loca” (Juana The Mad), choosing to portray her as a headstrong, capable woman worthy of the Spanish crown she inherited whose power was suppressed by the ambitious men who surrounded her.
Young Juana spends her childhood enduring long and arduous travels as her parents fight to unify Spain and defend it from invaders. When Spain takes Grenada from the Moors in 1492, Juana happily settles for a time in the Moorish palace of Alhambra, a place where she finds peace and tranquility.
Three years later, at age of sixteen, Juana is sent to Flanders to marry Archduke Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. This is an alliance she does not want but must endure for the good of Spain. To her surprise, she finds happiness, love, and passion with the handsome archduke and is content to be a wife and mother.
Everything changes when Juana unexpectedly becomes heir to the Spanish throne after a series of tragedies. Philip, hungry for power, is not content to be on the sidelines with his wife as ruler and subjects her to numerous cruelties in order to gain the upper hand. But the determined Juana - devoted to Spain and to her parents’ legacy - battles against her husband, his advisors, and his armies in an effort to save Spain from the Habsburg rule which would plunge her beloved homeland into ruins.
Gortner carefully researched this novel, making several trips to Spain to follow Juana’s footsteps and painstakingly studying historical records in order to make the story as historically accurate as possible. While historical records have implicated Juana as a madwoman citing several incidents that Gortner weaves into the plot, they were also written by men who were influenced to depict her in a negative light. Virtually nothing exists in Juana’s own hand, so Gortner felt it was important to give her a voice by writing The Last Queen from Juana’s perspective, which he does very effectively.
From the somber beauty of the Spanish landscape with its stark castles to the glittering opulence of the Flemish, French and Tudor courts, Juana takes the reader on a spectacular journey. Loaded with fascinating details, emotion, and plenty of tension, The Last Queen is a gripping read from front to back.