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The Last Queen (thoughts)

September 26, 2008

Honestly guys, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. And not one of those little ranch pick-ups; no, I’m talking about a lorry. I hate having a chronic illness: I hate how it affects my social life, I hate how it affects my commitments, and most of all I just hate the pain. Anyway, that’s enough of that! It’s a good thing I had written almost all of this week’s posts last weekend, huh? Otherwise it would have been whiny little Eva week. ;) So, moving right along: I really loved C.W. Gornter’s The Last Queen, and I want to talk about it, so I’m going to do the whole ‘ask myself questions thing’ to see if I can make it a little less rambling!

So, what made you agree to a review copy
Well, I really love working with Dorothy, and so when I started seeing positive reviews of The Last Queen around the blogosphere, that sealed the deal. Plus, it was set in the Middle Ages (well, ok, it might actually be early Renaissance, depending on what calendar you use), which I happen to be fascinated by. And, I know next to nothing about Spain, so I thought this would be a neat introduction to it.

Just to clarify, this is a novel, right?
Yes! But the author is really into the sixteenth century (seriously, check out his bio), and he was raised in Spain and is half-Spanish, so he included a ton of detail that really gave me a feel for the place.

Did the detail overpower the plotline at all? Because sometimes historical fiction seems more in love with the time period than anything else…
Nope: definitely not! The plot, and the character of Juana (who becomes Spain’s last queen), are the driving forces of the book. In fact, it’s written in first-person, so we’re privy to all of Juana’s thoughts as she tries to navigate the treachorous waters of European politics. The plot is constantly moving, as Juana deals with obstacle after obstacle after obstacle.

What was Juana like?
Juana…well, in one sense she was doomed. Historically, she’s known as Juana la Loca, or Joanna the Mad, so obviously things aren’t going to end well. So that kind of darkness was always there, at least for the reader; Juana herself is very optimistic and determined, so until the very end she’s convinced that she’ll be able to make everything right. She’s beautiful…

…of course: have you ever read historical fiction with an ugly heroine?

please don’t interrupt me, although you make a good point! …anyway, and she’s well-educated, but she lacks the craftiness that I think would be necessary to be a successful monarch, especially at that time period. So there were moments, especially when she’s dealing with her husband and the Spanish nobles, when I kept thinking “Where are your feminine wiles, goddammit?!” I’m not sure if this is the result of the author being a man (and thus unaware of our manipulative instinct…hehe), or if it’s just that me, my sister, and all of my girlfriends happen to be preternaturally good at getting guys to do things (not that we use this power for evil; I promise…it’s just that it’s there).

You’re definitely rambling.
Right: sorry. Next question!

Was the book realistic to you?
Yep: the writing was pretty straightforward, and I thought that the characters all seemed well-developed, and as I said earlier those period details really helped! The plot is based on real-life events, and I think Gortner definitely succeeded in offering a possible interpretation of the reasons behind those events.

Did anything about the book bother you?
Only Juana’s desperate straightforwardness and inability to see through people. But she had to have some fatal flaw, didn’t she? I always looked forward to picking the book back up, and it provided some welcome relief from the rigours of grad school.

So, who would you recommend it for?
Oh, people who like a good story and aren’t bothered by plain writing! Sure, it’s historical fiction, but I don’t think that someone should avoid it just because ‘they never like historical fiction.’ Gortner’s a whole different kind of author than, say, Phillipa Gregory. The one thing I’ll caution is that the book felt ‘simple,’ which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Well, it didn’t cause me to really think about things or reexamine any of my beliefs. While it was informative and entertaining, it wasn’t provocative (which is what prevented it from getting five stars). But seriously, it was still a wonderful book and one that I highly recommend!

Ok: I think that about covers it. Wait, one last question: are you planning on reading his first novel, The Secret Lion?
One of these days I’m sure I’ll get to it. It’s set in Tudor England, though, which is a much less mysterious place to me (probably because I lived in England for so long). And I’m not a huge fan of Elizabeth I…so maybe I’ll just wait for his next novel, which is about Catherine de Medici! And it might even have a glimpse or two of my new favourite royal of that time: Mary, Queen of Scots (now you might understand why I’m not so in love with Elizabeth).

Oh, and you should definitely visit Gortner’s website. It’s pretty extensive, and he loves talking with book groups and, I think, connecting with readers in general.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2008 11:27 am

    I have definitely got to stop hanging out on book blogs. Do you have any idea how long my ruddy reading list is???

  2. September 26, 2008 2:39 pm

    I really hope you feel better soon, Eva. Feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck is no fun :/

    I love the sound of this book! The Middle Ages are one of my favourite settings for historical fiction too, and this sounds so well done. I love the conversation with yourself format, btw :P

  3. September 26, 2008 3:04 pm

    Awww, snuggles! I hate getting sick (I have a WICKED cold right now), and every time I complain about my achy joints or whatever, I think about how rotten it would be to be chronically ill and to have to deal with this all the time and not to be able to point to somebody and say, It’s your fault. Fix it.

    So…chicken soup at you.

  4. September 26, 2008 3:20 pm

    I know that feeling all too well — being run over by a lorry. Or, at least feeling as if you have. You’re lucky to have prepared some posts in advance; everyone’s just had to listen to me whine.

    I loved The Last Queen, too! And, love the self-questioning review. I’ve been seeing posts like that popping up all over the place. Selfishly, I’ve wondered if everyone got the idea from moi. LOL

    Hope you feel better, soon!!!

  5. September 26, 2008 4:01 pm

    I love the idea of interviewing yourself about a book! It was a lot of fun to read, and definitely made me want to check out the book.

  6. September 26, 2008 4:44 pm

    Eva, this is such a wonderful post about this novel. I loved it too, and I really enjoyed your conversational discussion about it. The interruption about beautiful women cracked me up! Thanks for the fun this Friday night!

  7. September 26, 2008 8:00 pm

    Sorry you’re feeling lousy. I love your Q&A post. I’d like to try that myself sometime, being inspired by you and Bookfool.

  8. September 26, 2008 10:29 pm

    Hope you get better soon.

    Loved your review. I have heard so much about this book and I am really sad that I haven’t read it yet.

  9. September 26, 2008 10:59 pm

    This is a fun review style! I’ve read so many great revies of this book, I’m gonna have to break down and read it.

    Hope you feel better soon…weekends are not meant to be spent feeling icky.

  10. September 27, 2008 6:52 am

    Very fun review format :)
    I really want to read this book so it’s on my TBR list. I just finished spending some time with the Tudors so I may take a break and do something a bit more recent but I’ll be back to the historicals in no time I’m sure.

    Hope you feel better soon!

  11. September 27, 2008 7:58 pm

    I love how you’ve changed your blog–it fits my tiny screen much better than your other design! Sorry to hear you’ve not been well. I hope you’re feeling better. And I think I must check this book out–I love this period, and I’ve not read much Spanish history (fiction-wise, well–nonfiction wise, too actually!).

  12. September 29, 2008 5:21 pm

    Spain has a special place in my heart as I got to study abroad there. I like historical fiction, and this one sounds really interesting! Thanks for the rec.

  13. October 1, 2008 7:52 pm

    Janet, I know! I bet mine’s just as long!

    Nymeth, thanks for the well wishes! And yay for medieval lit! Have you tried the Brother Caedfel mystery series? I’ve only read the first one, but I really liked it.

    Raych, I hope your cold goes away soon! And yeah, being chronically ill is kinda icky, but on the other hand it does make me much more responsible. :)

    Nancy, omg-I think I did steal it from you! I couldn’t remember who it was! I’ll give you credit. :)

    Memory, I think I stole it from Nancy (see her comment), but I’m glad you liked the format. :D

    Literate Housewife, aww: thanks!

    Tara, thanks!

    Violet, I’m sure you’ll get to it eventually. :)

    Softdrink, hehe: sometimes it feels like the blogosphere is ganging up on you, doesn’t it?

    Iliana, thanks!

    Danielle, I’m glad you like the redesign: it was way overdue!

    Kim, I’m jealous: that must’ve been an awesome experience. :D

  14. October 4, 2008 7:58 am

    Fun review, Eva. I really enjoyed this book, too. Such great period detail, but I agree that it does not overwhelm the story at all. Glad you enjoyed it, too.

  15. October 8, 2008 11:17 pm

    I wanted to stop by and thank Eva so much for this fun and delightfully original review. I’ve been so honored by readers’ enthusiasm for THE LAST QUEEN and by bloggers’ assistance in getting word of the novel out. I couldn’t have succeded without you.

    I’m always available for reader group chats, too, so if you’re interested please visit my website to contact me.

    Gracias, de corazon! Fond regards, C.W. Gortner

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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