Author: Lynn Cullen
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 15th century / Royals / Spain / Netherlands)
Publisher/Publication Date: Putnam Adult (8/4/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Yes -- and in my reluctance to stop reading, I missed my stop on the subway, twice!
One-sentence summary: The life of 15th-century royal, Juana of Castile, daughter of formidable Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain, and her tumultuous marriage.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about it, until I study it, and then I like it a little more. The narrow diamond shape creates this sort of closed-in feeling that replicates the feeling of Juana's eventual imprisonment. The figure reminds me of the woman from the cover of Cullen's first novel, The Creation of Eve.
I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Sandra Gulland, Anya Seton
First line: A birdcage might be gilded, but it is still a cage.
Did... I enjoy this novel despite knowing next to nothing about Juana of Castile?: YES. Cullen's story is detailed but not overwhelming, and her characters so vivid, I was sucked in. Literally -- missed my stop when reading on my commute!
Would... I love to have author Lynn Cullen 'come' to a book club discussion of this book?: YES! You can email her via her website to have her Skype with your book club! How cool is that?!
Did... I love the Author's Note almost as much as the novel?: YES. In addition to outlining what was fact and what was conjecture on her part, there's a lovely respect and admiration in Cullen's writing that made me smile at her last few paragraphs.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy or borrow, as you can -- this is probably in my top five historical novels I've read this year.
Why did I get this book?: The title -- it promises so much! -- and really, I can't turn down a historical.
Review: I loved this book. It ranks in the top five historical novels I've read this year. From the first page, I was totally enamored of Juana, our heroine, and sucked in to her world. I'm sort of mentally flailing my arms in my enthusiasm, so I apologize if this review is less substance and more squee.
Juana's parents are the Isabel and Ferdinand of Columbus/New World fame. A bright child, Juana is married off to a handsome, playful, vivacious Duke whose opulent, decadent world is the opposite of the stolid, stifled court she grew up. Born in an era of immense change -- Cristóbal Colón has returned from the Indies -- and political upheaval -- her mother dominates her parents' royal reign -- she and her sisters are traded for the most power and best alliance. In this, Juana knows her place -- but she's also mystified and confused by the shifting way everyone behaves in court and around her. Crossing that uncomfortable place from child to adolescent, Juana learns what loyalty and fidelity is when her beloved father and much desired husband prove themselves far from devoted.
In this, I was reminded a bit of Sandra Worth's Pale Rose of England and even Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been, as this novel articulates the awful imprisonment that comes from power -- or the perception of power -- and women's place in society. Cullen imagines what happened to Juana in the years leading up to her imprisonment when she was labeled as a madwoman, and the story she envisions is heartbreaking. And yet, there is some hope come the end: Juana is never broken and at the last page, I wanted to squeeze the novel to me, as if I were hugging Juana. It was that good.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to be able to offer a copy of Reign of Madness to one lucky reader! To enter, leave a comment with your email. Closes 8/19, US/CA readers only.