Monday, August 02, 2010

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

It was the dark of night and the last e-ink page had been turned, leaving me staring anxiously at a list of books that had either already been read or didn't interest me at the moment. I began to tremble, sweat sprang from my forehead with all the vigor of Victoria Falls. I had failed to line up my next book and I was already suffering withdraw, literary DTs. Blindly, I scrambled with my Kindle, flipping frantically through Amazon's Kindle Store. A historical fiction novel lept out at me, though I had sworn to stay away from them for a few days. It was empty calories, a quick fix, a potential shot to the veins. And it was well praised by Amazon reviewer. I pressed "buy" with all the desperation of a back alley junkie.

And I read. When I finished, I put my head down and cried.

Screw you, you foul Amazon review bitches.

I'm not sure what I was expecting from C. W. Gortner's The Last Queen, but I got what I deserved: pap, plain and simple. It's not that it wasn't thoroughly researched, because it seemed to be. It just kills me that I couldn't be more drawn into a book about Juana the Mad, which should have been terribly exciting. Think about it: the daughter of the Catholic Kings of Spain is sent to marry a Flemish archduke, who eventually ends up being a royal douche. She then stands to inherit the the combined kingdoms of Aragon and Castile as all of her older siblings drop dead. Eventually, she stalks her husband's casket all around Spain while trying to hold on to the throne. I ask you, how can this not be interesting?

My answer would be that the fault doesn't lie with Juana's story; it's with the storytelling. Gortner spends an entire novel trying to establish a character that is truly grounded and a fighter against impossible odds-- a woman at the mercy of the machinations of men. This Juana is calculating and shrewd, though a little too trusting when it comes to her family. Then, suddenly, she's insane for about three pages. Then she's back to her old self again, never to relapse. It's a weird, uneven characterization that just doesn't work.

I've got a dozen other petty complaints with which to waste a reader's time, but I'll spare you the details. Instead, I can let you know that I am seeking therapy-- no person should have to suffer from poor reading material, no matter how desperate they are for the warm velvet of literature. Don't do it, guys. It's not worth it.

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