Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reign of Madness by Lynne Cullen — 448 pgs

Reign of MadnessJuana of Castile is just a girl in the court of her illustrious parents, Isabel and Fernando, rulers of the Spanish Empire, when she gets the news that she is to marry Phillipe the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy. This means traveling to a country very different from her own to live with a man she’s never met, a situation that troubles her. When she’s received in Phillipe’s court, brave Juana is hopeful that life with her doting and handsome husband will be all she hopes it can be. And for awhile, it is. Phillipe is loving and attentive, and despite some minor flaws, treats his new wife with tenderness and love. But soon Juana is noticing that Phillipe has an eye for the ladies and would much rather spend his time hunting then with her and the royal heirs. But still Juana is patient with her husband, until the day when plans are made to transfer the power of the Spanish throne to her with Phillipe acting only as king consort. This seems to quietly enrage Phillipe, and soon he is on a campaign to smear Juana's name and reputation. When he plants rumors that she’s gone mad and locks her away, Juana is confused and saddened but doesn’t know how best to quash this threat. Soon Juana is alone and friendless with rumors of her madness spread far and wide. Will Phillipe succeed in taking the crown of Spain for himself and making everyone truly believe that Juana is mad? Or will someone or something help Juana overcome this disaster that seems to be shaping her future? In this breathtaking and provocative new novel by Lynne Cullen, the doors are thrown open to the past and the story of Juana the Mad is re-imagined with a fresh perspective that might be closer to the truth than anyone has ever realized.

I’ve got to hand it to Lynne Cullen. This is the second book of hers that has just blown my socks off. Last year, I read and loved The Creation of Eve, and was impressed with Cullen’s fluid writing and gift for story creation. While it’s no secret that I adore historical fiction, there are some specimens that are better than others, and Cullen’s books seem to have that undefinable sprinkling of magic that make my eyes want to rove slowly and languorously over the pages. In her fictional treatment of the infamous Juana the Mad, Cullen gives us an inexpressibly human character who is caught in one of the most bizarre and terrifying situations ever to be imagined. And though the truth may be stranger than fiction, as Cullen mentions in her end notes, this book certainly captures the perplexing situation that Juana of Castille found herself in.

While at times I thought Juana was a little naive, when I stopped to examine the situation a little more fully, I realized that it wasn’t really naivety that kept Juana at a disadvantage with Phillipe. it was more that she had a forgiving and optimistic heart, and that she wished to create a situation that was more peaceable not only for herself, but for her family and subjects. And I came to see then than Juana was very brave, though perhaps a little foolhardy, when dealing with her husband who turned like a chameleon from attentive and loving to domineering and controlling. It was such a complete reversal that I could see why Juana was stunned and confused by him. Where at first Phillipe didn’t seem to care about becoming acting regent for Spain, his interest suddenly sharpened and began to overwhelm all the other aspects of his personality. When Phillipe begins to do the unthinkable to Juana, there is little power the woman can assert as she has been virtually isolated in this foreign land.

A good portion of this book also examined the relationship between Fernando and Isabel as seen through the eyes of their middle daughter, Juana. Because of Isabel’s formidable personality as regent, Juana  was never able to become close to her mother, and was never able to learn about her to any satisfactory degree. Fernando, though seemingly content, was portrayed as feeling somewhat emasculated by his strong wife whose subjects often called her King Isabel. In later chapters, Fernando is also responsible for keeping Juana’s crown from her, and one wonders if this was due to the rumors that Phillipe spread about the realm or if it was his own ambition that was in play. It was sad to realize that Juana was beset by traitors from all sides, and although she felt content to relinquish her power at times, it was clearly wrong for others to try to usurp it. It angered me to see her disregarded and treated as a joke or a nonentity, and though she was tractable, it was hard not to feel that there was a degree of weakness to Juana’s actions. But truth be told, there really weren’t many options open to her.

In this examination of Juana’s life, I came to see that the power plays between monarchs and their courts could not only be dangerous but also deceptive and controversial. In the end notes, Cullen speaks about a trip to Spain where the old myths about Mad Queen Juana are seriously offensive to some of the natives. It’s in this kernel of revelation that the story in Reign of Madness really begins to pepper its readers about the accuracy of the history we’ve all been taught and believe. Cullen rounds out her tale with guest appearances from Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) and other famous regents and religious men of the time. The effect is one of total encapsulation of the time period, and brings Juana and her life into fulsomely colorful relief, rendered with an expert’s hand at sussing out conspiracy, plots and revenge.

I loved this look into the life of a woman that I knew so little about, and I thought Cullen did a wonderful job of creating a vivid representation of what might have actually happened in the life of Mad Queen Juana. Cullen has once again exceeded my expectations and delivered a flawless historical fiction novel that I fully savored and appreciated. It was a wonderful book that is sure to have its share of admirers. Highly recommended!


Author Photo About the Author

Lynn Cullen is the author of The Creation of Eve, named among the best fiction books of 2010 by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and as an April 2010 Indie Next selection. She is also the author of numerous award-winning books for children, including the young adult novel I Am Rembrandt's Daughter, which was a 2007 Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection, and an ALA Best Book of 2008. An avid traveler and historian, Cullen lives in Atlanta.

Connect with Lynn on her website and on Facebook.

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Monday, July 25th:In the Hammock
Tuesday, July 26th:Rundpinne
Wednesday, July 27th:Unabridged Chick
Thursday, July 28th:Debbie’s Book Bag
Monday, August 1st:The Broke and the Bookish
Wednesday, August 3rd:Books Like Breathing
Thursday, August 4th:Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, August 8th:2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Tuesday, August 9th:Broken Teepee
Wednesday, August 10th:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, August 11th:Cafe of Dreams
Friday, August 12th:A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Monday, August 15th:A Library of My Own
Tuesday, July 16th:Life in Review
Wednesday, August 17th:Simply Stacie
Thursday, August 18th:Book Addiction
Monday, August 22nd:One Book Shy of a Full Shelf
Wednesday, August 24th:Starting Fresh


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

20 comments:

Tracy said...

I enjoy historical fiction if it's well done, and it sounds as though this one really is. (Though I think anyone who is actually known as 'The Handsome' should immediately flag up a bright neon sign flashing 'This guy is TROUBLE' in any woman's head!). Thanks for a wonderful review.

bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of historical fiction and have only read one about a queen and it didn't really work for me. I'm thinking I haven't tried the right author. You've made this sound so good.

TheBookGirl said...

I love historical fiction -- when its done well. I have not tried this author before, but your review certainly makes a compelling case for doing so. I never knew that Isobel was viewed as such a strong Queen...

Lynn Cullen said...

Fantastic review! I loved how you picked up on the inequality in Isabel and Fernando's relationship. I really enjoyed taking a look at how being married to such a strong woman would affect a less capable man. In Fernando's case, he acted out by having affairs, producing at least 5 known illegitimate children. I felt like he was trying to get back at Isabel in the only way he could.

Thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth review!

And Tracy, I'm still chuckling over your comment. I'm with you. If a man's name includes "The Handsome"--run!

Daphne said...

I've wanted to read this ever since I first heard about it - now I want to read it even more!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't know if I could read this, because I would be so furious at Phillipe!!!

Trisha said...

This sounds wonderful. I don't read historical fiction very often, primarily because I am very very picky about it, but this one sounds wonderful!

nomadreader said...

I thought Lynn Cullen's last book sounded interesting, but this one sounds even more so. I've been yearning for a bit more historical fiction lately, so I've added this one to my list!

Audra said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book!! You know how much I loved it. I really so enjoyed Cullen's exploration of women in 'power' -- whether they were actively ruling or not. I'm not wild about royalty hist fic as a rule (like the current Tudormania) but novels like this, which really go deeper into what being a royal might have been like, are so delish.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I'm laughing at Tracy's comment too. I'm thinking that old Phillipe may have a hand in his own naming. Ha! I'm not a big reader of Historical Fiction (at least the ones with kings and queens and stuff) but you write a very convincing review!

Amy said...

I don't read a lot of historical fiction but have enjoyed what I've read. This sounds really interesting. I love when history is retold like this to show pieces that have been kept hidden and show people as true human beings and how history has done them a disservice by distorting the truth to the benefit of the powerful. Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Jenny said...

I know so very little about this part of history or these people but this book sounds fascinating! I want to know what happens, LOL!!

Aths said...

I haven't heard of this one, but you have made it sound so amazing! When I was reading the synopsis, I was thinking, but this happens even now! All that marrying without meeting the person! I am going to check this one out! Great review!

Jenna said...

I've never actually heard of Mad Queen Juana before, but her story sounds quite fascinating. This might be an excellent book to delve into. I love how you describe the effect of the book as "one of total encapsulation of the time period." Definitely the best type to get lost between the pages.

Amy said...

I haven't read any historical fiction like this one, about Kings, Queens, the monarch and who gets to rule. Lynne Cullen sounds like the right author to try. I feel so for Juana, she's so young to begin with and then Phillipe turns out to be a monster.

I love your enthusiasm for Lynne Cullen's writing and this book. This is a terrific review!

Darlene said...

I'm so glad to see you loved this book as much as I did. You know I'm still thinking about Juana and her life. It's a shame that women didn't have any rights back then. It makes you wonder how different her life would have been if she had had more options. I really enjoyed learning about a woman I hadn't known anything about before.

I agree with you that Lynn is a fantastic author. I liked her first book too but this one completely blew me away. I'll be anxiously awaiting the next one!

Great review Heather!

Mary said...

Great review! I've added it to my list.

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I just finished this one today and you are so right. This was a fantastic read and I look forward to more of Cullen's work.

Gwendolyn B. said...

This is on my Winter To Read List. I really don't know much about Spanish royalty, but Juana sounds like such an intriguing character. I'm looking forward to getting to know her. And I'm unfamiliar with the work of Lynne Cullen, so I'll be sure to put on some socks when I sit down to read -- I want to see if mine get blown off, too!

heathertlc said...

I'm really looking forward to this one so I'm glad to see you enjoyed it.

Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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