Review: The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner

 The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner is the fascinating story of Juana, daughter of Queen Isabel and King Consort Fernando of Spain (if you remember your American history, they were the rulers who sponsored Christopher Columbus’ search for the new world). Juana was the last queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne.  

There’s tons of royal drama here.  Young Juana worshiped her father, respected her mother, the icy Queen Isabel, and had a fierce loyalty to her beloved Spain.  An arranged marriage was made to strengthen her parents’ political alliances.  She left Spain at sixteen to meet Archduke Phillip “the Fair” of Flanders, her betrothed yet a stranger. 

Phillip and Juana are so immediately taken with each other that they demand to be wed on the spot rather than wait, to the shock and disdain of her women, advisors, and escorts.  Their first few years together were passionate, but then it all quickly went to hell when Juana’s brother, sister, and nephew all die, making her the heir apparent to the Spanish crown.  

Suddenly Juana finds herself in danger.  She is a pawn who can trust no one except the loyal women who attend her.  Queen Isabel is in crisis mode- she detests Phillip and does not want him to rule Spain.  In secret she gets Juana’s assurance that she will do whatever it takes to inherit the throne, paving the way for her as best she can before her death.    

Phillip and his advisors have other plans.  Full of political aspirations, they use Juana’s fiery personality against her and begin whispering about her mental health. Emotional with a jealous temper, the unconventional princesa didn’t always conform, which made the insanity talk more plausible. 

Her husband, constantly strategizing and manipulating Juana, cruelly imprisoned her, beat her, humiliated her, lied to her, cheated on her, impregnated her for a 6th time through marital rape, and made every effort to destroy her.  If that’s not enough to make a girl MAD, I don’t know what is!  But was she insane?  Historians speculate that she was schizophrenic, driven to madness by grief over the loss of her husband (and there is in fact evidence of mental health problems in her family tree), but Gortner brilliantly casts doubt and challenges that theory.  

C.W, Gortner has written a stunning piece of historical fiction in The Last Queen.  Full of historical detail, danger, suspense, betrayal, and complex twists and turns, it is a captivating read.  Juana is colorful, courageous, and absolutely certain of her destiny.  Throughout her struggles I was rooting for her to prevail. 

Unfortunately, Queen Juana la Loca, aka Juana the Mad, ruled Spain from 1506-1509 after her mother’s death, but was then imprisoned for insanity for the rest of her life, in part because of her refusal to abdicate the thrown to her father.  This refusal, however, ensured that her children would later inherit the thrown, shaping history for generations to come.  

I didn’t know anything about the forgotten Queen Juana prior to reading this book- the extent of my knowledge about the 16th century royals was limited to a couple episodes of The Tudors on Showtime and the Philippa Gregory novel, The Other Boleyn Girl (Juana’s sister Catalina was Henry VIII’s wife, Catherine of Aragon). I was entranced by Juana and this extraordinary book and would highly recommend it. 

about the author

C. W. Gortner, half-Spanish by birth, holds an M.F.A. in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California and has taught university courses on women of power in the Renaissance. He was raised in Málaga, Spain, and now lives in California. 

For more information, please visit  A special thanks to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for sending this awesome book!


12 Responses

  1. Okay, I really have to buy this one, it is now calling my name so loudly I can’t ignore it. Your review has pushed me over the edge!

  2. This sounds fascinating!

  3. This really was fantastic historical fiction.

  4. This is sitting on my TBR pile, must get to it immediately!

  5. I really liked it, too! And you know, I don’t think I’ve seen a negative review yet…

  6. I, too, thought this book was just wonderful! I can’t wait to see his next one on Catherine de Medici!


  7. Lisa, enjoyed your review. My book club won five copies of this book and will read it in September. I can’t wait!

  8. Wow, this book sounds great. The great thing about stories like this is that the facts are way juicier than anything you could make up. I’m off to add this to my wishlist. 🙂

  9. Wow! There’s a lot going on in this book. I love historical fiction. It can be juicy and full of rich characters and the icing on the cake is that you can learn something at the same time.

    This is definitely not a book I would have picked up on my own, but with your review and all… how can I not??

  10. This sounds like a great book! I’m picky when it comes to historical fiction, too. Thanks for the review.

  11. Thank you so much, Lisa, for your review. I hope to make a stop her during my blog tour in September.

    Thank you to everyone else for your kind comments and enthusiasm for the book. I’ve been truly honored by the tremendously generous responses from readers. I hope you enjoy reading The Last Queen as much as I enjoyed writing it.

  12. […] author of the historical ficton novel, THE LAST QUEEN, will be stopping off at The Book Stacks and Books on the Brain! The Last Queen tells the legendary story of Juana la Loca, daughter of Isabel of Castile and […]

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