Isabel: Jewel of Castilla by Carolyn Meyer

(Cover picture courtesy of The Flying Librarian’s Hideout.)

Segovia—12th of April 1466

After Mass this morning, I climbed the narrow, winding stone steps to a window high in one of the castle turrets.  I often come up here to see what lies beyond my prison.  Segovia is surrounded by four thick walls, each with a heavy wooden gate.  The aqueduct built by the Romans more than a thousand years ago stretches to the horizon.

Far below the castle, the Eresma River rushes through a narrow gorge.  Across the river, flocks of sheep seem to flow like a river themselves.  The sheep bleat, their bells tinkle—I know this, even if I cannot hear them.  In the fields beyond the walls, little green shoots of wheat are pushing up.  How I yearn to be there instead of here.

Queen Isabel of Spain was both a woman to be admired and a woman to be hated.  On one hand, she was an incredibly strong female leader for her time who actually chose who she got to marry.  On the other hand, she was the very woman that started the horrible, bloody Inquisition that killed thousands of innocents and forced thousands more to flee their homes.  Here in Isabel: Jewel of Castilla, Carolyn Meyer has attempted to explain both her strong side as well as her ruthless side that came from a combination of her deep faith and her hellfire-and-brimstone-preaching confessor, who later runs the Inquisition.  She certainly succeeds in creating an interesting explanation for Isabel’s brutality in her later life.

Since the story is told from Isabel when she is young, readers aged 10-12 will be able to enjoy this book.  It talks of her impending marriage and the civil war currently going on, but never actually touches on much sexuality or violence.  I wouldn’t call this a fast-paced novel, but at least it is an interesting one.  The dynamics between the characters (Isabel and her brother or Isabel and Queen Juana) are definitely realistic and very believable since the book is supposed to be Isabel writing her innermost thoughts about the people in her lonely life.

I never really knew much about Medieval Spain until I read this novel and I can assure you, I learned quite a lot.  Isabel certainly was a complicated woman, but Carolyn Meyer has made her much more accessible to modern readers.  Anyone who reads this will be entertained and learn a lot of history at the same time.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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