Juana of Castile, third child of the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Fernando, grows up with no hope of inheriting her parents' crowns, but as a princess knows her duty: to further her family's ambitions through marriage. Yet stories of courtly love, and of her parents' own legendary romance, surround her. When she weds the Duke of Burgundy, a young man so beautiful that he is known as Philippe the Handsome, she dares to hope that she might have both love and crowns. He is caring, charming, and attracted to her-seemingly a perfect husband.
But what begins like a fairy tale ends quite differently.
When Queen Isabel dies, the crowns of Spain unexpectedly pass down to Juana, leaving her husband and her father hungering for the throne. Rumors fly that the young Queen has gone mad, driven insane by possessiveness. Who is to be believed? The King, beloved by his subjects? Or the Queen, unseen and unknown by her people?
One of the greatest cautionary tales in Spanish history comes to life as Lynn Cullen explores the controversial reign of Juana of Castile-also known as Juana the Mad. Sweeping, page-turning, and wholly entertaining, Reign of Madness is historical fiction at its richly satisfying best.
Reign of Madness is an historical fiction book chronicling Juana of Castile's life. Juana was the third child of Ferdinand and Isabel, rulers of Spain. Juana had no hope of ever becoming Queen but she let her parents sends her off to the Netherlands to be married to Philippe the Handsome.
At first, Juana is taken away by her new husband. He is caring and loving... and handsome. Over time, though, he begins to change. Neither Philippe or Juana originally wanted power but Philippe seems to be persuaded by his grandmother to begin to seek the throne back in Spain.
Juana grows more distant to her husband as he becomes more power hungry. Eventually, after some family misfortunes and misunderstandings, Juana is in a place to take her mother's throne. However, Philippe does not want to be a consort King, so he arranges for Juana to appear crazy to the public. Juana becomes a pawn to her husband, father, and son, as they all want her power. Meanwhile, Juana is locked up waiting for her adolescent love to save her, Diego, son of Christopher Columbus.
Juana's story is, without a doubt, interesting and has the right amounts of green and corruption. However, many times I was just bored or confused.
Juana's relationship to her mother is like that of a modern adolescent, not a girl raised to become at all powerful in her own right, like her mother did. I kept waiting for Juana to grow up and drop the petty drama.
As for being bored, Christopher Columbus enters the story several times with his exploits to the Americas. I'm not sure why he was included though. My guess is that his presence adds some historical context that everyone knows about, but he isn't relevant to Juana's story and just served to distract the reader. Even her relationship to his son, Diego, was a little boring. There were just small moments when they stood and talked to each other and then nothing came of it. Boring and unnecessary.
Also, as Juana's relationship to her husband changed, her feelings and knowledge of what was going on seemed to be only superficially explained. I kept wanting more. I wanted to know how Juana did not guess what her husband was doing to her sooner, especially since the reader could guess right away. There was a lot of foreshadowing throughout the novel, so I knew all of what was going to happen long before it did.
I normally love historical fiction for the richness of detail and learning about important figures. I think Reign of Madness lacked a lot in the details that makes historical fiction so enchanting and escapist. I never really felt myself pulled into Juana's world. I did learn more about Juana the Mad/of Castile, but I'm sure I still have a long way to go before I feel like I knew her.
Overall, it was an okay/good read but not great. I guess it's a good introductory story to one theory on the life of Juana the Mad.
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars