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Reign of Madness

Putnam. Aug. 2011. c.448p. ISBN 9780399157097. $25.95. F
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Set at the dawn of Spain's Golden Age, this is the story of Juana of Castile (1479–1555), known to history as Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad). Cullen's page-turning account depicts the intelligent, caring woman behind the legend. The novel opens in 1493 at the court of Juana's parents, Isabella and Ferdinand. Cristóbal Colón has just returned from his voyage to the Indies, and Spain is positioned to become a major European power. Juana's parents marry her to Philippe the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy, in order to cement a political alliance with the Habsburgs. The initially passionate marriage turns sour when Philippe becomes abusive and seeks to rule Spain as its king, not merely Juana's consort.
VERDICT Cullen's second historical novel (after The Creation of Eve) is a sweeping study of political intrigue. But an equal focus on character development and plot makes for a satisfying blend of romance, family drama, and royal machinations. While not as well known to American readers as her mother, Queen Isabella, or her son, Charles V, Juana is a sympathetic heroine, and lovers of historical fiction will enjoy her story. [For another take on Juana, consider C.W. Gortner's The Last Queen.—Ed.]

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