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Reign of Madness

Reign of Madness, by Lynn Cullen.

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? (Description from

I found myself at a loss to give a good, succinct plot summary of this book for some reason, so I have resorted to using the description.  Hopefully you all will forgive me that minor transgression.

This was an interesting book.  The plot kept me turning the pages just to see what would happen next, and there were no "dead" spots to wade through.  The language was colorful and the dialogue time- and location-appropriate.  Cullen did an excellent job of describing the locations, so that I felt cold and a bit depressed during those scenes set in Flanders, just as Juana must have felt, and warm and hopeful in Spain.

A couple of minor criticisms:  Some chapters were separated by the passage of mere hours, while others were separated by a span of multiple years.  I found it a bit wrenching to lose months or years, without any very good explanation of what had happened in the intervening years, and I felt like the inconsistency of the time-frames between chapters took away from the flow of the story.  I also disliked how the author would have a character fall deathly ill, then end the chapter, leaving the reader to figure out from a few sentences in the next chapter what had happened to that character.  Because these events were major plot features, they deserved more attention than Cullen gave them, I felt.

Poor Mad Juana, so mistreated by all whom she loved and trusted most. 

Overall I enjoyed this book and, despite the flaws mentioned above, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Spanish history or"Mad" Queen Juana.  This book paints a clear and unflinching portrait of the lengths to which medieval men would go in order to gain power, and the utter lack of power, by and large, of women in medieval society.  I would give this book a 4 out of 5.

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