Unabridged Chick

I'm Audra, a 30-something married lesbian. I love interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf.
Reign of Madness - Lynn Cullen I loved this book. It ranks in the top five historical novels I've read this year. From the first page, I was totally enamored of Juana, our heroine, and sucked in to her world.  I'm sort of mentally flailing my arms in my enthusiasm, so I apologize if this review is less substance and more squee. Juana's parents are the Isabel and Ferdinand of Columbus/New World fame. A bright child, Juana is married off to a handsome, playful, vivacious Duke whose opulent, decadent world is the opposite of the stolid, stifled court she grew up.  Born in an era of immense change -- Cristóbal Colón has returned from the Indies -- and political upheaval -- her mother dominates her parents' royal reign -- she and her sisters are traded for the most power and best alliance.  In this, Juana knows her place -- but she's also mystified and confused by the shifting way everyone behaves in court and around her.  Crossing that uncomfortable place from child to adolescent, Juana learns what loyalty and fidelity is when her beloved father and much desired husband prove themselves far from devoted.In this, I was reminded a bit of Sandra Worth's Pale Rose of England and even Melanie Benjamin's Alice I Have Been, as this novel articulates the awful imprisonment that comes from power -- or the perception of power -- and women's place in society.  Cullen imagines what happened to Juana in the years leading up to her imprisonment when she was labeled as a madwoman, and the story she envisions is heartbreaking.  And yet, there is some hope come the end: Juana is never broken and at the last page, I wanted to squeeze the novel to me, as if I were hugging Juana.  It was that good.