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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Invisible Infanta by Elizabeth Toner

Her sisters and brother were an ill-fated Queen of Portugal, Henry VIII's first wife, the heir to the throne of Spain, and the notoriously loca Juana, who would become Queen of Spain when all her siblings met other fates. But Ferdinand and Isabella had another royal daughter, an infanta, about whom one hardly ever hears mention. Her name is María and this the story of her life before she left the Castilian court to be married.

It's not easy to write about such a complicated time period, with so much complexity at every level. Most books about this infanta's mother take on too much and become a soup of places and dates without a lot of narrative thrust, so I was pleased to see that this novel focuses its scope. There are still some moments of summary, but overall the spotlight on a single actor in the drama serves the plot well.

The story further focuses on the infanta's emotional involvement with a servant, the only one of the Taino people who survived for any length of time after Columbus brought them to Spain after his first voyage. He happens to be a boy about María's age, and has been assigned the name Juan de Castilla, strikingly similar to María's brother. The friendship and love that develops between these two outcasts is believable and made me think about how history would have been different if Spain had taken the diplomatic route to alliances in the New World, and, for example, married one of the infantas off to a Taino grandee.

There are a few historical detail errors here, but nothing that will stick out to the casual reader, and the many well-observed moments and politics more than make up for them. The evocative descriptions of the palaces in Sevilla and Granada made me feel I was right there with María. I also particularly enjoyed the musings about the meaning of freedom at the very end of the book. It is very short, but perhaps we'll see more of María and her marriage in the next books in the Trastamara Chronicles. Even without that possibility, The Invisible Infanta is easily digested because of its length and its comfortable style.

The Invisible Infanta is available on Kindle.