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Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

In the third Royal Diaries installment, Carolyn Meyer's Isabel: Jewel of Castilla, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

BOOK REPORT for Isabel: Jewel of Castilla by Carolyn Meyer

Cover Story: Portraiture
BFF Charm: Nay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2
Talky Talk: Balanced
Bonus Factor: Seven Deadly Sins
Anti-Bonus Factor: Julie Taylor Syndrome
Relationship Status: Bible Camp Buddy

Royal Diaries Drinking Game
A reminder of the rules!

Take a sip when:
• There is talk of a betrothal*
• The protagonist references the diary concept (i.e. apologizes for not writing often enough, has to find a hiding place for the diary, explains why she's writing in it to begin with, etc.)
• The protagonist wonders what it would be like to be a "normal girl"
• There’s a ball
• Somebody is poisoned or strangled or in some other way Ye Olde Murdered
• You wish you were a princess

Take two sips when:
• The protagonist becomes officially betrothed for realsies
• It's the protagonist's birthday (or culturally equivalent celebration)
• Obvious historical foreshadowing (i.e., from this book: Isabel musing over whether there might be undiscovered lands beyond the sea...)
• You're really glad you're NOT a princess

Take a shot when:
• The protagonist gets hitched
• Another Royal Diarist is mentioned

*Yeah, maybe not a rule I'd follow for this book, unless I wanted to die of alcohol poisoning by page 25.

Cover Story: Portraiture

Many of the Royal Diaries books try to imitate the look of an official royal portrait on their covers, but few commit to the idea as wholly as Isabel: Jewel of Castilla. Isabel herself looks suitably dour, like maybe she just realized the book she was reading is completely blank and is giving the camera a The Office-style reaction shot.

The Deal:

Fourteen-year-old Isabel is a princess of the kingdom of Castilla, and the heir to its throne--but which one? Both of her brothers, one older and one younger, claim to be Castilla's king. Their respective supporters try to settle the issue with armies and espionage. Caught in the middle with no clear indication of what the outcome will be, Isabel has to play a delicate game of neutrality to ensure her own survival. That would be a lot easier if people from both camps didn't see her as their personal political bargaining chip, the perfect future bride for [insert name here]. All Isabel wants is a little agency in her own life. Everyone treats her like a mere pawn, but if Isabel can reach the other end of the board, she might just become...a queen.*

*I'm so sorry. There's just so much chess symbolism in this book, I couldn't help myself.

BFF Charm: Nay

Look, I feel for Isabel, I really do. She's in a sucky situation that highlights at least one historically non-fairytale aspect of being a real live princess: getting sold off to the highest bidder to cement an alliance. Isabel keeps finding herself out of the frying pan and into the fire with a succession of ever-more-revolting suitors. Plus she's essentially under house arrest, she can't communicate with her mother, she can't draw very well, she's scared of going to Hell... Girl has every reason to feel bummed out. But Isabel's unrelenting negativity got old fast, and the book documents four years of it. Worse, she's super judgey. Isabel literally looks down on people for having fun. That is not the kind of attitude I want to have at my next slumber party.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

Isabel's suitors are much more vomit-worthy than swoonworthy--all except one. When Isabel finally (uh, historical spoiler alert?) secures her man, Fernando, it's frankly more a moment of relief than romantic ecstasy. Wait, he's NOT twice her age?? He DOES have some knowledge of personal hygiene?? Sounds like soulmate material! It is pretty cute how Isabel feels an instant connection to her future husband, and the promise and potential of ~Fernando~ adds some much-needed fuel to the book.

Talky Talk: Balanced

All of the books in the Royal Diaries series are (surprise) written in the "dear diary" format. This means that the book pretty much = its protagonist; events and other characters are filtered through the main character's perspective even more than in a standard first-person narrative. Getting frustrated with Isabel as a character basically meant being frustrated with the book as a whole.

At the same time, to be somewhat contradictory, I have to admire the way Carolyn Meyer writes Isabel. Historical fiction tends to struggle with portraying characters realistically, as they would have thought and acted in their own era, without alienating modern readers with 21st-century sensibilities. Understandably, writers tend to lean towards the side of Politically Correct History (warning: TV Tropes link). The Royal Diaries series, in particular, wants to educate as much as entertain its largely preteen girl audience. But Meyer can't ignore the other Big Thing Isabel is known for, besides funding Columbus' trip to the New World: the Spanish Inquisition. Given the circumstances, Meyer does a pretty decent job of making Isabel a relatable character without masking her flaws and prejudices.

Bonus Factor: Seven Deadly Sins

The one thing I remembered about this book, having read it in my own preteen girl days, was that it introduced me to the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins. Isabel starts writing her diary as a way of recording her sins so she can then atone for them (i.e. Dear Diary, today I am guilty of ANGER). I remember thinking that was a pretty cool idea and trying to imitate it. But I think I got the wrong message, because my attempts were always more aspirational than confessional (i.e. Dear Diary, I think I'll try GLUTTONY today).

Anti-Bonus Factor: Julie Taylor Syndrome

I'm going to go ahead and steal Mandy W.'s recently-coined Bonus Factor here, even though (heathen alert!) I've never actually seen Friday Night Lights. It fits what I felt while reading this book so perfectly: Isabel's friends and relatives are so much cooler than she is. Especially Beatríz de Bobadilla, who is always prepared to straight up stab-murder Isabel's unwanted suitors to death in the name of friendship. I want a friend like Beatríz. I want a book about Beatríz. I want Beatríz as Queen of Spain.

Casting Call:

Bonnie Wright as Isabel

Relationship Status: Bible Camp Buddy

Book, it sure was nice to have a friend to hang out with at Bible Camp. I was looking for someone to sit next to while they handed out the grape juice, and you fit the bill perfectly. Now that I'm a bit older, though, my mom can't force me to go to church anymore. Don't get me wrong--you were interesting, but you weren't very fun. If you ever decide you wanna embrace any of those deadly sins (especially the ones that involve getting your drank on), call me. Until then, peace be with you.

FTC Full Disclosure: I purchased this book with my allowance. Isabel: Jewel of Castilla has been available for years, y'all. So get on that.

Maria Greer's photo About the Author: Maria is originally from Montana but goes to school in the Bay Area, where she totally fails to take advantage of the tech industry. Instead, she is majoring in history and creative writing, with which she plans to do...something. Currently her hope is that someone will come along and offer to pay her to read YA novels and eat cupcakes. Until that day, Maria spends most of her time studying and petitioning the university to let her keep a cat in her dorm.