Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: A Thousand Orange Trees by Kathryn Harrison

Title: A Thousand Orange Trees
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 1995


On March 26th, 1662 two little girls were born.

One was a princess: the granddaughter of kings and niece of Charles II of England and the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Pampered and adored she would spend her young years at the liberal minded and pleasure loving court of France. At the age of 18 she would leave France forever and travel to Spain to become a wife and Queen and on the way "she is forced to abandon the cumbersome orange trees brought from home and leave them to wither in the Pyrennees" - a story that is symbolic of the loss of her childhood and presaging her lonely future at the formal and repressive Spanish court.
At Quintanapalla she marries Charles II of Spain, a young man physically, mentally and emotionally suffering the awful defects of royal inbreeding.

Quintanapalla is the birthplace of the second little girl, the fictional Francisca de Luarca, the daughter of impoverished silkworm farmers. After a tragic and forbidden love affair she is arrested by the Inquisition and it's from her prison cell she dreams of the young Queen and the author weaves together the threads of the lives of  two women powerless to control their destiny.

In between there are wonderfully evocative accounts of silkworms and the art of silk weaving, the heartbreaking tale of the little lovebirds of Paris...... and like a black cloud hanging overhead the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition with its barbaric cruelty and tortures.

I don't think I've ever read a novel of such emotional intensity . Kathryn Harrison's writing is powerful and beautiful and sweeps one page after page from the heights of passion to the depths of suffering and despair and every feeling that lies between.

Compelling and spellbinding - I loved it.

Royal Reviews Historical Fiction Challenge

Colourful Reading Challenge


  1. Wow, great review. I've not heard of it before but I am glad I have now. Thanks.

  2. Love the review...poor old Charles II of Spain sounds like a bit of a 'catch' in the husband stakes...not!! ...yet another for my list!

  3. Poor Charles was definitely a 'not'....and impotent too.

    Its a great little book and worth reading.

  4. Cat this sounds fantastic - I love a good historical and it isn't one I've heard of before. Great find :-)

  5. Pure chance - I was looking for titles with a colour in them.

    It is fantastic!

  6. Wonderful review Cat, I love historical fiction and your review has certainly got me interested. This title was suggested for the food title in the What's In A Name Challenge but I couldnt find a review so perfect timing thanks :-)

  7. What a beautifully written review!

  8. A great review Cat, and will be adding this book to my list. Had not come across this story and sounds right up my alley.
    Leaning more and more to Historical Fiction and Mysteries, but I have to admit to a leaning to the Jane Austen genre.

  9. Great review of an excellent novel. You might also enjoy Kathryn Harrison's evocative and compelling novel "The Seal Wife", which is set in early 20th century Alaska.

  10. This sounds really interesting! Great review! I am going to have to see if I can find it and read it for the Colorful Challenge as well!