The Scroll Of Seduction
Lucia, an orphaned teenager at school in a convent in Madrid in the 1960s, meets Manuel, a historian with an obsession about Juana of Castile, daughter of Queen Isabella, nicknamed “Juana the Mad.” Manuel takes advantage of Lucia’s lonely, bereft state and persuades her to join him in a hypothetical journey to the past, to reconstruct the way Juana really felt by having her “channel” the 16th-century queen. He has Lucia dress in an antique gown, and narrates the story while she listens in a semi-hypnotic state. His ostensible motive is to vindicate the legendary Juana from the charge of madness, and prove that she was simply an extraordinarily passionate and sensitive woman who became a victim of circumstances.
The historical basis for this novel is indeed fascinating. The “mad” queen fell madly in love with her consort, Philippe the Handsome (Philip the Fair), and was wracked with jealousy over his affairs. The political turmoil and dynastic feuding that pervaded the courts of Europe are chillingly brought to life through the perspective of this shadowy figure. The book deserves a reading for this if for no other reason.
The basic framework of the novel suffers, however, from a plot that is a little too contrived. Although Belli creates some very sexy scenes and uses often surprising imagery, her valiant attempt to match the drama of the present-day to that of the historical tale ultimately fails. There is simply not enough depth in the characterization to carry it off. The denouement feels unprepared and hurried, and the surprising ending therefore loses its ability to hold the book together.