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Reviewed by Ray Hosler for Readers' Favorite
Falling Pomegranate Seeds: The Duty of Daughters by Wendy J. Dunn introduces the reader to the lives of children of royalty in late fifteenth-century Europe. Isabella, Queen of Castile, oversees the unification of Spain with her husband King Ferdinand, while she raises four daughters and a son — Isabel, Prince Juan, Juana, Maria, and Catalina (Katherine, Queen of England). The story’s protagonist, Dona Beatriz Galindo, is tasked with raising the queen's youngest daughter, Catalina, the story's main focus, and her cousin and companion Maria. While helping them with their studies in Latin and the arts, Beatriz faces one challenge after another as she grapples with courtly intrigues. We learn the nuances of being a young girl of royalty in an age when her sole purpose was to bear children and marry into prearranged partnerships intended to unify countries through bloodlines. The book delves into political and military challenges facing the Spanish rulers as they expel the Moors, unify the provinces, and try to convert Jews to the Catholic religion. The story arc offers a wealth of fascinating details regarding the children, who marry and resume their lives in far-flung lands.
Wendy J. Dunn breathes life into all her characters in The Duty of Daughters. We come to understand the daughters’ lives and the total control the queen and king exert over who they will marry. Beatriz, a real person in history, faces incredibly painful decisions as she deals with her own personal demons while trying to mollify the girls, who have their own ideas about love and marriage. The lessons Dunn leaves with the reader regarding women’s lives and the difficulties they face are as pertinent now as they were then. Dunn has a dreamy writing style that tantalizes the senses, word for word, paragraph after paragraph, non-stop; such as during the battle for Alhambra, Granada: “Carried by uncaring wind, the screams of men and beast assailed her, tearing her heart into shreds.” Throughout this well-researched novel, the author’s ability to describe scenes and capture the emotions of her characters keeps the reader engaged until the final page. There is no clear-cut ending to Falling Pomegranate Seeds. We are left to decide for ourselves whether the conduct of the rulers and their children, given their circumstances, were justified, but certainly, this profoundly moving story helps us appreciate today’s more enlightened world. The Duty of Daughters is historical fiction at its best!