Karen Karbo
September 22, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Juana, third child of 15th-century Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, was so in love with her husband, Philippe the Handsome, she was jealous even of his corpse. She was written off as insane, but Nicaraguan author Gioconda Belli tells a different tale in The Scroll of Seduction — of an outspoken woman whose passions so intimidated men that she was imprisoned rather than allowed to rule. In Belli’s story-within-a-story, expertly translated by Lisa Dillman, a brooding historian uses Juana’s saga to seduce a 16-year-old orphan at a Madrid boarding school. While the setup is a smidge hokey, once the alternating narratives are established the novel gallops along.

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