The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Stephanie Thornton

conqueror The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Stephanie Thornton

Please click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

This is a novel with a very misleading title. “The Conqueror’s Wife” leads the reader to  believe that it will be told from the perspective of one woman: the wife of Alexander the Great. This is not at all the case. The author strives to gain a wider perspective of Alexander by using multiple voices to tell the story. Four voices to be exact. Furthermore, only one of them was Alexander’s wife and it took until page 273 to find out who.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel however, I did, but I found myself boggled by the title. In fact during the first few chapters it actually put me off the story a little. The multitude of voices when I expected just one caused me to find the beginning of the novel somewhat diluted. However I’m glad to say that as the novel progressed I became attached to all four characters and appreciated their varied outlooks upon the events of the novel. They are four very unique and vivid characters that highlighted the way of the world during Alexander’s reign.

Hephaestion, one of the four and the only male voice, was a childhood companion of Alexander that travelled by his side throughout his decade-long conquering campaign. It is amazing just how much Hephaestion, and all of Alexander’s loyal soldiers, were willing to give up in order to serve him. It is as though they truly thought him to be the God he declared himself to be and would follow him to Hades itself if he asked. In fact there are certain scenes in this novel that would make you think they were already there.

The author did a wonderful job of depicting the battle scenes, making them realistic and very fast-paced. I learnt much about how Macedonian battles were fought. I found it particularly interesting to learn that many Indian Lords and even the Persian King of Kings Darius III used War Elephants in battle. Overall I really enjoyed all the portrayals of Alexander’s success in battle. This plus the loyalty of his men gave me a good impression of how Alexander was able to build an empire in a relatively short period of time.

My favourite character in this novel was Drypetis, second daughter to King Darius III. It was her perspective in particular that I clicked with the most and I felt a similar dislike of Alexander to that which she felt. Whilst I could see how he was admired through Hephaestion’s eyes, it was through Drypetis’ eyes that my opinion formed. From the very beginning she showed him to be the most human–not at all God-like–and it was this notion that really came through towards the end. Alexander was just a man, flawed as any man is, and I appreciated the author’s talent in taking him down from his pedestal step-by-step. Nothing felt rushed, rather the story came to a head of it’s own accord and Alexander’s world began to unravel. The end of his reign and the years following were very chaotic and somewhat confusing if you read the history. However the author gives us a concise explanation that was easy to follow and ended her story nicely. She explains why she chose to do certain things in her author’s note, which I always appreciate.

Overall this was a very interesting read and I enjoyed it greatly. I just really wish it had a more appropriate title!

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Sisi: Empress on Her Own By Allison Pataki

sisi  Sisi: Empress on Her Own by Allison Pataki

Thank-you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.

This was a wonderfully written novel that I enjoyed immensely. After reading “The Accidental Empress” I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was a sequel, as I was eager to learn more about Empress “Sisi” of Austria-Hungary.

This novel begins where the last novel left us and therefore I strongly recommend reading them in order. I enjoyed this novel even more than I did the first one as I found it to be more educational about who Sisi was as a person and how she dealt with the issues in her life.

Sisi is a much stronger, independent woman in this novel and I was intrigued to learn how she was able to cope with the rigid structure of being a Hapsburg and all that it entailed. She struck me as a true free spirit–a “Fairy Queen” as she was named by her people–and therefore she ran away from the Hapsburg court as often as she could.

I do not use the term “ran away” lightly. There were many things that I felt Sisi was running away from, to name a few: the slander about her in the press, the tension between her husband and her son, even the prospect of too many Imperial functions would cause her to flee at times. If you read this novel by itself I could see how it may cause you to view Sisi as selfish and irresponsible, however if read after “The Accidental Empress” it becomes evident that Sisi HAS to take a step back from these things for her own well-being of body and mind. This is a woman with a much better handle on herself and her emotions than the Sisi of the first novel. I really enjoyed seeing this change in her and therefore found myself rooted firmly in her camp when it came to the backlash surrounding her urge to flee the court.

Yet this is not to say that I agreed with every decision she made. Her avoidance of her son’s issues in particular was disturbing to me. The author voices this same concern in her author’s note. The author muses upon whether or not the lack of control Sisi had in her children’s upbringing led to this distancing of herself from them later in life. Another thought is that she was reluctant to exert any kind of influence or control in fear of being too much like her mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie, who strove to control the Imperial Family’s every move. It was upsetting to read of the deteriorating relationship between Crown Prince Rudolf and his parents. I couldn’t help but wonder if the fate of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire would have been different if their relationship had not become so strained. I was amazed by some of the events that transpired in the family. As the author states in her author’s note: “one cannot make this stuff up”.

A particularly fascinating figure that appeared in this novel was Sisi’s cousin, King Ludwig II of Bavaria. “Mad King Ludwig” is most famously known for his creation of Neuschwanstein, the extraordinary fairy-tale castle set amongst the mountains of Western Bavaria. Ludwig was an eccentric recluse who became the patron of the composer Richard Wagner. He bankrupted himself through his building work and his patronage of Wagner, causing serious discontentment in the Bavarian government. Although it was mostly through letters written between him and Sisi, the author still managed to create a vivid character in Ludwig that I greatly enjoyed reading about. I adored the descriptions of Neuschwanstein that were shown to us through Sisi’s eyes and I found myself staring at photographs of the castle in wonder. Ludwig’s story is a sad one but his legacy of Neuschwanstein is awe-inspiring all the same.

Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I was able to get a good sense of who Empress Sisi actually was. Her life story is very interesting and there are many things that are curious enough to give me pause for thought. I’ve found myself pondering many “what-ifs” after finishing this novel and this is truly a sign of a good read: one that stays with me for a long time afterwards. I am very glad to have read this pair of absorbing, intriguing and well-written novels.

 

 

 

The Vatican Princess: A novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner

borgia   The Vatican Princess: A novel of Lucrezia Borgia

Thank-you to Amazon Vine for my advanced copy of this novel. Please click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

Lucrezia Borgia was the daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, later known as Pope Alexander VI. The Borgias are a much talked about historical family, mostly due to the political intrigue and corruption surrounding Rodrigo’s Papal court. Yet this novel shows the family through Lucrezia’s eyes, not Rodrigo’s. Therefore we are granted the blunt perspective of a young girl growing to womanhood during turbulent times. I appreciated the honesty that Lucrezia’s voice brought to the tale.
I have read novels about the Borgia family before, most recently “Blood and Beauty” by Sarah Dunnant and “The Lion and the Rose” by Kate Quinn. The latter of these is one of my favourite novels and was partially told from the viewpoint of Giulia Farnese, Rodrigo’s mistress. Consequently it was interesting to see Giulia through Lucrezia’s eyes instead of the other way around. I was given a fresh perspective on historical figures that I had previously cataloged and shelved in my mind and it was enjoyable to take them out and dust them off again. I found myself liking Lucrezia more than I had previously, mostly due to her honest nature that rebelled against the deceitful ways of her family. Within these pages I found a girl that I both admired and pitied and truly felt a connection to, thanks to the author’s talented character development. Lucrezia was a vivid character that jumped to life from the page and I greatly enjoyed reading her story.
We begin with Lucrezia at twelve years old, just as her father gains the Papal throne. Many times it struck me how very apt the title of this novel is, “The Vatican Princess”, as that is truly how Lucrezia was treated. Albeit born out of wedlock she was still the Holy Father’s daughter and therefore a hot commodity on the marriage market. Just as any Princess from a royal dynasty would be Lucrezia was married for her father’s political purposes, not for love. Unfortunately this led to a disastrous first marriage for Lucrezia and although it was eventually annulled it continued to haunt her for many years.
There is much speculation in the historical world about the time that Lucrezia spent at the Convent of San Sisto during her annulment proceedings. It is thought by many that she was pregnant and awaiting the birth at the time, although this has never actually been proven. I wasn’t surprised therefore to see this in the novel, however I was surprised by who the author chose to make the father of this child. It did fit into the story and it does (rather shockingly) tie into other things that we know about the family, but nonetheless I was surprised.
The most impressive thing about this novel in my opinion is the character development that the author has been able to achieve. Not just Lucrezia but also her brothers Cesare and Juan were very well-written, complex characters that truly felt like living, breathing people and not just two-dimensional figures from long ago. The author gave them real fears, real passions and a whole bunch of flaws, which enabled me to have a good grasp of who they were as people. I did not necessarily like either one of Lucrezia’s brothers, but I found them fascinating to read about all the same. Such character development is what was missing from Sarah Dunnant’s novel “Blood and Beauty” and therefore this novel was an even better read than that one was.
I would absolutely recommend this novel to anyone with an interest in the Borgia family. I do not think it matters whether you have read a lot about them before or whether your interest is new, I still believe this novel would be an enjoyable read. The author has done a wonderful job of crafting Lucrezia’s story, using historical fact where possible and filling in the blanks with skill that shows a keen understanding of the era. Overall, a very entertaining read!

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

accidental   The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

Please click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

I found this to be an easy, enjoyable read. I would say this novel is more for those who do not already know much about Empress Elisabeth rather than those who know a lot and wish her character to be explored more deeply. I fall into the former category so for me it was interesting to learn of who “Sisi” was and what she went through as Empress of the largest empire in Europe in the nineteenth century.
In many ways the beginnings of her story reminded me of an early Marie Antoinette. Sisi had to learn the strict protocols of Austrian etiquette and her life was dictated to her in a series of writings that told her what to do, how to act and what to say during almost every single second of her day. Sisi rails against this and therefore finds herself pushed aside from the Hapsburg inner circle by her overbearing mother-in-law Archduchess Sophie. Sophie implies to the court that Sisi is therefore too young and naive to take care of herself properly, subsequently leading to her complete ostracism from rule and her children being taken away to be raised by their grandmother. One cannot help but feel sorry for Empress Elisabeth.
However, Sisi eventually gains self confidence and self worth back again and due to this the last quarter of the novel was my favourite part. I was a bit disappointed that the four years that Sisi spent away from court whilst she gained this security of herself was not documented in the novel. Rather we jump forward four years and are introduced to Sisi as her new self. I loved her, yes, but I wished we could have witnessed this transformation throughout the pages.
Nonetheless the confident self-assured woman who is present for the latter part of the novel was very enjoyable to read of and I loved how the author showed how Sisi created private daily routines to gain control back of her own life. She did not revert back to the free spirited girl of her youth but rather matured into an intelligent and strong woman who did things on her own terms.
There are two main relationships in the novel that the author explores and they are very different from one another. First, the relationship between Sisi and her husband Emperor Franz Joseph and second, the relationship between Sisi and Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian count who wishes independence for his county. I loved how the author portrayed the former as an instant infatuation that quickly burned out and the later as an early dislike that grew to mutual respect and then eventually blossomed into love. The author drives home the point that a successful relationship is built on so much more than just lust. I really enjoyed reading of how Sisi and Andrassy’s relationship developed.
Overall an enjoyable read that was easy to get into and kept my attention throughout.

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

rebel last queen  Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

This novel was published under the title “Rebel Queen” in the USA and under the title “The Last Queen of India” in the UK. Click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

This is a fascinating story. I came to this novel with no prior knowledge of the era and now that I’ve finished it I feel as though I have a solid grasp of the tragedy of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Rani of Jhansi was an amazing figure to read about and I enjoyed the outside perspective of her gained from one of her Durga Dal, Sita. The Durga Dal was a group of female guards trained to protect the Rani, the queen of the Raja. The Raja was the ruler of Jhansi, one of the princely states of India, when the British East India company had a strong foothold in their territory. What makes the Rani of Jhansi particularly unique however was that she continued to rule after her husband’s death, subsequently playing a major part in the Indian Rebellion.
By telling the story from Sita’s viewpoint we gain not just an idea of who the Rani was as a person, but we are also given insight into the culture of the Jhansi district. Sita is from a small village in the district, a place where women are kept in Purdah; hidden away from the world outside of their homes. Therefore Sita’s life as a respected member of the Durga Dal is a far cry from her upbringing. Sita is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who really comes into her own once she is freed from the restraints of Purdah.
I love how the author has shown various female perspectives through the inclusion of Sita’s sister and grandmother, not to mention other members of the Durga Dal. Their portrayals are very diverse from each other in order for the author to show how their life experiences have shaped their personalities. For example Sita’s grandmother is a bitter woman who has suffered so much disappointment in her own life that she resents anything that Sita might accomplish for herself. A friend of Sita’s in the Durga Dal, Jhalkari, is a member of the Dalit caste, the lowest social class in India. This caste of society was considered “untouchable” and completely shunned by all other castes of society. Jhalkari’s perspective is therefore very different from the other women in the Durga Dal, although not in the way that you might imagine. She is not bitter at all like Sita’s grandmother, but rather a kind and giving person. I really enjoyed the various female portrayals and how the author chose to entwine them together to create this story.
Although heartbreaking at the end in more ways than one I loved every second of this novel. Being British myself I am horrified by the acts committed during the British occupation of India and I feel a deep regret that such things occurred (as I feel most would, regardless of their nationality). I learnt a lot throughout these pages, but ultimately the feeling I am left with is an immense admiration for the Rani of Jhansi and what she fought for. I absolutely recommended giving this a read.

Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois by Sophie Perinot

medicis daughter  Médicis Daughter: A Novel of Marguerite de Valois by Sophie Perinot

I am grateful to Amazon Vine for an advanced copy of this novel. Please click on the above link for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.

I really enjoyed this novel. Having recently read the non-fiction book “The Rival Queens” by Nancy Goldstone I was able to enjoy this novel even more as all the key players were fresh in my mind and I was truly able to appreciate the author’s decisions behind certain character portrayals. Nothing stood out as being overly embellished for the reader. The author did a good job of adhering to the historical record as much as possible without sacrificing her story. It was a very well-written novel.
However when reading it one must remember that it is historical fiction and not unfiltered historical fact. The author has chosen to solidify certain speculations that historians have whilst choosing to disregard others. This is another reason I am glad to have recently read “The Rival Queens” about Marguerite of Valois and her mother Catherine de ‘Medici. It means I was able to clearly see what was speculation and gain a better understanding of WHY certain things had been rumored (such as the relationship between Marguerite and her brother Henri). Of course the author is forthcoming about such things in her author’s note too, which I always appreciate.
The main body of the story focuses upon Marguerite before her marriage to Henri of Navarre. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre occurs towards the end of the novel and therefore the marriage of Marguerite and Henri was not explored in this novel (I was a little disappointed by this in truth). We are introduced to Marguerite as a girl, just joining her mother’s court, and we get to see how Marguerite is treated by her family. We gain insight into the nature of her brother Henri of Anjou and her brother the king, Charles IX, not to mention her mother Catherine de ‘Medici.
I think the author did a wonderful job in her portrayal of Catherine. Writing from Marguerite’s perspective it could have been very easy for the author to demonize Catherine, but she didn’t. Not to say that she isn’t portrayed as completely self-serving and somewhat cruel, because she is, however she isn’t made to look like a she-devil (as she often thought to be; “La Madame Serpent”).
Marguerite herself is portrayed as a girl trying to find her way in a court full of lies and secrecy. Truly this is a coming of age story about Marguerite and I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. She is searching for something or someone that will give her validation; she is desperate to feel needed. Her family takes advantage of this and use her to suit their own needs, in ways even more extreme than you would expect (because let’s be honest, all princesses are born to serve their family’s needs). The Duc de Guise becomes Marguerite’s rock and for the first time she feels wanted for who she is and not for what she can do for someone. This relationship makes up a large part of the novel and it goes a long way to shaping Marguerite into the woman she becomes.
Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I felt a connection to Marguerite that was missing from my non-fiction reading (this is why I love historical fiction). I just wish that more of Marguerite’s life was explored and I had hoped for a sequel, but the author’s note gave a summarized version of later events so unfortunately this won’t be forthcoming.