Sunday, May 9, 2021

Review: The Widow Queen by Elzbieta Cherezinska

by Elzbieta Cherezinkska, Translated by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim
Release Date: April 6th 2021 (First published June 6, 2016)
2021 Tor/Forge
Kindle Edition; 512 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250218001
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

The bold one, they call her—too bold for most.

To her father, the great duke of Poland, Swietoslawa and her two sisters represent three chances for an alliance. Three marriages on which to build his empire.

But Swietoslawa refuses to be simply a pawn in her father's schemes; she seeks a throne of her own, with no husband by her side.

The gods may grant her wish, but crowns sit heavy, and power is a sword that cuts both ways.
My Thoughts
The Widow Queen is the first book in a historical fiction series about the conflicts that occurred in the Balkans circa 1000 A.D.  I was fascinated by this book simply because I find this time period intriguing and I really have been looking forward to a book that focuses on the women and their intrigues, not just the men.  History so often has chosen to ignore the importance of women and the role than have played in shaping history that it was nice to see a book that showcases the fight for power and the intrigues in which they were involved, and how they had to fight for their very lives and their families.

There are basically four main families that are highlighted in this book, and I enjoyed all of their stories. Duke Mieszko 1 of Poland will use his daughters to create alliances and enlarge his lands.  His son, Boleslaw, will continue his fight to unite Poland. His story is more well-known, so it is his daughter's story that is highlighted in this book. Sven, the duke of Denmark, seeks to become king, but he will have to depose of an unfit king, his father, as well as somehow create alliances with Norway and Sweden to do so. Olav, an exiled heir of Norway, will have to fight to regain his throne. And then there is Eric, King of Sweden, who will attack Denmark, but will gain the prize they all want, Swietoslawa.  

The power struggles are complicated and it is a world that is very different from the one that we know today, and these struggles cause alliances to shift and change throughout the book.  There are a lot of things of which to keep track and there are a lot of subtleties at play as well.  Because I was not as familiar with some of the stories, I did find myself reading a bit slower than usual as I was looking up some things on which I needed further clarification.  And I have a background in history and I teach history.  I am fascinated by political struggles so when things are glossed over a little bit, I have this tendency to want to delve a bit more into the political side of things as it is and is not necessarily a reflection on the author. 

The POV does change between the different players and we don't hear from some of them towards the last third of the book, although I have learned they do play a major role in the second book of the series, so I was not too disappointed.  One of the things I did find though, is that character development did kind of get lost because of this format and the reader does not always understand what drives a person to do the things that he/she does, other than for power, which did not always make sense in the circumstances.  I did wonder if it was the translation format that was the problem, although it was still extremely well done overall, but I do know that when I read novels in French and then read them in English, there is sometimes something lost in translation (Le comte de Monte-Cristo is a good example). 

Even though there were multiple characters involved in this book, I did want to read more about Swietoslawa.  Knowing from an early age that she would be used as a marriage pawn in a political alliance, she was always curious as to who it would be and would try to trick her father into telling her who it was.  I enjoyed the way she used her wiles to get what she wanted and wished the author could have highlighted her a bit more.  However, I did enjoy the other intrigues in the other courts and loved how different it all was.  

The Widow Queen was full of alliances and intrigue, well-described battle scenes that evoke the time period, intriguing characters, political machinations, and yes, even poetry.  I was also captured by the historical events as well as the struggles between paganism and Christianity as the Holy Roman Empire gained a foothold in this land.  This is not a quick read and there is a lot going on, building for the next book, but the writing is solid and enjoyable.  Highly recommend for those interested in a blend of history and legend.