Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for stopping by Let Them Read Books.
Thank you so much for having me! I’m so excited to get to gush about Genghis Khan and his amazing women!
What inspired you to write a novel about the women in Genghis Khan's life?
I actually stumbled upon both of Jack Weatherford’s fabulous non-fiction books on Genghis Khan, and wondered why no one had ever written about Genghis’ tougher-than-nails wife, Borte, or any of their daughters. Then I discovered the related story of a Persian captive named Fatima and learned that it was actually Genghis’ daughter-in-law, Sorkhokhtani, who enabled Kublai Khan to found the impressive Yuan Dynasty in China. Needless to say, I was hooked!
Was it difficult to research the lives of these little-known women? What kind of sources did you use?
It was incredibly difficult in that I wanted to be as historically accurate as I could be, but there is so much we don’t know about these women. Fortunately, Borte’s actions during her marriage to Genghis are fairly well-documented in The Secret History of the Mongols and the European and Persian scholars recorded enough snippets of later sieges and battles that I was able to fill in the blanks. Of course, those writers were on the losing side of Genghis’ armies so many of their accounts, especially their staggering casualty figures, had to be taken with several grains of salt.
What kind of challenges did you face in bringing Genghis Khan to life through the eyes of these women?
My biggest challenge was in making Genghis a real human instead of pandering to the stereotype of him as a long-haired, marauding monster who massacred everything in his path. Genghis was actually a genius when it came to propaganda and battle tactics, and often preferred that a city be so terrified of him that they surrendered before he showed up on their doorstep. That said, he is also responsible for the slaughter of a whole lot of people, but it wasn’t indiscriminate killings. He spared every boy shorter than the linchpin of a cart as well as all of the learned elite—engineers, scientists, and the like—so he could press them into his service.
The trick was to show Genghis’ softer side (which seems like a historical oxymoron!) through the eyes of his wife and daughters. He’s a brutal guy, but he also had to be incredibly charismatic in order to garner so much support from the various Mongol clans. I hope that his more human side came across in the way he spoiled his daughter Alaqai, and also his dedication to his first wife Borte.
If you could go back in time and spend one day with one of these women, who would you choose and why?
Such a tough choice! I’d love to have tea with Fatima, the Persian captive who became a political confidante to Genghis’ daughter-in-law Toregene. The ancient sources claim that Fatima had “access to Toregene’s tent” which angered several high-ranking men, including Toregene’s son. Fatima’s story intrigued me from the very beginning, how a woman whose beautiful country was utterly decimated by the Mongols would in turn go on to become one of their greatest political advisors.
What are you working on now?
I’m on a bit of a conqueror’s kick! My fourth book, The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great, will come out in December 2015 and features a Persian princess who’d rather tinker with chariot axles than pots of perfume, Alexander’s spoiled warrior-sister, a grasping and destitute Persian beauty, and Alexander’s childhood-companion-turned-playboy-lover. They’ve got me hopping!
Thank you, Stephanie! Great answers! I'll be first in line to read The Conqueror's Wife!
The Tiger Queens is on a blog tour!
Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.
“The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora” and “Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt” are available from NAL/Penguin. “The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan” will hit the shelves November 4, 2014, followed by “The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great” in November 2015.
For more information please visit Stephanie Thornton’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.