Sunday, November 2, 2014

Blog Tour Review: The Tiger Queens by Stephanie Thornton

From the Back Cover:

In the late twelfth century, across the sweeping Mongolian grasslands, brilliant, charismatic Temujin ascends to power, declaring himself the Great, or Genghis, Khan. But it is the women who stand beside him who ensure his triumph...

After her mother foretells an ominous future for her, gifted Borte becomes an outsider within her clan. When she seeks comfort in the arms of aristocratic traveler Jamuka, she discovers he is the blood brother of Temujin, the man who agreed to marry her and then abandoned her long before they could wed.

Temujin will return and make Borte his queen, yet it will take many women to safeguard his fragile new kingdom. Their daughter, the fierce Alaqai, will ride and shoot an arrow as well as any man. Fatima, an elegant Persian captive, will transform her desire for revenge into an unbreakable loyalty. And Sorkhokhtani, a demure widow, will position her sons to inherit the empire when it begins to fracture from within.

In a world lit by fire and ruled by the sword, the tiger queens of Genghis Khan come to depend on one another as they fight and love, scheme and sacrifice, all for the good of their family...and the greatness of the People of the Felt Walls.

My Thoughts:

*Fair warning: there will be gushing and fangirling ahead. This was one of my most anticipated novels of the year, and I absolutely loved it.*

If you follow my reviews, you know that I loved Stephanie Thornton's previous novels, The Secret History and Daughter of the Gods. I have extolled her incredible talent for bringing a time period so vividly to life, and she has outdone herself in her third novel, The Tiger Queens. Reading this book was like stepping into a whole new world, one that was completely foreign to me. I'd never read any fiction about the Mongols, and I was fascinated by these people and their hard-scrabble existence; men who fought hard and played harder, who honored their elders and revered their wives, daughters, and mothers but didn't hesitate to rape, enslave, and murder women of rival clans; people who were superstitious to a fault yet tolerant of the many different religions that converged as foreigners made their way to the empire and the empire sought to gain a foothold in international affairs, the many clans with their shifting rivalries and alliances and their thirst for blood, battle, and power. As I was reading, I marveled at all of the little details that came together--and the mountains of research it must have taken--to bring these people, their landscape, and this time period to life.

The brutal lifestyle of the women at the heart of this novel is so unflinchingly depicted that at times I wondered if it was all worth it, but always the women who bound these people together managed to find the important things that matter in life to cherish. There's Borte, Genghis Khan's first and chief wife, the khatun of his empire. So stoic, so brave, so resilient, gracious, and wise. So resigned to sacrificing her desires for the greater good of her family and her people, yet so burdened by a prophecy of doom that she herself ends up bringing it into being. Alaqai, their daughter, a wild child forced to grow up fast to survive in a dangerous new home, and doing so with surprising wisdom and compassion--and with a wonderful love story that satisfied the romantic in me. Fatima, the beautiful, pampered Persian noblewoman who is reborn as a slave and must learn to survive among her barbarian captors, balancing a desire to live with a desire for vengeance. And Sorkhokhtani, the quiet and unassuming, dutiful wife and mother who takes over in the dynasty's darkest hours and saves it from self-destruction.

At first, I worried that four narratives told by four different women would be disjointed or uneven, but I found each of the women to be so interesting that though I wished each woman's moment in the spotlight didn't have to end, it did not take long before I was absorbed in the next woman's story. But it's not only the story of these four women. It's the story of the many wives, sisters-in-law, cousins, and retainers who formed Genghis's circle of influence, of all the people they ruled and all the people who helped--whether by choice or by force--to build the Golden Family into a dynasty whose contributions shaped the future of Asia. And this world of Genghis Khan's women is not for the faint-hearted. In fact, I found some of the Mongol customs to be downright disgusting (horse lovers, proceed with caution), some of their actions horrifying and revolting, and there were times when I truly viewed them as barbarians, but at the same time, it was impossible to forget that they were also all too human. That's one of the things I admire about Stephanie Thornton's writing; she does not shy away from the reality of her subject matter, portraying a time period and a people with all of their faults in addition to all of their triumphs.

This book held me captive from the first page, and I savored the many twists and turns, heartaches and joyful moments, tragedies and victories that all added up to the creation of an empire and a Golden Family to rule it. That being said, it's not completely perfect. After such a rich and thorough accounting of Genghis's rise to power, the breakneck speed with which the sequence of events leading up to the end take place felt a little off, and it does get a bit confusing when the large cast of characters reaches its highest count in those final pages of land grabs and power plays. And I was a bit disappointed to learn in the author's note that because the historical records of these women are so few, and what does still exist is not always clear, that some of the women's lives were combined and shaped for the sake of good storytelling. But I just can't bring myself to hold any of this against the book. It's such a great reading experience. Though this is a fictional accounting, I can't help but think that each of these four women would be honored by the tribute Stephanie Thornton has created for them. And I am thankful to her for bringing them to life for me, for introducing me to who these women were and what they accomplished, and for doing it in such a way that I am not likely to forget them. Gripping, fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and by far one of the best books of the year.

My Rating:  5 Stars out of 5

The Tiger Queens is on a blog tour!

7 comments:

  1. I was excited to read this one even before reading your review, but now I'm going to move it right to the top of my TBR pile! I really enjoyed both of Stephanie's earlier novels. She is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors.

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    1. Mine too, Melissa! She's on fire! I love finding an author who consistently writes great books and cranks them out so quickly too! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did :)

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  2. If you gave it 5 stars it's one I'd like to read.. thanks Jenny

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  3. AAAAAAAAAAAAh, this makes me so happy to read -- am dying to get my hands on this one! Am sorry I missed out on the tour -- I hope to catch this during my maternity leave. Your review has me so eager for it!

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    1. It's so good! I hope you like it too :)

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  4. This is the second review I've seen for this book. I wasn't previously familiar with it, but I'm dying to read it now.

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