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.
*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.
My Rating: 5 Stars out of 5
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