Two threads are flawlessly woven together in this sweeping historical novel. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission.
Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue. Lovers of history and fantasy alike will find realism and legend at work in Joan Schweighardt’s latest offering.
I love learning about different eras in history. In a sea of novels about Tudors and French rulers, Huns can be hard to find. So I jumped at the chance to read this. Warning: If you are not familiar with the particulars of Attila's life, be careful when reading reviews. One review spoiled the ending for me in the opening paragraph by claiming it was common knowledge, but it wasn't for me. I knew next to nothing about Attila's life. And even when I do know a historical figure's life story, I still don't like having the manner in which the story ends spoiled for me. So this review will be relatively spoiler free!
The Last Wife of Attila the Hun is a mash-up of mythology and historical fiction, based in large part on the Poetic Edda and the Norse legends of Sigurd and Gudrun, where one of the characters is believed to be based on Attila, and there are several different versions of their stories. So if you're looking for a factual fictionalization of Attila the Hun, this isn't it. Rather, this is a story of what could have been if the old tales are to be believed, and I really like the way the author took these myths and wove them into the historical time frame. It gives the story a magical, otherworldly feeling and pays tribute to a woman who is often overshadowed by her rival, Brunhild, the valkyria who comes between Gudrun and her true love, Sigurd.
The story begins with a mysterious woman on an arduous journey to Attila the Hun's palace. She is carrying a legendary sword that she believes she needs to give to Attila. But when she arrives, instead of thanking her for gifting him with such a source of power and fortune, Attila imprisons her. And it is during her long hours of solitary captivity that her tale emerges. I admit it was a little disorienting in the beginning to be thrown right into the story with not much background to help me understand the who, what, and why. But it is revealed that the woman is Gudrun, daughter and sister of kings, and everything else slowly comes to light as the story alternates between Gudrun's captivity with the Huns and her memories of her life before the sword came into her possession, which makes for a nice build-up of tension and suspense as the storylines converge toward the conclusion.
Attila is a very fleeting figure in this story. Gudrun spends little time in his presence, and we learn nothing of him other than what she sees in the moment. The bulk of his actions are recounted to her--and to the reader--secondhand via Attila's second-in-command, who takes more of an interest in their prisoner. That combined with a lot of introspection and long chunks of narration makes for a more passive presentation and some slow-moving sections, and I couldn't help but feel that I wanted more from this. It's a great story, but I felt like some scenes were missing, including the one where Gudrun decides she wants to take the sword to Attila in the first place, and what happens after she accomplishes her mission. I would have liked some more time between the climactic scene and the end of the story.
But I really enjoyed the descriptions of life and people during this time and the insight into the relationships between the Burgundians, Franks, Romans, and Huns in this dark period in European history. And I enjoyed the parts of the story stemming from the Norse legends. This is an emotional, mystical tale of love, betrayal, war, and vengeance, playing out against a backdrop seldom depicted in historical fiction. I think it's well worth a read for fans of strong heroines and anyone interested in the conflict between Romans and barbarians and Norse mythology.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
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