Monday, November 24, 2014

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton

The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan.  Stephanie Thornton. Penguin Group (USA). November 2014. 496 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451417800.

This is the story of four phenomenal women who bore the title “Khatun” for many days filled with unimaginable difficulties and tremendously joyful days!  Charismatic women who were eventually respected by many, they earned their way to that title by initiating actions and support for both friend and foe. 

Borte is the woman who is betrothed to the man who eventually became known as Genghis Khan but must wait many years for him to return to honor his betrothal promise.  In that time she meets Jamuka, the blood brother of Temujin (Genghis’s original name) and the passionate spark that flares between them will be the initial fire that eventually leads to the fulfillment of a devastating prophecy.  Honor indeed is not always rewarded, as future pages prove!  As a slave woman, Borte has to earn the respect of her new tribe’s shaman and her husband’s family.  She does so much better than that and earns the reader’s respect as she is gradually transformed from a woman who can command obedience to a woman and prophet who commands respect and even worship.

Alaqai should have been born a man for as the daughter of Genghis and Borte she would rather be learning spear-throwing, horseback riding and war tactics than playing with doll figures and learning how to sew and cook.  However, she is also very skilled at what she does and so quickly earns the admiration of fellow warriors.  Her victories on the plains of battle bring great joy that doesn’t, however, hide the pain behind her inability to have a child because she is spurned by her husband.  Here as well a gentle soul who loves Alaqai must wait in order to honor his vow of loyalty to his lord.  Treaties are quickly made and just as quickly broken for advantage.  Survival of the fittest is the mantra of the steppes and these feisty, courageous but also cruel men and women. 

Fatima is forced to watch as her precious Persian homeland is burned to the ground, its men and women tortured and killed or carried away in slavery.   She vows revenge on Alaqai who was the head of the forces responsible for the death of Fatima’s husband and child.  However, Torogene, the great Khan’s sister, takes a liking to Fatima and claims her as a slave.  Over time both women will truly experience the truth of what loyalty means even when complete agreement is impossible to attain. Both will also experience shocking consequences as a result of their avowed faithfulness to each other.

Finally, Sorkhokhtani is truly the peacemaker of all of these women.  Her gentle, graceful approach in many ways fools those who fail to perceive her acute perception.  When the great Khan died, his kingdom began its slow descent into destruction by the stupidity and drunkenness of his sons.  While the great Khan was humble and proud in all the correct ways, his sons allow their power to distort their thinking into perverse cruelty, inaction and self-aggrandizing battles.  Now Sorkhokhtani plots to have her sons, Mongke and Kublai, eventually respectively assume the role of “Great Khan.”

This is a thoroughly thrilling novel that sits right up there at the top with Conn Iggulden and Alex Rutherford’s account of Genghis Khan and his sons’ rivalry for his position.  The summary above belies the power and beauty in the descriptions on page after page of this mesmerizing story, revealing the glory of female woman in Mongolia and beyond. The plot seems simple; yet the characterization of each of these four dynamic woman is unique, setting the stage for history to unfold as it will (or won’t) and a constant thrill to follow.   The reader gets to share the starkly ugly and stunningly beautiful characters and environment around each lady.  History indeed comes alive in exciting, intriguing ways herein – relish every page as this reviewer did – this is MUST historical fiction reading!

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