I was so excited when I saw that Maaza Mengiste’s new novel was coming out this year! After devouring Beneath The Lion’s Gaze last year, and falling in love with the beautiful writing, I was really excited to jump into The Shadow King. And The Shadow King broke my heart just as much as Beneath The Lion’s Gaze did… If not more. Maaza Mengiste is both poet and storyteller, and in my opinion her words should be read by all. The historical fiction market is literally saturated with the same overdone WW2 stories when there are so many stories from that era that have yet to be told – The Shadow King is one of them.
Set in the mid 1935’s in Ethiopia, The Shadow King is the story of Mussolini’s army’s advance into Ethiopia with the aim to stamp out the image of their previous failure and colonize the country. Told through the eyes of Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassi’s army, his wife Aster who rises above all of the disappointments and pain in her life to lead a group of women into war, and Hirut, their servant, who rises above both of them as a guerilla, free and then captured again. It is also the story of terrible cruelties (on both sides), but also the immense power of women. I fell in love with Hirut, and I think she will remain one of my favorite fictional characters forever (right up there with Jacqueline from Marge Piercy’s Gone To Soldiers).
The Shadow King has so many layers, and jumps between voices and times, but in a manner that is fluid, and not confusing for the reader. I loved how the author uses memories based on photographs to tell parts of the story that cannot be told from Kidane, Aster, or Hirut’s perspective. It rounds out the narrative perfectly, and allows the reader to have a larger perspective on the war, the country, and the emperor, and the time. I wasn’t expecting to burn through this novel rapidly, as Maaza Mengiste’s writing demands one absorb her words, and sit awhile in her imagery, so I was perfectly happy to take my time with this one. I would have happily spent another 400 pages swimming through her words, spending time in Hirut’s presence and learning more about a country I have never visited, and that I still know too little about.
Is it too much to ask when the next book will be available? (I’m just kidding, but not really. Thank you Maaza Mengiste for your incredible work!).
Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy in return for my honest review.