Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Book Review: Stephanie Thornton's The Conqueror's Wife

From an early age, Thessalonike of Macedon learns that the world is cruel, unfair, and not created for the likes of her – or anyone of the female sex. Still, despite the strictures placed upon them, she and the two other women who narrate The Conqueror’s Wife aren’t content to stay in the shadows and let the men in their lives direct their future.

In her fourth novel to bring women from ancient times back into the spotlight, Stephanie Thornton follows a similar pattern to her earlier The Tiger Queens, about the female supporters of Genghis Khan who ensured his legacy. Here, the warrior in question is Alexander the Great, who ruled over an enormous land empire in the 4th century BC, spreading from Greece to Persia to south Asia and beyond, by means of military conquest.

Besides Thessalonike, Alexander’s half-sister, who learns to fight while staying behind at home, the female viewpoints are those of Drypetis, the plain, outspoken younger daughter of King Darius of Persia, who becomes one of his captives after her father’s defeat; and Roxana of Balkh, a beautiful minor noblewoman who uses all her wiles to escape a bad family situation and seize power of her own.

Also included is the perspective of Hephaestion, Alexander’s boyhood companion, general, and occasional lover, who knows him better than anyone but sometimes fails to temper his excesses.  Given Alexander's personality, it isn't likely anyone could. Hephaestion’s is a valuable viewpoint to have, since it brings readers front and center into Alexander’s army campaigns and victories, plus the athletic games held afterward in celebration.

Unlike Genghis Khan (Temujin) in Tiger Queens, Alexander has a more elusive presence on the page here; but this is probably wise. As the narrative makes clear, getting close to him is risky, and Thornton doesn’t downplay the price that Alexander’s enemies and allies pay for being in thrall to his ambitions. Undeniably brutal in places, deeply romantic in others, the novel is well-paced as it covers significant ground, both geographical and emotional. (One minor issue: the love-hate relationships between two pairs of would-be lovers felt rather similar.)

From the arena at Aigai in Macedon, where Alexander’s fate is set in motion, to the opulent throne room of Persepolis, abundant in both wealth and in misfortune, the story places readers into the midst of Alexander’s world. It’s highly recommended for readers who like their historical fiction colorful, vigorous, and populated by tough women who lived life at full volume.

The Conqueror's Wife is published by NAL this month (trade pb, 496pp, $15.00).  This review is part of a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours; thanks to the author for providing me with an ARC.


  1. Thanks for the great review. I like to hear an opinion before I start a book. This one was on my TBR pile for a while and I bought it this week. I look forward to reading it soon.

    1. I hope you'll enjoy it. Both of the books of Thornton's that I've read have been winners for me - and it's refreshing to read about women of the ancient world, too. It's not the usual thing!

  2. What a fabulous review, I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of this!

    Thanks for hosting Stephanie's tour, Sarah!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

    1. Thanks for organizing the tour, Amy!