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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Title: The Conqueror's Wife 
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 512
Published: expected December 1 2-15
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating: 5/5

A novel from the acclaimed author of The Tiger Queens, for readers looking for “strong and determined female protagonists” (Historical Novel Society) and “a sprawling historical saga” (Renee Rosen)...

We are the women who loved Alexander the Great.  We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers.
And without us, Alexander would have been only a man.
Instead he was a god.

330s, B.C.E., Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.

His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander's boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia's throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.

Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…

There is a plethora of historical fiction to be found in the world but Stephanie Thornton is one of the best authors working in the genre, by far. Her work is consistently and undeniably well-crafted; from the evident amounts of research that show in details both small and large, to the well-rounded and oft-forgotten female characters she centers her stories around. She takes care to retell stories of historical women that have been forgotten, twisted, or purposely hidden. So far to date she's ably covered Byzantine Empresses, Mongolian warrioresses, a female Pharaoh, and now the women (plus Hephaestion) of Alexander the Great. The Conqueror's Wife is another finely tuned and well-wrought addition to this fantastic (and personal favorite) author's growing bibliography.

There's a reason I countdown and anticipate every novel Thornton releases. Four novels in three years and she has yet to disappoint. She is an author that specializes in finding fascinating eras of history and then explores them from new eyes and different views than used before. Alexander's life has been retold by many voices and many authors but with using POV's from his sister, his wife, his soulmate, and his enemy-turned-reluctant-companion, Thornton covers the far-reaching conqueror's life with fresh perspectives. He's a man so famous we call him "the Great" without really thinking about all that accomplished -- and how quickly he did so. Though Alexander was no slouch, Thornton shows how the women in his life -- from his power hungry and ruthless mother Olympias to his warrior sisters Thessalonike and Cynnane and so on -- shaped, molded, and helped him achieve him all that earned him his appendage of "the Great."

The Conqueror's Wife is a longer book, but like the other Thornton novels I've read, loved, and recommend, it still doesn't feel long enough time spent with these characters. Five hundred pages have never gone so fast as they did here in Alexander's wide and rapidly-expanding world. As a history nerd with the implied a lifelong passion for exploring my favorite people, cultures, and empires, this was a book that felt fully immersive. Filled with a mostly female cast  based on real historical people from that time, it's these characters more than Alexander that come to life. Hephaestion is the sole male narrator and provides a good complement to the women that lend their voices telling the story at the heart of the novel. Each voice shines and though some may be similar in character (Olympias and Roxana, Thessalonike and Drypetis), each voice and personality is distinguishable and uniquely and identifiable their own. 

Another thing I continually like about Thornton is that while she largely stays true to historical record or generally agreed upon theories, she isn't afraid to find new motivations, reasons, or ideas for her characters' actions. Take Cassander in The Conqueror's Women. In historical record and theory, he's often shown to be  a villain in the upheaval after Alexander's death. Instead of following the expected route with his character, Thornton explores a different idea of what would motivate the man and how he would act. It worked for the story and for how the fallout after Alexander actually happened. The best historical fiction writers know what history was like and still manage to tell a story all their own. Stephanie Thornton is a great example of that kind of writer. 

If you are a fan of Kate Quinn or Sophie Perinot, I can't imagine a better new find for you than Stephanie Thornton. Without being anachronistic she writes women from history that are feminist and not limited in their lives by society's expectations. Her novels are well researched, full of place as character, and immersive. Thornton ably distills complicated times and consolidates a large cast of hist figures into a streamlined narrative.

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