The Shadow King
by Maaza Mengiste
Pub Date 30 Jan 2020
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'Beautiful and devastating' Marlon James
With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.
Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?
The Shadow King is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war.
'The Shadow King is a beautiful and devastating work; of women holding together a world ripping itself apart. They will slip into your dreams and overtake your memories'
'With epic sweep and dignity, Mengiste has lifted this struggle into legend, along with the women who fought in it. Beautiful, horrifying, elegant and haunted, The Shadow King is a modern classic'
ANDREW SEAN GREER, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of LESS
'A brilliant novel, lyrically lifting history towards myth. It’s also compulsively readable. I devoured it in two days'
'Lyrical, remarkable . . . Breathtakingly skillful . . . The reader feels . . . In the steady hands of a master . . . Hirut [is] as indelible and compelling a hero as any I've read in years'
New York Times Book Review
'The Shadow King is incredible. I’ve read nothing like it before. There is war, love, betrayal, history and the present day wrapped in the hearts and minds of complex characters. Maaza Mengiste rises as Toni Morrison rests. The baton has been passed and taken deftly'
'One of the most affecting accounts of the terror of war I have ever read, all the more so for the being cloaked in the language of beauty, such that the words and their meaning burn through the senses. The Shadow King is a work born of rage, a rage made magnificent for its compassion and the story it tells us – that in war there are no winners'
AMINATTA FORNA, author of HAPPINESS
'A sprawling, unforgettable epic from an immensely talented author who's unafraid to take risks... [R]endered all the more effective by Mengiste's gift at creating memorable characters . . . The star of the novel, however, is Mengiste's gorgeous writing, which makes The Shadow King nearly impossible to put down... [O]ne of the most beautiful novels of the year'
Michael Schaub, NPR
'The Shadow King is not a story about helpless victims of colonial conquest. Against the odds, it is written in a key of pride and exaltation, and its characters have the outsize form of national heroes . . . Mengiste ambitiously stretches her canvas to include colliding perspectives . . . Stirring'
Wall Street Journal
'The Shadow King is a novel about war and history, both epic in scope and intimate in detail. As its characters fight in Ethiopia’s struggle for independence from fascist Italy, they must confront experiences in their private pasts if they have any hope of preserving their collective memory. Maaza Mengiste has a gift for rendering everyone in this story, resister and invader alike, with great nuance and complexity, leaving us with no room for easy judgment. A wonderful book'
LAILA LALAMI, author of THE MOOR'S ACCOUNT
'Maaza Mengiste has given us a powerful tale of a woman warrior – not some mythical superhero, but a girl who holds on to the memory of her parents and her father’s gun and longs to do battle to avenge their loss. Reminiscent of Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior and Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, this is a compelling story of female empowerment and an epic one at that'
MARY MORRIS, author of GATEWAY TO THE MOON
'Mengiste again brings heart and authenticity to a slice of Ethiopian history . . . [She] breaks new ground in this evocative, mesmerising account of the role of women during wartime – not just as caregivers, but as warriors defending their country'
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
'Mengiste is a master of characterisation . . . A memorable portrait of a people at war – a war that has long demanded recounting from an Ethiopian point of view'
'Monumental . . . Mengiste's extraordinary characters epitomise the impossibly intricate ties between humanity and monstrosity, and the unthinkable, immeasurable cost of survival'
Booklist (starred review)