Brutal but Breathtaking

tigerqueensLet me start by saying I find it very difficult to put books in a ‘nutshell.’ Stephanie Thornton’s The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan definitely falls under that category. It reads almost like an epic, yet it shows an intimacy with its characters that rivals the least pretentious stories I’ve ever read. If the best historical fiction stories work like a time machine, immersing a reader in a fascinating era and place far removed, then Tiger Queens succeeds on every level.

Why does this startling book go beyond just extraordinary? In telling the story of Borte and other fiercely independent Mongolian women during the time of Genghis Khan, this book did something which very few books do well: it gave me a true glimpse into what it would have been like to live in a totally different culture and context. It revealed what it was like to be a nomad on the harsh yet beautiful steppes of Mongolia more than 800 years ago. The author deftly explores, with a poignant first-person narrative, the lives of several key women in the rise of the Mongol tribes, their triumphs and tragedies, and what happens to their families along the way.

This is some of the best historical fiction I have read, and in some ways it has a lot in common with epic fantasy. The stakes keep building, and the tension with it. We see Borte as a little girl, and then as she grows up and marries the man who eventually is destined to try to unite all the Mongol clans.

There is one caveat I should point out: due to the need for realism and detail, the author does not sugarcoat the harsher aspects of nomad culture. There are some brutal and tragic moments in the story. Borte’s captivity at the hands of the Merkid who want revenge on her husband is a prime example. Yet overall the strong narrative voice of Borte and the other women soars above everything else. We get to know these women and to feel their families almost as if they were our own.

The lush insights of the steppe environment itself, the political intrigue, the dynamic relationships starting with Borte’s struggle to protect her husband and family – all of it Ms. Thornton uses like an expert historian to truly ensnare us in the rich world of a Mongol civilization nearly a millennia ago. This is a book I will never forget. Well-worth reading for anyone who likes seeing things from a feminine perspective and enjoys history‚Ķand anyone else who just enjoys a great story! You can buy the book here:

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