What readers think of The Shadow King, plus links to write your own review.

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The Shadow King

A Novel

by Maaza Mengiste

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste X
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2020, 448 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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Reviews

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There are currently 25 reader reviews for The Shadow King
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Elizabeth K. (Dallas, TX)

Lyrical language highlights a difficult era
Oh, the writing is so beautiful - yet the story is so sad. Maaza Mengiste is a phenomenal writer, and I recommend reading this novel for that reason alone. The characters are fascinating, and it shows us a period in history that might otherwise be forgotten. I plan to read her other book, also, because of the impressive way she uses language.
Ariel F. (Madison, WI)

The Shadow King
As one who does not like any type of war, it took me a while to get into the book. Then it took me some time to get my thoughts written for this review. It was not easy reading for me.

War is always, in my opinion, horrific. But Mengiste writes beautifully in a language that allows you to to follow the events of the Ethiopian's fight against the Italians. Here you have women who want to do more than care for the sick and bury the dead. You find struggles against classism, gender as women become leaders. I found it interesting watching the women be inspired by other women to fight against the Italians. The author writes with honesty about war and what happen to women.

I spent a good deal of time search the internet about the historical events and their meaning in the novel.
Eileen C. (New York, NY)

Women in war
A lyrical, riveting book about mythology and war. Mengiste brings Ethiopian history to life. She effectively uses multiple voices to tell the story of women who are not only caregivers but also fighters during the Italian invasion of 1935. The beauty of the writing effectively illuminates the horror of war in a profound way. While the overall structure is intriguing and effective, I wanted more historical context. I ended up looking things up online which, sometimes, took me out of the story.
Patricia L. (Seward, AK)

Women of War
A Google search of Ethiopian women warriors turns up the little-known history of many strong African queens and women warriors throughout time. Mengiste states "The story of war has always been a masculine story, but this was not true for Ethiopia and it has never been that way in any form of struggle…" The Shadow King is a her fictionalized account of these female leaders in Ethiopia's fight against two Italian invasions and ultimate occupation of their homeland.

In 1896, "Ethiopia's military victory over Italy secured it the distinction of being the only African nation to resist European colonialism with a decisive show of force." To avoid a second defeat, in 1935 El Duce sent tanks, planes and mustard gas. The bloody invasion is considered the first real conflict of World War II. During both fights Ethiopian women were integral in both fighting and support roles.
War is a grizzly topic at best. The Shadow King is no exception. There are many dirty deeds perpetrated over the weak and innocent by the strong and powerful, received and given by both genders. Forced weddings, prisoners tortured, female spies, coercion and deception of the whole kingdom are just a few of the scenarios wrapped into the story. Mengiste's characters are undeniably human as even the evilest among them have moments of lucidity when they question their motives, actions and consequences making them and the story they tell unforgettable.

Mengiste has given us a more earthy and unrestrained view of the history of women in combat than any Google search can. Worth reading.
Lynne Z. (San Francisco, CA)

Conflicting Feelings
My feelings about this book are mixed. Mengiste's use of foreshadowing was very effective. The story unfolds layer after layer. The structure of the book (Chapters followed by an Interlude, Chorus and/or Photo) was intriguing and often compelling, but sometimes I found it dense, difficult to follow and distracting from the story. I had some knowledge of the Italian invasions of Ethiopia and of Haile Selassie before reading this book and felt that The Shadow King explored Ethiopian culture and class but was more a work of fiction when it came to historical accuracy or the role of women in the rebellion. It might have helped if the author cited sources about the role that women played in the invasions. I was most interested in character. Hirut, Ettore, Fucelli, Fifi and the cook seemed the best developed. I never really understood Aster or Kidane, but wanted to know more. It was confusing to me that Hirut told Ettore at the end of the story that she and Aster were the closest of friends. Could it be the horrendous experiences they shared? What I liked best about the book was Maaza Mengiste's descriptive language. She is a very talented writer who is able to write both beautiful and sometimes horrifying passages about life in times of war.
BETH CUMMINGS

Disturbing History - The shadow King
I wish I could say that I loved this book because the subject matter is something we should be aware of, but I didn't love it. Maaza Mengiste's writing is full of detail and poetic descriptions, however the descriptions were often so violent and horrific that it was hard to keep reading. I had almost no awareness of the Ethiopian vs Italian part of WWII and I'm glad I read the book since it gave me new information. I wish that she had been a bit more straightforward with the plot - jumping from character to character with little connection made for complicated reading. I hope when the final version comes out that they opt to use quotation marks to delineate speakers as that would help clear up some of the complexity. It could be a good book group discussion book, if the group can tackle long and difficult subjects.
Florence H. (Laguna Woods, CA)

Shadow King
War is described in Shadow King as "an outpouring of evil." The photographer, Ettore Navarro, is "an archivist of obscenities." Despite these truths and a personal aversion to war I still found this book to be a riveting account of a time in Ethiopia and the role women could play even though they might also be abused. One value of a book is that it stimulates an interest in knowing more. I'll be looking into Ethiopian history in the future.
Florence K. (Northridge, CA)

The Shadow King
This is an informative book of historical fiction well worth reading, albeit not a quick or easy read. In lyrical prose and beautiful descriptive language she proves decisively that war is indeed hell. And in a relatively novel way she relates that in the Italo-Ethiopian conflict of 1935-1936, African women played a significant, though under-credited role.

She develops equally the characters on both sides of the battles and details the bestiality of this war. The invaders, the Italians, came with modern machines of death, while the Ethiopians fought valiantly with spears, outmoded guns and lack of materiel. An odd match with hulking Benito Mussolini as the antagonist and small, frail Haile Selassie as the defending SHADOW KING who went into exile in England. This was of course a prologue to the terrible bloodshed of World War II. The SHADOW KING is a book well worth reading.

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