Game of Vikings: A Review of The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Happy Wednesday Book Nerds! Welcome to a very special edition of Reading Has Ruined My Life.
For those of you who are new here, hi, hello, my name’s Hannah and this is the insanity that spews from my mind AKA Reading Has Ruined My Life. This week, I bring you a review on The Widow Queen by Elżbieta Cherezińska and translated by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim. The Widow Queen comes out on April 6. Yes! That means this book goes on sale next week!
I first want to say a huge thank you to TOR/Forge Books for sending me an ARC of The Widow Queen. Congratulations, you are the first imprint to send me an ARC so please know that you’ll always have a special place in my heart.
I’d also like to mention that I won this book in an email sweepstakes. This book was technically not given to me in exchange for a fair review, although TOR/Forge Books did mention I could do so if I felt inclined. This imprint still is going to keep that special place in my heart for sending me the book though. And if they ever wish to send me books in the future in exchange for a fair and honest review, I am so down! Please feel free to send me books! Please, send me all the books!
Now let’s talk about The Widow Queen. As always, a spoiler alert is in order. But know that this is a big book and I’m only going to be scratching the surface of it. Seriously, this book is gigantic, it’s nearly five hundred pages; it’s so big that if I had a hardback copy I could use it as a weapon. I certainly can’t spoil everything in it although I will most definitely try. You’ve been warned.
Elżbieta Cherezińska is a Polish author who has delved into the history of a famed Queen who may or may not have existed: Sigrid Storrada. Sigrid Storrada, AKA Swietoslawa or Sigrid the Haughty, is an icon I didn’t know I needed. She supposedly was the Queen Consort of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and England during the late 900’s AD. Cherezińska painstakingly details Sigrid’s life as she grows from a young teen just dreaming about ruling a country by herself into a young woman thrust into the most powerful position a woman could have at the time. The Widow Queen also follows the men in Sigrid’s life as they try to use her power and position for their own means. This is also the story about the monarchies and legacies that were growing at the time.
That is not what the book synopsis promises though. Its official synopsis reads as follows:
Swietoslawa’s father, the great duke of Poland, sees his three daughters as three chances for an alliance, as three marriages on which to build his empire. But Swietoslawa refuses to be simply a pawn in her father’s schemes; she seeks a throne of her own, with no husband by her side.
The gods may grant her wish, but crowns sit heavy, and power is a sword that cuts both ways.
The Widow Queen is a story of royalty and betrayal, of star-crossed lovers and exiled kings, and of motherhood and womanhood in a world and time ruled by men.
I would say that’s a little different from the synopsis I gave you. It’s a whole different story from the synopsis I wrote. Seriously, these synopses could be talking about two different books, the official one does The Widow Queen no favors.
If I picked this book up at a book store, I would be upset with the actual story. I expected to be reading from the point of view of three different women, with our main character being Sigrid, who each go on to be queens. That’s not what I got. I certainly got feminism, women marrying into positions of power, and Sigrid as our main character, but I found myself reading from the point of view of the male characters more often than not. This book ended up being more about power dynamics and the strengthening of dynasties during the medieval era. Sure, this is still Sigrid’s story, but it feels presented more from the point of view of the men in her life instead of her own. That’s not what I expected, and I would not be happy if I spent money on this book expecting something totally different.
With that being said, I did enjoy this book. I mean, I didn’t pay any money for this book so I can’t be overly upset with what the content actually is. But I enjoy learning about ancient queens and monarchies. I was not familiar with Sigrid Storrada whatsoever, and I found her to be a fascinating woman. I can tell that Cherezińska used modern day feminism to make the main character more relatable to readers, and that she also took many liberties with Sigrid’s life since there are many questions surrounding her existence, but neither of those things matter to me. Sigrid Storrada is an interesting character. This book made me want to go out and research this medieval queen for myself. That’s a massive point in this book’s favor.
Cherezińska’s writing is so well done. This is a dense book with a lot of legends and actual history to balance. Sigrid Storrada reigned in various countries for upwards of four decades. Who knows what is truly fact or fiction when it comes to her life; I’m certainly not going to guess what’s real or fake. Cherezińska does amazing work though. She writes with such conviction that she could tell me everything she wrote is one hundred percent true and I would believe her with no questions asked. This book may be a slow read because of all the names, places, plot points, and shifting POVs I had to keep track of, but I was invested.
Seriously though, you should be prepared for countless names that will be mentioned once and then never appear again until one hundred pages later. Also be prepared for the main characters to have like three different names they’re known by or supporting characters with similar or the exact same name. Also, everyone is related to everyone. It can get confusing. This was a downside of the book. Simply too many names to keep track of. But this isn’t necessarily a huge problem as there will family trees included in the final copies of the book. I didn’t get that luxury with the ARC.
The same goes for the locations. Be prepared for there to be a lot of areas that are known by different names depending on which character is talking, and also be prepared for these areas to have different borders than today. Places are constantly changing hands, and it was hard to keep track of who was going where and who had what land. Again, not necessarily a problem as there will be maps included in the book. Once again, I didn’t get that luxury with the ARC. I do have to say, it was much harder to keep track of land than it was to keep track of people.
Still on the fence about reading this book? Just think of this book as Game of Thrones meets Vikings. There are lots and lots of Vikings in this book. And there are lots and lots of thrones.
The Widow Queen has all the markings of a fantasy type novel, high fantasy elements can easily fit into this world, but the story it follows is believed to be true. I don’t know about you, but that makes the book more interesting to me. Realistically, Sigrid Storrada is likely pure fantasy, but her legend has to be grounded in some reality. That’s just so intriguing to me. As fun as pure fantasy can be, sometimes historical fiction can be just as, if not more, exciting.
Cherezińska created a masterful book about a queen who deserves more attention. And this isn’t even the end of Sigrid’s story, Cherezińska has a second part coming out in the future; there’s still a lot of history to cover.
I found The Widow Queen to be an extremely interesting read. I knew nothing about Sigrid Storrada, and now I have a new hyperfixation all thanks to this book.
This isn’t one to miss if you enjoy historical fiction or books dealing with royalty. There’s a lot going on at all times, but it’s certainly worth it.
And with that, I bid you all adieu. Thank you so much for reading this week’s review on Reading Has Ruined My Life. Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, wear a mask, and read some good books for me. And if you feel ever so inclined, make sure to follow Reading Has Ruined My Life's Twitter page @RHRMLBlog.