The Widow Queen

Forge. (The Bold, Bk. 1). Apr. 2021. 512p. tr. from Polish by Maya Zakrzewska-Pim. ISBN 9781250218001. $25.99. F
Duke Mieszko I ruled 10th-century Poland as a converted Christian. His two legitimate children, daughter Swietosława and son Bolesław, were his means to greater power. Swietosława, “the bold one,” possessed both beauty and intelligence. Yet her real value was political. At a time when noble daughters were used, the book says, as “seals of peace, alliances, ceasefires,” and Poland’s borders were fluid, Swietosława is married to King Eric of Sweden. He renames her Sigrid Storråda, as he cannot pronounce her name. Swietosława’s bold intellect gains her respect at court, and when she is widowed, she is again crowned queen when she marries Sven Haraldsson, king of Denmark, who renames her Gunhild. In her first novel in English translation, Cherezinska restores and draws on the history of the real Swietosława, whom she calls “the causative axis of events” across several countries. Although largely fictionalized, the novel’s narrative is drawn from history’s footnotes. Set during a time of transition between paganism and Christianity, the story features dozens of characters across Europe. The book’s maps and genealogical charts are helpful, but it is a challenging entry point to the era.
VERDICT Political intrigue driven by a woman’s unacknowledged influence is woven through a medieval history, targeting informed readers.
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