The Shadow King: A Novel - Hardcover

The Shadow King: A Novel - Hardcover

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The Shadow King: A Novel

A gripping novel set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record.

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians―Jewish photographer Ettore among them―march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, 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 against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore’s camera?

What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition Limited Issue edition (September 24, 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039308356X
  • ISBN-13: 69
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • #1031 in Literary Fiction (Books)


“Lyrical, remarkable... breathtakingly skillful... The reader the steady hands of a master... Hirut [is] as indelible and compelling a hero as any I've read in years.”
- Namwali Serpell, New York Times Book Review

“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.”
- Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

“A brilliant novel, lyrically lifting history towards myth. It’s also compulsively readable. I devoured it in two days.”
- Salman Rushdie, author of Quichotte

“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.”
- Marlon James, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf

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