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Publisher's Summary

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020.

A Times Audiobook of the Week.

Ethiopia, 1935.

With the threat of Mussolini's army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie's army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.

Hirut 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. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy's most vicious officers?

©2020 Maaza Mengiste (P)2020 Canongate Books Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Beautiful and devastating." (Marlon James)

"Unforgettably conveyed by the narrator Robin Miles, whose upbringing in the ethnic melting pot of New Jersey has enhanced her gift for entering into character...the listener never feels lost, only more deeply involved. It is easily the best title on the Booker 2020 longlist." (Christina Hardyment, The Times)

What listeners say about The Shadow King

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • james walker
  • 10-08-20

A gun that has tasted blood wants more...

I chose this because it looked like the most interesting story on the Booker longlist - and I wasn't disappointed. Like Kate Grenville, the author takes inspiration from some family history to tell the incredible story of female soldiers in Ethiopia. There's some cracking lines about dealing with colonialisation, a few of my favourites were: 'Make living your first act of defiance' and 'Only soil will remember who we are. Nothing but earth is strong enough to withstand the burden of memory'. Reading is about temporarily escaping the cosy rut of your own existence and seeing the world through someone else's eyes. I knew nothing about Ethiopia in the 1930s but I do now. This is also a very topical book in terms of unheard stories and perspectives.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Taralouise
  • 17-12-20

A story that needs to be heard by more people

No doubt most people are aware of the Holocaust of Jews under the Nazis but probably few people outside Ethiopia are aware of the genocide of Ethiopian people by the Italian military, following their invasion of the country in 1935. Even fewer people are probably aware of the involvement of women in the fighting against the Italians during those years. This book brilliantly brings this story to the light; it is beautifully read by Robin Miles and Maaza Mengiste's prose is majesterial, evoking the fear, excitement, anger and eventual triumph of the brave people who fought those invaders. It is also the story of a young woman, abused not just by the Italians but by the misogynies of her patriarchal cultures, And the book does not take a Manichean perspective, by portraying all Ethiopians as brave and honourable and all Italians as cowardly and fascistic. A wonderful book that should have won the booker prize and should be read by everyone who thinks colonialism was an great project.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ig
  • 07-12-20

So interesting and absorbing

I had to read it twice.It taught me so much and with so much feeling. One of the best books I have read in nearly 60 years

1 person found this helpful

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  • Becca
  • 27-11-20

A story of historical female courage

Similar to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Half Of A Yellow Sun," I started reading "The Shadow King" completely naive of what it would be about. The front cover grabbed my attention with its bright colours and enigmatic title (something you only really understand the meaning of 3 quarters the way through the book/audiobook.

Though it tells the story through multiple perspectives, it is clear that Hirut is our main character. Her growth as a woman - and a soldier - was visceral at times, but a joy to read. "The Shadow King" perfectly demonstrates the social divides between men and women, with men using physical strength and dominance over women during war, and women fighting back from that. I refuse to give any spoilers, but while Robin Miles is an okay narrator, the book is great.

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  • MJ
  • 19-11-20

Fascinating

There’s too much I’d like to say about this book to fit into an Audible review. This author is extraordinary. A literary work of art, The Shadow King collages Ethiopian and Italian cultures, summoning the choral language of Greek war epics but redressing them with female soldier protagonists, for the history of the many Ethiopian women who fought in battles has never been formally recorded nor written about.
Not a fast-paced story, the sense of the endurance of war, of anticipation of conflict, of captivity, of a slowly increasing threat to freedom — build effectively as the plots progress.
It is a challenging read for a narrator, to keep engaging the listener and embody the many voices of characters from different cultures. I did find at times I couldn’t tell who was speaking, as the accents and voices weren’t always discernible — Italian, Ethiopian, male, female — and sometimes the intonation was unnatural/distracting, but probably because of my own dialect. 😆
Ultimately a memorable ‘read’.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Lizzy h
  • 24-09-20

Female centred depiction of war

A strong narrative depicting the roles Ethiopian women played in the fight to overthrow Italy.

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  • P Irving
  • 11-09-20

It is an achievement....

to listen this book to the end. I selected this novel as it was about a time in our recent history that is not often spoken of or taught in England and the book has been is on the Man Booker Shortlist and I always try to read as many of the books nominated as possible. My overwhelming feeling during reading was it may not be the best book to convert to audio and if so then needed to be edited more closely.
The story doesn’t get going until the second third but until you get to that stage there is a mishmash of characters, a Chorus, real and fictional figures to try and juggle on top of a vocabulary that is unfamiliar. A PDF annexe to accompany the book as other authors have provided would have helped keep track of it all. I hate leaving a negative review of what is clearly a very important and personal story which should be told, but it certainly made the listener/ reader work to get there. That said given the scope and scale it may just was the Booker Prize judges are looking for.

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  • DRJ London
  • 18-01-21

Difficult to follow

Could not get connected with the characters, found it hard to care what happened to them.

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  • Apple Smith
  • 01-01-21

Takes ages to get going, never quite settled into gear

Good audio and performance of various accents, occasionally a bit ott. The writing though, feels like an overly detailed screenplay in that it describes every visual element, and often uses good rich visual metaphor, but is very often over-egged and very hard to sustain an interest sentence to sentence; this is whether it’s an internal character monologue or a scene with some dramatic action being played out. Might’ve been helped by breaking it up into chapters each with a vaguely clear purpose... instead the sense of it being a stream of consciousness, is what’s so distracting and so confusing as a stylistic choice. Since it’s told from multiple perspectives and even locations, why not break it up into distinct sections for each, so the reader has a bit more breathing space and sense of dramatic tension/release/flow? The sections labelled “Chorus” and similar, feel like an attempt to do something like that but end up adding to the confusion.

I was glad I stuck with it because by the middle of Book Three it’s really quite a rewarding read. Also enjoyed the linking of Aida, nice touch.

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  • Stephen
  • 04-12-20

Forgotten war

I was entertained and educated. I thought the epilogue detracted from the rest of the book.