Title: The Sworn Virgin
Author: Kristopher Dukes
Genre: Adult, Historical, Romance
Imprint: William Morrow
Date published: August 8, 2017
Page Count: 352
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the blog tour host, in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: Dukes’s gripping historical novel tells the tale of a desperate Albanian woman who will do whatever it takes to keep her independence and seize control of her future…even if it means swearing to remain a virgin for her entire life.
When eighteen-year-old Eleanora’s father is shot dead on the cobblestone streets of 1910 Albania, Eleanora must abandon her dream of studying art in Italy as she struggles to survive in a remote mountain village with her stepmother Meria.
Nearing starvation, Meria secretly sells Eleanora into marriage with the cruel heir of a powerful clan. Intent on keeping her freedom, Eleanora takes an oath to remain a virgin for the rest of her life—a tradition that gives her the right to live as a man: she is now head of her household and can work for a living as well as carry a gun. Eleanora can also participate in the vengeful blood feuds that consume the mountain tribes, but she may not be killed—unless she forsakes her vow, which she has no intention of ever doing.
But when an injured stranger stumbles into her life, Eleanora nurses him back to health, saving his life—yet risking her own as she falls in love with him…
A big thank you to TLC Blog Tours for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and also providing me with a physical copy of this book.
– MY REVIEW –
While I generally read more YA than adult books, and am not usually drawn to covers like the one used for The Sworn Virgin, something about this book just called to me. Maybe it was the familiarity I felt with the traditional clothing the model is wearing? Since, Albanian and Romanian traditional wear is a little similar. Or maybe it was just the colours, and how they worked together. But in either case, it was enough for me to want to read the synopsis, and it was this, that convinced me to read and review this book.
My first impression, once I opened the book, was that I really liked the narrative voice. It is written in the third person, but formulated in such a manner that it sounds more like an Eastern European grandmother telling you a story while sitting in front of the fireplace. And I do not mean this in any negative sense. In fact, I really enjoy it, since even as an adult (lucky to have both of her grandmothers alive), I still enjoy hearing them narrate fairytales, or even stories from their own past. Despite the first few chapters being the “set-up” for the story and its tone, they held my interest (because I for one, enjoy having the scene set up for me, rather than jumping right into a world, or right into the action with no warning –most of the time– and they also held my attention) because of the familiarity in tone. I felt comfortable, as if I really was bundling up in front of a fire, and preparing myself for a good story.
Eleanora, our sworn virgin (although not the only one we encounter in this book), is difficult to understand at first. She is an only child, and despite the difficulties faced by people who happened to be born female in that time, Eleanora was spoiled by her father. Having encountered a number of spoiled people who were the only children in their household myself, I prepared myself for feeling annoyed with her. And I was. But I pushed on, knowing that (as is the case with real life occurrences of this), her spoiled behaviour is partially, or mostly, the fault of the parent. Eleanora’s father loves her, and means no harm to come to her, but by raising her the way he did, he ultimately did not prepare her for the real world. And I say this because, while he may treat her like a treasure, the rest of the world (in that time period, and that region) would treat her like a woman–more like livestock than a human being. (Not that I condone treating livestock poorly either. I’m in fact, quite against that…but that is a different story for a different day.) I felt myself becoming closer to Eleanora as the plot went on, and eventually became quite invested in her story. Reading on, I came to realize that she was dealing with obstacles in the only way she had learned how. The other characters felt quite tangible as well, and I found it interesting to read about them–it is evident, however, that Eleanora is the center of this story.
I believe that a lot of research went into the writing of this book, which I am always appreciative of. And as I have never encountered any literature (or much information in general) containing Albanian people/characters, I found it quite interesting to learn more about this culture which was so foreign to me. I know that I mention this every so often, but I always find it very interesting to find parallels between cultures which I previously thought to be complete opposites. I am particularly in awe when a culture that I thought to be completely separate from my own, features certain traditions, clothes, food, etc. which are similar or even exactly as that of my own (Romanian culture). Albanian culture (at least in this book, and I therefore assume, many years ago) features many similarities to Romanian culture (in the past and in the present), and this factor was definitely one of the reasons why I enthusiastically continued reading this book.
And finally, the last thing that I would like to discuss is the tradition of the sworn virgin. I have never heard of this tradition before The Sworn Virgin, and found it particularly fascinating. I will definitely be asking my family if Romania ever had a tradition such as this, but that aside, I found this Albanian tradition to be quite fascinating. Not only have I heard of this being a tradition in other cultures (which may be due to my lack of knowledge, and in which case I ask that you pardon me), making this tradition unique (particularly for that time period), but I also found it to be interesting from the point of view of someone who is interested in genders, and the societal teachings and enforcements of gender (in the past, and today). As the book’s synopsis explains, when a woman chose to become a sworn virgin, she attained the right to live like a man. It was very interesting to me that this was a semi-official way of life, since physical sex usually indicates to individuals and society, which gender a particular person should behave like (not that this is something that I agree with). Yet, in historical Albania, a woman (obviously one who had never experienced sexual intercourse before…hence the “virgin” part of the title) could choose to live and act like a man, despite her genitalia.
But enough of my rambles. If you find these kind of subjects, and story lines to be as interesting (or even fractionally as interesting) as I do, then I highly recommend that you read The Sworn Virgin. I also recommend this book to those who are Albanian and wish to read a book featuring a past form of their culture, those who like to read and learn about cultures different from their own, and those who generally enjoy historical fiction!
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR –
Kristopher Dukes was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has been a nationally published writer since she was in high school. Her work has been featured in the bestselling book series Written in the Dirt and fashion bible WWD. She has been profiled in Vogue.fr, NY Times.com, Fast Company, Forbes.com, and WWD. The Sworn Virgin is her debut novel. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband, Matt, and Doberman, Xena. Connect with her on Facebook.
– PURCHASE LINKS –
THANK YOU FOR READING MY REVIEW! HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? WHAT DID YOU THINK? AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET, DO YOU WANT TO, OR NOT? HOW COME? LET ME KNOW YOUR THOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!