Author: Zenobia Neil
Publisher: Hypatia Books
Publish Date: September 19, 2019
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Alexandra of Sparta vowed her sword and her heart to the goddess Artemis. And the goddess blessed her. But no warrior lives at peace, and soon, Alexandra loses her title, her troops, and everyone she loves, including the man who holds her heart.
Cursed by a Babylonian witch, she is forced to return to a city she once conquered to make amends. There she is captured by the powerful Persian rebel, Artaxerxes. As his prisoner, she awaits judgment for her crimes. But Artaxerxes is not what he seems. With death approaching, Alexandra must face her violent past and discover the truth of her captor’s identity before it’s too late."
My Two Cents:
In "The Queen of Warriors," Alexandra of Sparta is a fierce warrior. Her heart belongs to no one beside herself. She believes deeply in her cause, no matter the tradeoffs, which is exactly why she finds herself in the situation she is in in the beginning of the book. She has been captured and her life is in danger but looks can be deceiving. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast-paced, exciting, sexy novel!
The characters are Alexandra of Sparta is very much a Xena the Warrior Princess kind of character. She is strong and she is driven. She is allowed to act like a man in many ways during a time where this was not common. She can fight with the best of them. She beds whomever she wants when she wants it. She is seriously empowered and so wonderful to read about. Artaxerxes is the man that captured the fierce Warrior Queen Alexandra. I don't want to give too much away but I really like how his story is explored and how he is changed by all of the various challenges that he faces. So good!
This book was a great mix of historical fiction and erotic fiction. The love scenes are really great and sooooo very steamy. I loved how complicated the relationships (and therefore the love scenes) were throughout the book. Sex is used in so many different ways and it's a really interesting exploration.
The writing is really good. This is the first book that I've read by this author but now I know I need to go back and read more by Zenobia Neil. I loved all of the historical fiction infused into the story! The detail gives a great sense of time and place. This book ends on a great cliffhanger and I have to know what happens! My only regret is that I have to wait until the next book!
I am so very excited to welcome Zenobia Neil here to A Bookish Affair!
Bringing Long Dead Characters Who Never Existed to Life
Historical Fiction: Writing about Something You (Initially) Know Very Little About
When I first started writing The Queen of Warriors seven years ago, I knew very little about Hellenic Persia. My characters came to me fully formed, with desires and fears. I could clearly see my Persian main character, Artaxerxes, in leather trousers, and my Spartan woman warrior, Alexandra, wearing a leather dress like Xena: Warrior Princess, but I wasn't sure what language they communicated in. I had no idea what they ate or how they illuminated their dwellings.
Writing a story that takes place thousands of years ago is challenging for several reasons. How can we even know what people thought and felt so long ago? There isn’t much recorded information, and the writings we do have are often lists of exchanges or contracts. There are a good amount of Hellenistic statues, coins, and vases. The visual images left from so long ago were very inspirational, taking into consideration that the heroic nudity portrayed in many ancient works of art was aesthetic and not representational. These images also gave me insight on their hairstyles—Alexander started the trend of Greek men going beardless, and he inspired the model of “heroic” hair (slightly long and wavy.) It tickles me to think that my Greek characters shaved and wore their hair in a style that was modern.
To discover what they ate, I consulted ancient cookbooks, but a lot of them focused on Roman cuisine. I turned to Xenophon and Herodotus, and biographies of Alexander the Great, but what really brought flavor to my story was reading Persian cookbooks—sour cherry rice with lamb and chilled cucumber-mint yogurt soup are a couple of my favorites.
Early on in my research, my characters became more real when I read about grave goods, specifically, the jewelry ancient people were buried with. I love wearing jewelry, and something about that detail really gave my characters life.
Alexandra has an ouroboros ring that her mother gave her. For Alexandra, jewelry isn’t something she wears to make her look pretty: it’s a connection to the past, a status symbol, and insurance. She always has a large amount of gold on her. Conversely, Artaxerxes was born rich and is willing to sell his gold armbands for scrolls.
Artaxerxes wears golden armbands capped with lynxes with ruby eyes, symbolic of his house. This jewelry fed my imagination, and I created a title for him based on it—The Golden Lynx of Rhagae. Though it is completely made up, it seemed fitting for a royal Persian struggling to keep his kingdom from Greek colonizers. One aspect of The Queen of Warriors is the idea of telling the tale of colonization from two different perspectives. We are used to reading the Alexander the Great narrative from the Greek perspective, but it’s not hard to imagine that from the Persian side, Alexander was no hero.
During my research I read that the Greeks essentially called all outsiders “barbarian.” Persians did the same. It tickled me to imagine my characters sitting around calling each other barbarian while still admiring each other.
Despite this idea of “otherness,” both my main characters grew up in a multi-cultural world, rich in language, architecture, textiles, cuisine, poetry, and religion. The diversity of religions and gods at this time is as important to my novel as it was to my characters. As a Zoroastrian, Artaxerxes strives to uphold the light and never lie. For him truth is paramount. His initial encounter with Alexandra results in a death, and they make a bargain that involves a proper Zoroastrian burial. Ancient texts generally show a great respect for the religions and burial practices of others. I imagine that any warrior would like to think they’d be given the same respect if they were the one to die.
As a Hellenistic Greek, Alexandra of Sparta is a devotee of Artemis. She admires trickery and has no problem telling lies. In fact, lies or exaggeration help her reputation and help her maintain her rule of a mercenary army. The juxtaposition between my two main characters’ cultures was interesting to play with from a romantic and a political perspective. The more research I did, the more dialogue they exchanged, and the more intimate they became, the more real they became.