4 out of 4 stars
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The Last Wife of Attila the Hun is a historical novel by Joan Schweighardt. The story follows Gudrun, a noblewoman who travels to the City of Attila. She comes bearing a war sword to give as a gift to Attila. Before she is able to meet him, she is kept as a prisoner in a hut. She relays her story to Edeco, one of Attila’s personal guards whom she befriends. She uses a fake name and says that the sword came from the gods, before being lost to dwarves. One of the dwarves turned into a dragon and went to the mountains with the sword, which ended up in her keep. Gudrun is shown favor because of the majesty of her gift, even though this equates to remaining a prisoner and eventually becoming one of Attila’s servants. In truth, she has come to the city to deceive the Huns, whom she greatly despises.
The story is told in the first person. The prologue features the narrator/protagonist speaking to the reader. She states that she is new to the process of writing but wants her words to be remembered. In this manner, the writing style is very descriptive as the narrator tries to recreate each scene in detail and relay her thoughts in these past moments.
There are two storylines at work: the one in which she is in the City of Attila and the other showing her past. This latter storyline includes the complicated nature of Gudrun getting married to a Frankish noble named Sigurd. In regards to plot, I did prefer the Attila storyline; there was also a better balance of dialogue to description in these chapters that kept me engaged. However, it was interesting to draw parallels between her old and new lives.
The characters are very well drawn. Gudrun goes through a wide range of emotions. She is fearful because of her deception; at other times the fear she should be feeling is masked by a sense of madness. Everything she feels seems justified. It’s incredible to watch her adapt to her new environment. On the one hand, she is constantly plotting in the back of her mind. On the other, she is dealing with the sadness that has led to this point in her life.
There is a large focus on identity. Gudrun poses as a Thuet (who were basically enslaved by the Huns) but is really a Burgundian. Edeco really is a Thuet but has become accustomed to the Hun way of life. He believes that “there is no such thing as freedom…we are free only to choose our limitations.” Attila is, of course, an interesting character, as he thinks of himself as an earthly manifestation of a god. Jealousy runs rampant among his many wives and sons. The romance aspect of the book is incredibly well handled, with high stakes that feel grounded in the devastation of reality.
I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. It was well written with an intriguing plot and fascinating characters. The book’s many elements work together, leading up to a satisfying conclusion. If talk of gods, dragons and dwarves isn’t your thing, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you’re a history buff and a fantasy fanatic, then you should consider giving this book a try.
The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
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