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An entertaining book up to a point
on 18 March 2007
This book gives a fairly entertaining account of the lives of some little known women in history (such as Tomyris of the Massagetai, Zenobia of Palmyra, Matilda of Tuscany, Queen Jinga of Angola and Queen Louise of Prussia) on whom there is perhaps not enough material to warrant full biographies. Fraser also deals with better known figures such as Elizabeth I, Isabella of Spain and Margaret Thatcher.
The various chapters are all linked by the theory that such "warrior queens" have a lot in common with each other when it comes to their contemporaries' and posterity's treatment of them. Fraser uses the figure of Boadicea, to whose life and legend she returns in each chapter, to provide this link.
Although I felt it didn't really work, I respected the author's attempt to synthesise the material with some overarching theories on the nature of female rule. However, the terminology she uses to describe the characteristics of warrior queens (such as appendage syndrome, voracity syndrome, "only a weak woman" syndrome) seemed a little forced at times. Moreover her spurious distinction between "Boudica" to describe the historical Queen of the Iceni and "Boadicea" to describe the legendary figure which lives on in literature and the popular conciousness, was a little annoying.
At two places in the book Fraser stated things that were factually incorrect. The first instance of this was on p. 224 she writes that Miguel, the Portugese prince who could have united Iberia into one kingdom had he survived infancy, was the son of Isabella I's daughter Maria. In fact he was the son of Isabella's eldest daughter, Isabella. Secondly, on p. 279 she states that Tsarina Elizabeth of Russia was Catherine the Great's mother-in-law. In fact Elizabeth was the aunt, not mother, of Catherine's husband. Such errors were downright shoddy from a historical biographer of Fraser's (supposed) ability.
I'm glad I only read this book on the train on the way to work rather than saving it as a holiday or weekend read, because it was entertaining only insofar as I didn't think too much about it. Having said that I recently gave Fraser a second chance by buying her biography of Mary Queen of Scots in a discount book shop for 3 pounds. I'm hoping this will redeem her.