The Widow Queen is an ambitious start to the story of Świętosława, as well as a variety of other players set during the time period of 984 CE - 997 CE in and around Poland. This is a fictional story based off of true historical events, which includes Vikings, Polish history, and more of the area, which I thought made things even more engaging and exciting when reading this book.
This book took me a long time to read, not only because it's fairly
long (~600 pages or so) but also because it's fairly dense in content
and there are a lot of characters and plot details to follow. All that
being said, however, I never really felt that lost while following. There's definitely some necessary info-dumping at times in order to help set the stage and background for understanding events that are both occurring and will occur, but it didn't necessarily feel overwhelming for some reason. I love history, so I have appreciate how much this book has told me about the time period and the wars and politics of the period, as well as how much it has inspired me to look up more about the characters and places mentioned on my own. I always think the mark of an especially good book is when it inspires readers to look into more information about something on their own.
The Widow Queen is told across a variety of perspectives including Świętosława, members of Świętosława's family, and other prominent players in her family's life, but Świętosława remains the central protagonist of the story. Świętosława is a character that I personally found myself really enjoying getting to know, and her journey was compelling and full of so many new people, places, and intrigue. Świętosława is often referred to as 'the bold one,' and I honestly can't think of a better way to describe her or her personality. I particularly liked how well she always stood her ground in any situation, and even if she did find that she said something wrong or made a wrong move, she always acknowledged it while maintaining her position and not allowing herself to be forced to back down by anyone. Świętosława may not be the most warm or welcoming person, but she knows how to survive and how to stay in power by playing all of her cards in the ways she knows best. Świętosława is the main reason that I am most excited to continue on with this series, because I am immensely curious to find out what will happen next in her life (and, quite frankly, I'm very interested in what will happen in her lynxes' lives as well--because yes, she has two lynxes!).
The rest of the cast of characters are full of varied and colorful characters that added a lot of depth and excitement to the story. All of these characters are based on real historical figures, and although I don't really know much about this time period or these people, I could tell that Cherezińska took time and effort to create them in an as authentic manner as possible, and I really felt like these were real people. I liked how she managed to convey how intertwined so many of these characters and their relationships were with others, both political and personally, as well as how the different countries interacted in varying ways.
Since this is a translated story, I'm not sure how much the translation plays into the pacing and writing style, but I will still discuss my thoughts on the writing as its presented in this book. This is one of those books that has both fast and slow pacing at the same time, and I both enjoyed it while I also found it a little dragging at times. Events themselves can happen unexpectedly quickly and unpredictably, but some scenes and/or situations seemed to drag on a bit too long. The writing itself also feels rather sparse in ways--for instance, the dialogue is short and a bit clipped in ways, but in a way that felt enjoyable and authentic. The plot itself felt slightly meandering at times as well, but if you are interested in the characters and the time period then it never really feels like it's a bad thing; conversely, if you're not enjoying the characters--for instance, there were a couple POVs I didn't care for--then some areas might be a bit harder to get through. Świętosława's POVs were always enjoyable for me, though.