The Shadow King

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020

Maaza Mengiste

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Paperback ISBN 9781838851170) book cover

Available as Paperback, eBook, Downloadable audio

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, this is an utterly captivating novel about female strength. Set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King casts a light on the women soldiers written out of African history

SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE 2020

‘DEVASTATING’ Marlon James, ‘A MODERN CLASSIC’ Andrew Sean Greer, ‘BRILLIANT’ Salman Rushdie, ‘MAGNIFICENT’ Aminatta Forna, ‘EPIC’ Mary Morris, ‘WONDERFUL’ Laila Lalami, ‘UNFORGETTABLE’ The Times, ‘REMARKABLE’ New York Times, ‘A MASTERPIECE’ Washington Post

ETHIOPIA. 1935.
With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade.

Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?

The Shadow King is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, and what it means to be a woman at war.


The Shadow King is a beautiful and devastating work; of women holding together a world ripping itself apart. They will slip into your dreams and overtake your memories”
Marlon James

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”Unforgettable. I suspect I won’t read anything more moving this year”
the Times, Book Of The Month

”Lyrical, remarkable … Breathtakingly skillful … The reader feels … In the steady hands of a master … Hirut [is] as indelible and compelling a hero as any I’ve read in years”
new York Times

“With epic sweep and dignity, Mengiste has lifted this struggle into legend, along with the women who fought in it. Beautiful, horrifying, elegant and haunted, The Shadow King is a modern classic”
Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize–winning Author Of Less

“Set during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, this absorbing novel spotlights the African women who went to war … [Mengiste’s] achievement in The Shadow King is to bring to life those women, and to depict them as dynamic entities, their capabilities, limitations and beliefs evolving under duress in as fully complex a way as those of their male counterparts”
guardian, Book Of The Day


Maaza Mengiste

Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A Fulbright Scholar and professor in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation programme at Queens College, she is the author of The Shadow King, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the HWA Gold Crown, and Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, named one of the Guardian’s Ten Best Contemporary African Books. Her work can be found in the New Yorker, Granta and the New York Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
@MaazaMengiste | maazamengiste.com


Kamila Shamsie discusses the Booker-shortlisted novel The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste.

The Shadow King cover

An extract from the audiobook of the Booker-shortlisted novel The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste. Read by Robin Miles.

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