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The Sworn Virgin

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What would you do if your father was suddenly and mysteriously murdered, leaving you alone in 1910s Albania?

When 18-year-old Diana’s father is mysteriously shot dead in the cobblestone streets of 1910s Albania, Diana must abandon her dream of studying art in Italy as she struggles to survive in a remote mountain village with her stepmother Mirlinda.

Nearing starvation, Mirlinda secretly sells Diana into marriage with Edi, the cruel heir of a powerful clan. Rather than lose her freedom, Diana swears to remain a virgin for the rest of her life, a tradition that gives her the right to live as a man: she is now head of her household, can work for a living and carry a gun. She may participate in the vengeful blood feuds that consume the mountain tribes, but she may not be killed—unless she forsakes her vow.

When an ill stranger stumbles into her life, she nurses him back to health, saving his life but risking her own when she falls in love with him. . .

352 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 2, 2016

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About the author

Kristopher Dukes

1 book78 followers
Kristopher Dukes was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Her work has been profiled in Amazon's Book Review, Kirkus, and Elle magazine.

She lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with her husband, Matt, and Doberman, Xena.

"The Sworn Virgin," published by William Morrow, is her first novel, and was nominated for two awards.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 151 reviews
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,331 followers
August 30, 2017
Impressively researched and deftly plotted. One of the pleasures of historical fiction is learning about a new time and place, and here we’re transported to 1910 Albania, where gender roles are rigid and society is ruled by convention. Eleanora, our main character, rebels against gender conventions in a fascinating way, by becoming what’s known as a “sworn virgin,” meaning she’s suddenly treated like a man. One of the difficulties of writing about a place that’s so conventional is how to break free from convention in the narrative itself. For example, dialog in this part of the world is often highly scripted, meaning some of the characters can sound stilted and wooden when they speak. But I soon realized that this was part of the convention that Eleanora herself was rebelling against. The ending (which I won’t give away) also skirts close to convention in a different way before rejecting it in favor of a more ambiguous conclusion, which I found more in keeping with the novel’s overall theme of struggling against convention—a theme that’s explored in many interesting ways in this worthy first novel.

Note: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine).
189 reviews223 followers
September 1, 2017
You can read all of my reviews at Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine.

As a avid reader of historical fiction, I was first attracted to The Sworn Virgin because it introduced me to a subject I knew nothing about – the sworn virgins of Albania. While I’ve read many novels with strong female characters that dared to reject their traditional societal roles, I had never read one set in Albania so that was also a big draw.

When I began the book and learned that Eleanora and her father, Fran, traveled together as healers, the nurse in me became even more excited. If only Eleanora could’ve had more time with her beloved Baba! I would have loved to hear more of their voyages to heal the sick and injured. Sadly, this was not to be as Baba was killed in a blood feud early on, leaving Eleonora alone to make the journey home to deliver the sad news to her stepmother, Meria.

I admittedly had some difficulty with Meria’s character. Though I could empathize with her on some levels, I was angry that she would force Eleanora into marriage with a cruel man; especially knowing how much her husband had wanted his daughter to be happy and independent. I felt that it was something of a betrayal of his memory and struggled to accept that it was simply the way of the times.

When, having almost no options, Eleanora takes the oath of a sworn virgin, I felt very conflicted. After all, one has only to read the blurb to understand that this may not end well…

I thought the pacing of this book was slow but steady for the first half. It gradually picked up. Then, with a couple of twists, the last hundred pages flew by. The ending was something of a surprise and the perfect set-up for a sequel.

Though it is very clear that the author did a tremendous amount of research on the subject of sworn virgins, Eleanor’s time as a sworn virgin was shorter than I had anticipated. I selfishly would have liked her to have had more time as a sworn virgin, if only so that I could’ve learned more about what her day-to-day life may have been like.

Had the date of this story, 1910, not been disclosed at the beginning of this book, I would never have guessed the century in which these events had taken place. It was difficult for me to grasp that these events could have happened in what is the relatively recent past. I felt compelled to learn more about the sworn virgins and was surprised to see the amount of information and recent articles on the sworn virgins of Albania. (Please check out my blog post for links to some interesting stories and videos I found!)

Whether or not it is a sequel to The Sworn Virgin, I look forward to reading Kristopher Dukes’s next novel.

3.5/5 stars

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for TL .
1,785 reviews35 followers
August 24, 2017
A mostly well done story on a tradition I had no clue existed (and sounded really interesting). So when I had the money to get this I pounced, and started reading it the day it came in.

The story kept my attention and I zipped through it pretty quickly.
Loved the setting
Loved that Eleanora was an artist
Liked how the story ended.

I was pissed at the way Eleanora treated Meria... I don't blame her for being angry (I probably would be too... Meria had the best intentions, misguided or not.. she wanted them both to be safe) and yes, she is grieving her father but she was being too cruel to her at times I thought. I wanted to shove her off a cliff and spirit Meria away.

The writing was pretty good but sometimes felt wooden and stiff.
Numerous references made to Eleanora being strong like her father but it isn't seen much... more telling than showing at times. Most of the time I found her to be selfish and dreamy (Being a dreamer isn't all bad but in her case it came off as lazy, other than her art).

The "romance"/attraction annoyed me pretty much right away.

Another Pro and Con: I guessed the twist with our traveling guide but the reveal was still cleverly done.

All in all, not a bad read but was underwhelmed over all... maybe my expectations were too high *shrugs*
Profile Image for Jane.
1,508 reviews170 followers
June 29, 2017
Interesting book on the harsh Law [Kanun of Lekë] of the mountain tribes of Albania, from a woman's viewpoint. I had already read Broken April by Ismail Kadare and wanted to compare how the two different genders might have lived under these brutal rules of blood feud and [in this novel] the "correct" deportment of a woman--subservient and second-class. Set in 1910, a feisty girl, Eleanora, a talented artist, and possessed of an independent spirit, dreams of breaking away from this stifling atmosphere to study art in Italy, spurred on by her father's encouragement. She's also an apprentice to her father, a healer and often accompanies him on his missions of mercy. Her father is shot point-blank on a city street. Since she and her stepmother, Meria, are now left alone with no male in the house as protection or provider, Meria tries to sell Eleanora as bride to a cruel man, Edi for money and food. When he comes for her, she declares herself a "sworn virgin", now entitled to wear men's clothing, and to become in effect a man, with all the advantages that status gives her, including carrying and using a rifle. When she discovers Kol is the killer she goes to his house to find out why her father had been downed in cold blood. By accident, she shoots him. While fleeing the house house, remorseful for what has happened, she is nearly caught by someone. While out one day, she discovers a wounded man, Cheremi, brings him to her home and nurses him back to health. But now she's torn between keeping her vow of virginity and her burgeoning love for him, which is reciprocated. Then the story degenerates into a romance between the two, and from there, it hurtles to its shattering conclusion.

I liked learning about these Albanian customs; I thought the sworn virgin concept so outlandish I thought the author had created it out of her imagination until I read elsewhere to this day there are still some older women in the Albanian mountains who are of that status. The novel was a fast read and kept my interest until the banal romance eroded it.

I thank LibraryThing for sending me an ARC in return for my honest review.
Profile Image for Sara Sturdivant.
3 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2016

The main character Diana is one of the most relatable characters I have had the chance to read in a stoking. Her perseverance for equality and opportunity for women independence is relentless. In the beginning I was a little confused by the story development of Diana because it was a little unclear but once you get past the fifth chapter everything begins to tie together. At least it did for me. Overall a well written story and I would highly recommend it to all my friends especially those who are untested in culture and gender studies.
April 4, 2017
A powerful story asking what it means to be a woman and about what it means to be a woman.

Eleanora is like Scarlett O'Hara - you may not alway like her or what she does, but you will respect her strength!

I found the setting fascinating - I have never read anything about Albania before, let alone the remote mountains.

The story ends on a cliff hanger - hoping the author writes the sequel, and soon!
Profile Image for Lollita .
205 reviews72 followers
February 12, 2018
This book sounded promising and interesting, but I hated every character and it was super boring. Diana was one of the most whiny annoying characters ever,and her step mother was just stupid. The big twist was incredibly predictable, and kind of gross haha.
Profile Image for Marisa.
804 reviews45 followers
August 21, 2017
This was a very intriguing book in that I’m not sure that it was like anything else I have read. That being said, I found it very difficult to relate to Eleanora and was frustrated by her decisions to be extremely selfish at times. It was tough, because Eleanora was trying to be an independent and strong woman, but really tripped up multiple times throughout the book. She is quite young, and does manage to grow throughout the story. I was expecting the book to go in a different direction based on the description, but instead we follow Eleanora over two years in her life and she is forced to decide if she'll reject or embrace her cultural heritage.

What I did enjoy about the book was the imagery and exploration of a culture and geography that I know nothing about. In 1910, it’s interesting to hear how Albania balanced the old and new ways of life, like so many other countries at the turn of the century.

Warning: Contains repeated violence and sexual content.

Who should read it? Anyone interested in historical novels.

See all my reviews and more at www.ReadingToDistraction.com or @Read2Distract
Profile Image for Matt Jacobson.
4 reviews
April 4, 2017
An incredible story of a woman's strength. The world in which Eleanora struggles sounds to strange to be true, but little details like her not knowing what a fork was, widespread illiteracy, and the rustic architecture and decoration of the homes the characters live in brings this story to life.

It's always fun to read and learn about an otherwise unknown place. Along with learning about life in the remote mountains of Albania, the dramatic story shines through, and I am still wondering where the characters are after the book ended.

Rich in detail about 1910 Albania, with a dramatic love story, this reminded me of Memoirs of a Geisha.
1 review
April 20, 2017
I am a fan of fictional stories with strong female characters, and this one is exceptionally well written. The story was so riveting that I couldn't put the book down once I started to read it. I was very inspired by the strength and courage that Eleanora had. I look forward to reading Ms. Duke's next book.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
46 reviews
January 2, 2018
Here is something this book does well: its setting, and the culture within which it’s purportedly working, is compelling. The role of the sworn virgin is a fascinating one and should leave a lot of room to really dig into complex ideas about tradition and gender, as well as leaving lots of space for a compelling romance.

Here’s what the book does not do well: fulfilling the promise of the premise.

The pacing in this book is a disaster. Eleanora doesn’t choose to become a sworn virgin until about halfway through, as she spends the first half thinking about how sad she is, how her life is ruined, how awful everything is, and ignoring the very real possibility that she and her stepmother may starve to death. Love Interest shows up at 60% and, 50 pages later,

And then the rest of the book is Eleanora moping. Eventually -- on the very last page --

The actual premise of the book -- how does a woman inhabit this unusual social role that, while granting her incredible freedoms, also asks deep sacrifices; how does she navigate her new identity against her personal feelings for someone; what sacrifices will she be forced to make in the end, while living within a deeply patriarchal and structured society -- takes up a very small percentage of the pages on offer, and its deepest questions are never answered.

Here are a few proposed solution to the pacing:

1. Eleanora could have taken her vow before the book opens, which would help explain the unusual liberties her father allows her, as well as why she’s completely useless at helping Meria maintain the household; then, slow burn romance and feeling conflicted between her vow and who it has allowed her to be vs. marriage and what that would mean for her practically (attempted murder!) and personally (does she then become the ‘little wife’ and lessen herself? can she ever be treated as an equal?)

2. Eleanora could take her vow once her father’s killed so that she can either a) inherit his estate and thus save her and Meria from being destitute (or having to enter a marriage for survival’s sake), or b) so that she can exact revenge on her father’s killer and enter into the intense blood feud culture, protected by the fact that, while a sworn virgin can kill as part of a feud, she can’t be killed

3. Eleanora knows she has to marry for the sake of survival, but decides she would prefer to try and be head of household herself, that she’s certainly as clever as any man (something she acts out throughout the novel anyway, well before her vow), and we see her trying on the new social role, learning its boundaries and edges as she levels up her hunting skills and figures out what the hell to do next

There also remain the troubling politics of the story. Eleanora has the perspective of an outsider and thinks her entire tribal culture is ridiculous; she is atypical and very much reads as someone written by a person not of the culture she’s apparently a part of. Eleanora has a bit of contempt for the sworn virgins at first -- for masculine-presenting women -- and, once she’s met her LI, she takes to wearing a skirt over her pants because she likes being pretty. Eleanora is a great example of a woman who’s “not like the other girls,” and her contempt for both masculine women and for traditionally feminine qualities is bizarre. She’s inconsistent, at once taking for granted Meria’s struggles around the house as her stepmother tries -- desperately -- to keep them from starving and Eleanora is also incredibly dismissive of the value of that same work, going so far as to hit Meria because Eleanora is now the head of household. Instead of grappling with her conflicting desires, Eleanora is unpredictable, spoiled, cruel, and incredibly ignorant, in a way that tells me more about the author than this inconsistent character.

We’re told that Eleanora is remarkable, that she’s different -- she converses with men instead of helping women, she helps her father with his travelling medical trade (although apparently learns nothing from the years they spend on the road together, as we find later in the book), she pursues art and literature and studies languages, she dreams of a future beyond the mountains -- and yet, over the course of the novel, she only becomes more and more off-putting.

(As an aside, although the only sworn virgin we meet uses male pronouns, has adopted a male-sounding name, and lives with a lady, there isn’t enough thought put to how this society might create space for queer folks: women who love other women as well as trans men. Given that gender is so performative in this culture, there’s so much meat there to be explored! Instead, we get Eleanora. Oh well.)

There’s additionally the worry around her whirlwind romance with her Love Interest, who’s the same age as her father. Who reminds her, consistently and in many ways, of her father. Whose qualities that are most like her father’s -- his cigarettes, the sound of his voice, the way he speaks -- make her want to forsake her vow and hook up with the guy. It’s just... gross.

My favourite chapters were the ones written from Meria’s perspective, as I think she best embodied the difficulties presented to women living in this society -- the narrow opportunities, the constrained fight for survival, the social pressure of conformity to The Kanun of Lekë (a series of laws that govern nothern Albanian societies) at the expense, sometimes, of making it through another week. And, sadly, we never learn what happened to Meria, whose stepdaughter became a sworn virgin, Was justice exacted on poor Meria? Did she starve in the weeks to follow? Was she forced to leave her village and seek a marriage elsewhere, although she’s infertile?

The Sworn Virgin is preoccupied with the wrong questions and is clearly constructed through the lens of a person well outside of Albanian tribal society, peering in through the windows with an eye for exotic detail while ignoring the very real experiences of people living within the community. While Dukes has gotten the details right -- the decoration, the food, the customs -- she hasn’t nailed down any sort of authentic heart, instead imagining, without compassion, how to twist those details into a compelling story for modern people living in a very different society. Eleanora is the manifestation of that gaze.

There’s a good story somewhere in the muddle of this novel, but instead we’re left with one that’s poorly executed and, worse, riddled with troubling implicit politics.
Profile Image for Meg - A Bookish Affair.
2,444 reviews197 followers
August 8, 2017
"The Sworn Virgin" is the story of Eleanora, a woman who chooses to live as a "sworn virgin," a tradition that will allow her to basically be the master of her own destiny and be in control of her own life as long as she keeps to her promise. But promises are hard to keep and love may find her whether she wants it to or not.

I was very interested in the custom of "sworn virgins" in Albania. It is a concept that I had never heard of before. It's so interesting to me to learn about new customs like this through books. "Sworn Virgins" could carry guns (something that gets our heroine into a lot of trouble in the book). They could wear men's clothing and could work the way that men are allowed to. I really liked all of the detail that the author packed into this book about the custom.

While the story and historical context was interesting, the writing felt a little stiff in some places. There would be passages that would flow very nicely and then others that seemed to get mired into telling rather than showing. Eleanora is a strong character and I liked that but a lot of her strength is explained rather than shown, which did take me out of the book a little.

Overall, this was a fascinating subject that I would love to read more about!
April 10, 2017
The Sworn Virgin is beautifully written and leaves you wanting more. I enjoyed Diana's complexities and the interesting Albanian facts which I was unaware of such traditions. The ending was a surprise and I'm looking forward for more of Dukes novels! Hopefully a sequel!!
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews504 followers
February 11, 2018
Full review here. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Eleanora is an 18-year-old woman, precocious as all hell, who lives with her father and her step-mother in Albania in the early 20th century. Eleanora's dream is to study art in Italy, a dream that was not commonly held by young women in her mountain village in 1910. Her step-mother has very specific wishes for Eleanora, which involve getting married as a good young woman ought to do, though her father wants her to pursue her dreams and works exceptionally hard to help her on her path to studying in Italy.

When Eleanora's father is murdered, her life is turned upside down, and she and her step-mother must find a way to survive in a world that does not encourage women to live alone. Her step-mother takes steps to marry Eleanora off, but Eleanora takes matters in her own hands by taking an oath to be a sworn virgin. This would allow her to live life as a man, making household decisions, having a job, participating in any activity allowed to a man - though she must remain a virgin and, luckily, cannot be killed the same way a man could be killed.

As one might imagine, the story gets complicated when Eleanora meets someone who strikes her fancy, and she must hide her feelings.

I was on board with this novel from the beginning, but my interest started to lag once I realized that Eleanora's dream to study art in Italy was taking a back burner to everything else. I can appreciate that she was a strong-willed character who had to take over her father's role, but then the love interest goes against everything I was hoping to encounter in this character. Unfortunately it took on a bit more of a romantic turn than I was hoping from what seemed to be a strong female character above all the usual trappings. This is a personal thing - I'm not a fan of anyone giving up their dreams just because they have a boner for someone else.

Still, for a first novel, this is written well and I found Eleanora refreshing as a bad-ass character (at least in the first half of the book). I don't know anything about Albania in 1910, or the mountain village traditions, but Dukes managed to make me feel like I did know something about it. I feel she did her research and it made the time and place come alive for me. For a debut novel, I'm impressed and look forward to seeing what else this author writes, though, again, on a personal front I would prefer a bit less of the lovey-dovey stuff. Man, I must be getting hard in my old age.
425 reviews3 followers
June 27, 2017
When Eleanora’s father is killed and her stepmother secretly arranges for Eleanora to marry a cruel man, she takes advantage of an unusual way to avoid it. Eleanora takes the sworn virgin oath; she takes an oath to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. In this way, she has the right to live as a man; she becomes the head of her household, can work for a living, can carry a gun. She can participate in the blood feuds of the mountain tribes of Albania and she may not be killed unless she forsakes her vows. She has control of her future until she meets an injured stranger, falls in love and risks her life.
Sworn Virgin is an intriguing story based on real oaths and life in Albania’s mountains in the early 1900s.
The characters and descriptions are well developed; it is a story that kept my interest until the end. I enjoyed learning about the sworn virgin oath and about Albania’s tribal life.
I received an arc of the book from Goodreads.

Merged review:

When Eleanora’s father is killed and her stepmother secretly arranges for Eleanora to marry a cruel man, she takes advantage of an unusual way to avoid it. Eleanora takes the sworn virgin oath; she takes an oath to remain a virgin for the rest of her life. In this way, she has the right to live as a man; she becomes the head of her household, can work for a living, can carry a gun. She can participate in the blood feuds of the mountain tribes of Albania and she may not be killed unless she forsakes her vows. She has control of her future until she meets an injured stranger, falls in love and risks her life.
Sworn Virgin is an intriguing story based on real oaths and life in Albania’s mountains in the early 1900s.
The characters and descriptions are well developed; it is a story that kept my interest until the end. I enjoyed learning about the sworn virgin oath and about Albania’s tribal life.
I received an arc of the book from Goodreads.
Profile Image for Maggie.
2,139 reviews9 followers
October 7, 2017
Such a waste of time with a story going nowhere. Set in Albania in 1910 based on a girl Eleanora initially portrayed as a spoilt brat under the guidance of her father. She then becomes a 'Sworn Virgin' and starts physically and emotionally abusing her stepmother.
Neither Eleanora nor her stepmother are characters anyone would warm to and to be honest had no interest in their lives. The concept of 'sworn virgin' was interesting but this story ruined it.
Eleanora then takes up with a male stranger nursing him back to health and falling in love with him. It then goes on with Eleanora becoming totally domesticated awaiting direction from this man on everything. She goes from total independence as a 'sworn virgin' to none with him bringing her books to read and having no choice in choosing for herself.
Such a load of nonsense in my opinion. I wont be rushing out to get another book by this author.
April 17, 2017
A lover of historical fiction, this is the first for me....Albania. Tradition and laws of the land for this country are shocking to us in the 21st century but fascinating nevertheless. Eleanora's is a strong and resilient woman who perseveres through many adversities. I love this character for always believing in herself and knowing in her heart what she has to do to survive. Ms Dukes has created a well written novel and I see a definite future for this author. I'm very much hoping this will a series and there will be other books by Kristopher Dukes.
Profile Image for Sara.
221 reviews36 followers
December 4, 2017
I really adored this book.

I firstly want to thank Kristopher Dukes for providing me with a copy of her book (yes, HER. Such a badass name for a badass woman.)

I secondly want to gush about how much I loved this story and how much I loved Eleanora. Let me start by saying that I knew absolutely nothing at all about Albania in the early 20th century. What a cool setting for a book. So original. I knew nothing of the mountain village cultures and the roles that males and females played in society. Feuds between families is a major theme in this novel and it affects all the characters, both the good ones and the bad ones. Blood feuds rip apart families until there aren't any left, a really dreadful but intensely fascinating Albanian custom.

Eleanora, to avoid an arranged marriage to a terrible man, declares herself a sworn virgin so that she can, in all intents and purposes, become a man. If not in body, in tradition. Once a sworn virgin, she is literally sworn to virginity, but she is granted the rights that an Albanian man would be. She needs no man's permission for anything she does, and if that doesn't just fit Eleanora to the T.

Eleanora is totally headstrong, independent and brave. Yet she is still just a girl. She is scared, she is filled with the need to be cared for and looked after, and I think she struggles with this dichotomy. To be seen as an independent man, strong and grown up, yet really, she is just a child. She isn't totally ready for the life that was handed to her in an instant. A mere string of sentences in a moment of danger changed her life forever.

I learned so much about these very specific Albanian traditions and customs that I had never even known existed. This was a legitimate page-turner, and I hated to put it down when I had to get off the train to go to work.

I believe there is more of Eleanora's story in the works, and I cannot wait for when I can continue her journey with her! I can't wait to see what that little girl with the huge heart and rip-roaring independence will do next.
Profile Image for Apex Reviews.
98 reviews10 followers
March 13, 2016
When many think of stories involving blood debts, endless family feuding, and revenge, they often envision a strong male protagonist at the center of it all who eventually comes out as victorious by the end of the tale. But in Kristopher Dukes’ novel, A Sworn Virgin: Broken Promises, the game is changed when a woman, leading not only as the main character in the story, but in her life as well, is forced into facing (and surviving) this type of world on her own.

Dukes’ novel takes place in 1910s Albania, where we’re introduced to the small mountain hometown of the female protagonist, Diana, her father, Frenk, and her stepmother, Mirlinda. Immediately, there is obvious tension between Diana and her stepmother, due to Diana’s non-typical womanly behavior and mannerisms, which are thought to make her “useless” as a potential wife. The only reason Diana gets away with her behavior is due to her father’s encouragement of pursuing her artistic talents, but after his sudden death, Diana becomes lost and struggles to come to terms with the reality of it. When her stepmother tries to sell her off to a neighboring family’s abusive son for survival, Diana, as a quick escape route, declares the vow of a “sworn virgin”, giving her the power and rights to live on her own like a man. Through her struggles of taking on the responsibilities of her vow, dealing with her father’s death, and seeking revenge, Diana uncovers truths about her present, her past, and herself.

The story focuses much on the importance of having a choice. From the beginning, Diana sees herself as equal to men in nature, and her intellect saves her from both a bad marriage and being complacent in the choices others try to make for her. She knows she will not be content unless she pursues her art and leaves her hometown for more, and she refuses to marry for anything less than love. Even when Diana chooses to become a sworn virgin, a lifestyle fated for loneliness and survival, she still finds contentment in her decision for some time because it fostered favorable results when she needed it. No matter how her circumstances change, she can't seem to escape the need to go after what she wants, which is relatable to all readers in the struggle to choose their own paths.

A Sworn Virgin: Broken Promises is must-read for lovers of historical fiction, unexpected plot twists, and relatable female heroines. If readers can accept Diana as her imperfect self, who is often prone to somewhat strange behaviors and mood swings, they'll come to appreciate the well written story, interesting characters, and doubtless proof of how resilient women can be in the face of nearly anything.

India Barnett
Apex Reviews
1 review
June 8, 2017
From start to end this book caught my attention, all the details really transported me and helped me visualize all of the surroudings.

I've found it to be incredibly interesting since it details so much of Albania's history and culture back then and the amount of action and drama in it. Being from a Latinamerican background I could relate to Eleonora's fight for her independence. Her determination is inspiring too.

It left me wanting for more...
Profile Image for Tony Parsons.
4,156 reviews73 followers
March 22, 2016
1910, Albania.
Fast forward; Diana’s (18) father Frenk (Dr., Baba) had been shot/killed.
She had planned on being an artist in Italy.
Mirlinda (Diana’s stepmother, nee Aganis) was devastated also.

Diana had inherited his fancy rifle.
The Thethi tribe & the Gjojika tribe were in a blood feud.
Diana needed to sell some bracelets, so she/Mirlinda could survive.
Diana would also like to pretend to be a man so she can acquire the privileges of that gender.
Diana (aka mountain fairy) confronted Martin (Andri’s brother) how did that turn out?

How would Andri (artist) & Diana relationship turn out?

Warning: This book contains extreme violence, graphic adult content or expletive language &/or sexually explicit content which is only suitable for mature readers. It may be offensive to some readers.

I did not receive any type of compensation for reading & reviewing this book. While I receive free books from publishers & authors, I am under no obligation to write a positive review. Only an honest one.

A very awesome book cover, great font & writing style. A very well written book. It was very easy for me to read/follow from start/finish & never a dull moment. There were no grammar/typo errors, nor any repetitive or out of line sequence sentences. Lots of exciting scenarios, with several twists/turns & a great set of unique characters to keep track of. This could also make another great movie, or mini TV series. To be continued? There is no doubt in my mind this is a very easy rating of 5 stars.

Thank you for the free Story Cartel; PDF book
Tony Parsons MSW (Washburn)
Profile Image for Clare O'Beara.
Author 21 books329 followers
April 17, 2018
I was astonished by how quickly and easily I was swept away to Albania of the early 1900s. The mountain villages are no easy place for women, while men live by a macho code which includes honour killings for revenge. Attractive, talented artist Diana is pampered by her indulgent father with his doctor's income. But sudden tragedy leaves her responsible for herself, with only his rifle.

The mountains have a custom that if a woman swears to be a virgin all her life, she can live as a man, hunt, shoot, trade and run a household. This and other customs are shown, through the actions and adventures of Diana, who is keen to escape to Italy but keeps changing her priorities as others require her aid. She learns what it is to be a woman, a man and a wife in turn, proving that women can change their roles but men, as we see, do not.

The writing is beautiful, often polished, and descriptions vivid. The culture is shown as a cross between European peasant and Turkish of the time, Albania not having been under the Austro-Hungarian Empire but the Ottoman Empire. Albania seems to have been something of a crossroads.

I was sent an e-ARC by the author. This is an unbiased review. I would read more work by this author.
25 reviews25 followers
August 4, 2018
This book sounded promising, but didn't live up to my expectations. The writing style was boring, and none of the characters - except Eleanora's father, Baba - were very likable. Based on the description, I thought Eleanor would be a strong female protagonist, but was sadly disappointed. Although her father taught her independence and practical skills, like nursing, she didn't seem to learn anything from these experiences. Instead, she acted helpless much of the time. Her decision to become a sworn virgin could've been an important opportunity for growth and development, but she breaks her vows the moment a good-looking man (Cheremi) falls into her lap. Over the course of her relationship with Cheremi, she transforms from an aspiring artist into a repressed housewife. In the end, she makes the correct decision to leave him, but I didn't hold out much hope that she would stick to her plan. In reality, she would probably go back to him.

Even though I didn't like the book, it did make me think about gender issues, specifically how even modern women sometimes give away their power and agency in romantic relationships. In that sense, it still has some value, although I can't enthusiastically recommend it to others.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for latybug.
157 reviews
March 17, 2016
I received a free download of this book from Story Cartel, thank you!
This book was a pretty good read for me. I didn't like the very end, as I didn't want the story to end that way. I generally like strong female lead characters, but I found myself not really liking Diana very much by the end.
It was interesting to read about the customs of that time and culture. I think Diana's story would be much different if the story were set in this day and age.
I would recommend this book to others and I would read more by this author.
14 reviews2 followers
January 9, 2018
I'm a huge fan of historical fiction. I had no idea this tradition existed in Albania where women can take a vow of chastity and wear men's clothing in order to live life as a man and have their own rights. I loved how strong Eleanora is -- a perfect heroine that's strong as well as strong-willed. The imagery and descriptions by Dukes was so vivid I really loved escaping away into another world.
Profile Image for kim.
407 reviews
August 21, 2017
This one is a hard one for me to rate, because I liked it a lot….right up until it ended! The ending alone is enough for me to recommend it to book clubs….just so I have someone to discuss it with!

Other than the ending, I really enjoyed the story. It was interesting to read about the tradition of the ‘sworn virgin’ being given the rights of a man. This reminded me a lot of the bacha posh of Afghanistan, which I read about in The Underground Girls of Kabul and The Pearl That Broke Its Shell. The descriptions of the mountain country and the markets in Albania pulled me right into the story. To be honest, had I not been told at the beginning that the story was set in 1910, I would have easily have believed that this took place a few hundred years ago!

Eleanora is a complicated young woman — spoiled and self-centered — who gets herself into a lot of trouble by thinking about she wants and going after it impulsively, without ever considering the consequences of her actions or how they may affect others. Without giving any spoilers, I can tell you that almost everything Eleanora does is done impulsively and without a lot of thought; she is thrust into circumstances and just reacts. She never seems fully invested in her status as a sworn virgin, which is probably good, because it doesn’t last very long. You can probably tell that I didn’t like the character of Eleanora very much.

Other than the ending, my major quibble with the book is the synopsis. The synopsis led me to believe that Eleanora’s father was killed and she became a sworn virgin almost immediately at the beginning of the book, and that she spent some time in this role before she stumbled upon the injured stranger. The truth is that I was almost halfway through the book before Eleanora made her vow and then very little time passed before she broke it. I was a little disappointed not to have learned more about the life of a woman as a sworn virgin. And as I mentioned, I was very disappointed in Eleanora at the end of the book. However, I did enjoy the book and think it will make a good selection for book clubs!

You can visit the publisher’s website to read an excerpt or listen to a sample.
You can see an interview with the author here.
You can read an article about sworn virgins living in current day Albania here.

I won a copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

My rating: ☆☆☆½
Profile Image for Thomas Farber.
2 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2017
A pretty complicated father/daughter dynamic, essential family stories never told, absent mother, (sometimes wicked) stepmother, lover who was almost her mother's lover and who in the end will...just not suffice.


And a feminist fable, too. 'Mazin!

Meanwhile, for sure, we will want to see what Eleanora can do, will do, in this new world she's dreaming of.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sensitivemuse.
520 reviews31 followers
September 28, 2017
So what I really liked the most about the book is the historical background and aspect. It’s rich in detail and sheds a light on the customs in Albania. I loved the descriptions of the setting, the clothing especially and how family life was at the time. Despite that Eleanora lived differently from others in the village, traditions are deep rooted, strong and followed to the exact detail. It’s all about maintaining family honor and if disgraced, the way to gain it back is likely with someone killing the other from the rival family that did you wrong. It’s pretty harsh and during that time doesn’t give much voice to women in general, but Eleanora’s personality is strong and admirable even though she’s pretty much a daddy’s girl (which helps her let her be who she wants to be).

The first half of the book was great and got the reading going pretty quickly. It wasn’t until the last third of the novel where things bog down and I was afraid of this: the moment the ‘man of the her dreams’ came into the story. Then I was instantly reminded as to why I hated “Memoirs of a Geisha” so much and this mirrors it. Holy mother. The guy was the sun, moon and stars for Eleanora. I kind of get it after what happened to her dad but for crying out loud I was rooting for Eleanora for taking the vow and being strong. All it takes is an Adonis to break that all down. Eleanora then takes a complete 360 and becomes a mooncalf.

I lost admiration after her treatment of Meria. I get it. Meria shouldn’t have done that nonsense because she’s all obsessed with family honor and had Eleanora’s best interest even though it was far from beneficial. I thought her treatment was excessive to the point of abuse and cruelty and I felt like jumping in and giving Eleanora the beat down for her stupidities.

Then Eleanora’s mood swings go from pity party to guilt and goes back and forth for what seemed like the entire last third of the novel and it got tiresome to read. You know Eleanora, you could have solved all this if you JUST. TELL. HIM.

And when she does. Your patience is done with the book and depending how you found the book you either breathe a sigh in relief or roll your eyes because it took about 50 pages to get Eleanora to smarten up and the book would have ended sooner than later.

I liked the book at first, but it just didn’t hold it for me. The pity trips, and the self torment Eleanora goes through is just too much and made up a good half of the novel. I wish it could have been better because the historical aspect was excellent.
Profile Image for Beth Menendez.
259 reviews11 followers
October 11, 2017
Ugh. No. Maybe I need more information in general about Albania. Maybe I am being obtuse. But this book was so full of angst and despair, and hopelessness. The phrase, "But so what" was used over and over thoughout the book and it epitomized the book to me. Maybe you're great - but so what. Maybe you're horrible - but so what. Gah! I get that this was a book about a society with rules about women. Rigid rules.
The gist of this story is about a woman who is brought up in a way that is entirely unconventional, and once her father dies, she is forced to be conventional. But it does not suit. And she struggles with it. And people around her struggle with her struggle. And just when she clears her conscience, she leaves. Um, what? Why? To cause more pain and despair? I think I need book club to explain this one to me because I did not get it.

** Edit after bookclub
Bookclub helped. I don't think I was giving Fran, Eleanora's father, enough credit for not preparing his child for life. His plan was always for her to escape, one would presume, since he did not bring her up with the traditional values of the area. In fact, he taught her to scoff at them. He also never made contingency plans for Eleanora if something happened to him. So the general disdain for life that annoyed me with Eleanora was honestly gotten as her father Fran possessed the same characteristic.
I also see the Gone with the Wind-esque parallels in this book. She all but leaves "Tomorrow is another day" at the end. Gah!! Really? Really? Clearly I did not care for the main character of the book. BUT I do not have to love the character to enjoy the book. I obviously felt something with the book, which is a sign of successful writing. I also learned something as I had no idea sworn virgins were a thing until this book. So those are all good reasons to give this book another star. The author notes were excellent, and so I admire all the research that was done (and wish more was in the book), and discussion in book club did give me several other similar themed books to explore. The fact this book was self published and then picked up by a publisher also could be some of my problem as it could be the publisher made the author rewrite some of the book and some of the books jagged quality in some characters could be a result.
Overall, not my favorite, but I do like learning something new. And I am very glad for bookclub to help me work out what I did not get on my own when reading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bobbi.
403 reviews
September 5, 2017
This novel began with such promise! The author did extensive research into a little-known tradition in the mountains of Albania in which a woman could become a "sworn virgin," taking a vow of chastity which granted her (for life) the rights of a man, as long as she did not break her vow.

I imagined that Eleanora would become a strong leader, campaigning for rights for all women, not only sworn virgins, but the author chose another path.

The story begins in 1910 Albania, when Eleanora's father is killed and Eleanora's dream of studying art in Italy dies with him. She is eighteen, and her stepmother arranges a marriage for her but when the man and his brothers come to claim Eleanora, she raises her right hand and takes the vow. She is strong and determined to avenge the death of her father.

And then she meets an injured man, takes him home to treat him, and the tale weakens into a love story. Oh, there's a plot twist at the end that some could consider redeeming, but I feel the latter portion of the book seriously eroded the potential of what could have been an awesome novel.

I received an ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. My thanks to the author, Harper Collins, Amelia Wood, and Molly Waxman. The book was released on August 8, 2017.
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