The Sworn Virgin
Eleanora is a precocious 18-year-old woman who lives with her father and stepmother in Albania in 1910. Her dream, to study art in Italy, is one not commonly held by young women in her mountain village. Her stepmother has very specific wishes for Eleanora, which involve getting married as a good young woman ought to do, but her father encourages her to pursue her dreams.
When Eleanora’s father is murdered, her life turns upside down, and she and her stepmother must find a way to survive in a world that doesn’t encourage women to live alone. Her stepmother 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.
The story takes an additional turn when Eleanora meets a man who changes her life in an unexpected way, challenging her beliefs on love and marriage. While this will be a disappointment for some readers who will find Eleanora’s initial drive for an unconventional life refreshing, Dukes is a compelling enough writer that it’s difficult to put the book down until one knows how it will end.
This debut novel has solid writing. Dukes has done her research, bringing the mountain village lifestyle of Albania in 1910 alive for the modern reader. Recommended for readers who can appreciate a strong-willed and non-traditional female character; highly recommended for readers who aren’t turned off by a bit of romance.