This guide to the feisty women of medieval times profiles 200 of these fair and unfair damsels from around the world. There's English rose Hilda of Whitby, Viking leader Aud the Deep-Minded and Wu Zhao of China, who chose to concubine, connive, murder and machiavelli her way to a 50 year reign.
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While most of her subjects are Leon's subjects are European, she also discusses women from Japan, China, India, South America, North
My main problem with the book is that the biographies are so brief. Even the most influential women receive no more than two pages of text. Leon throws out a few highlights, makes a joke or two, and moves on. In some cases, I can understand this. The primary sources have got to be pretty sparse, and I'd rather that Leon include lesser-known women than focus entirely on the better-documented upper classes. Still, it would've been nice to have a bit more information on some of them. At least Leon gives enough detail that interested parties should be able to seek out more for themselves.
I also felt that Leon's focus was a little vague. The book is supposedly about medieval women, but there are a fair number of Renaissance ladies herein. I'd consider this less of an issue if Leon hadn't also published a book called UPPITY WOMEN OF THE RENAISSANCE. Seems like padding to me. I was also a little unclear on her chapter divisions. The book is divided into eleven thematic chapters that focus on such issues as religion, medicine, courtly love and travel, but there's a ton of cross-contamination between them. I often found that a woman in, say, the travel chapter had only the barest connection to the subject and would have been better placed in the religion chapter.
Finally, I was a little disturbed to see a couple of women who were included solely because of their famous male relatives. If all you can say about Leonardo da Vinci's mother is that she gave him up and he later became uber famous, does she really belong in a book like this? Ditto for Christopher Columbus's ill-treated Beatrices.
So I wasn't exactly blown away. I freely admit that I had no right to expect a deep and penetrating exploration of women's life in medieval times from a book like this, but I still would've liked a little more depth than I got. It would be a suitable read for anyone looking for something quick and fun, but I'm not sure there's enough here to satisfy other folks.
(A slightly different version of this review originally appeared on my blog, Stella Matutina).