Ironhead, Or, Once a Young Lady

Levine Querido. Mar. 2022. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781646140480.
Gr 10 Up–This is an intriguing, realistic view of the Napoleonic era through the eyes of two different characters, Constance and Pieter Hoste, siblings living in 1808 Belgium. Eighteen-year-old Constance, or Stance as she is known by her friends, hates the role society expects her to fulfill as a young woman, chiefly as a wife and mother. Her brother, Pieter, on the other hand, relishes his role as student and eldest son and resents Stance’s efforts to have an unconventional life. The ever-growing international tensions associated with Napoleon’s wars form a backdrop to circumstances that force Stance to marry a prominent local official who’s more than double her age and Pieter to withdraw from school. When Stance grasps an opportunity to escape her marriage and join Napoleon’s Fourteenth Regiment posing as a male soldier, the author does not flinch from depicting the aftermath of battle in all its unforgiving brutality. Pieter goes through an equally transformative experience as he travels through Europe in search of his sister and the Emperor Napoleon. The coming-of-age of both siblings during the wartime forms the heart of the book, with a subtext of gender and sexual fluidity. Some sexual scenes and battlefield depictions make this work suitable for mature high school readers.
VERDICT Recommended for fans of Renée Ahdieh’s Flame in the Mist and Nicki Pau Preto’s Wings of Shadow.

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