bookspluslife

April 20, 2012

Book: Sultan’s Harem by Colin Falconer

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 9:54 am

This is how a story with a historical backdrop but one that aims to entertain  should be written! The story is told is a very clear, direct and interesting style, one that would appeal to all audiences, whether inclined towards historicals or not. The story itself keeps your interest, is told in a racy style that rarely flags, and retains your interest throughout. The story reads like a Sydney Sheldon novel, if he had turned his mind to the historical genre, but retained his writing style.

For a story that pans very long years, this is a more difficult task. Colin Falconer seems to achieve this with ease.

The story is about one of the greatest Sultan’s of the Ottoman empire, Sultan Suleyman. He has a great friend in Ibrahim, who has been abducted from Greece but grew up with Suleyman, is an accomplished warrior and accompanies Suleyman through his battles. His wisdom and wit, as much as the trust Sultan Suleyman places in him, makes him a Grand Vizier in Suleyman’s court at a relatively young age.

His kadin (the title closest to Queen that anyone in the Harem can get, apart from the real queen) is Gulbehar, who is the most favourite of Suleyman in the Harem. Since the entire well being and future of the women in the Harem depends on Sultan’s affections, she is at the top of the perch, also having produced the invaluable male heir to the throne, the intrepid and popular prince Mustapha. Into this world comes a young girl Hurrem, brought in from the Russian steppes, who is destined to spend her youth in the Harem, without even having a chance to meet the her Lord the Sultan even once. She is determined to do something about it, as she is not the type who waits resignedly for fate to throw her a chance.

The story tracks the schemes and the plots she hatches to get noticed and rise in the palace hierarchy, how she plays the political intrigue and the casual treachery that is needed to survive, how she thrives and rises to the position that no woman in the Harem of any Sultan before has risen, how she manipulates the people around her, takes on powerful interests, and how, in the process, destroys the entire future of the Ottoman empire.

There is a parallel story of Venice, under the rule of the Ottomans, and the strictly Roman Catholic girl calle Julia, who is destined to be married to a 60 year old merchant by her father in an arranged marriage in which she has no say. Into her life comes the dashing Abbas, a Moore, who dares to fall in love with her and even secretly takes her on a ride on his Gondola.

The father, an influential trader, finds out about it and inflicts a terrible punishment, worse than even death on Abbas, and he is sent off into the anonymity of the slave trade, to live his life in obscurity, not to come into their lives ever again.

Or so they thought…

The strands involving the two separate lives are well woven. The lifestyle of Ottoman empire, where Suleyman was the Sultan, the Possessor of Necks, the God’s Shadow on Earth, and the all powerful absolute monarch, is beautifully laid out. The subtle intrigue and plots woven around Suleyman, the perpetual taunting attacks of the presumptuous Persian King Temasep, the escalating political battle between Gulbehar and Hurrem, the plots and intrigues against Crown Prince Mustapha, and among Hurrem’s own sons Beyezid and Selim, the intrigues involving the Head Eunuch Kisler Agashi of the Harem and the successive Chief Viziers for Suleyman, Muomi, the dedicated slave of Hurrem are all woven in brilliantly, and the loose strands neatly tied at the end.

All in all, a great read! Gives the flavour of the Ottoman lifestyle and is a spellbinding thriller in its own right. Deserves a 8/10

— Krishna

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