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The Sultan's Harem Hardcover – July 13, 2004

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lengthy, involved and meandering, this epic soap opera by veteran historical novelist Falconer (Feathered Serpent, etc.) is set in the court of the 16th-century Turkish sultan Süleyman and its harem of 300 beautiful women. Süleyman favors Gülbehar, who has borne him a son, but Hürrem, a ruthless red-haired Russian, schemes to be next in line, seducing the sultan with her wiles: thus begins an epic catfight. For nearly four decades (1522–1559), Hürrem conspires mercilessly against her enemies, employing lies, blackmail and poison. One of her victims is Julia, a captive Venetian girl, whose own unlikely story (she once loved the man who is now the eunuch in charge of the harem) plays out in counterpoint to Hürrem's. As Hürrem becomes bolder, Süleyman falls under her malevolent spell, until his ability to rule is questioned. Although filled with meticulous detail about the customs and role of the harem, the book pays little attention to the greater historical events of the era. Loaded with court and harem intrigue, it is short on action and long on bedroom conspiracies, which lose their juicy appeal long before the drawn-out conclusion.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Falconer, author of Feathered Serpent (2002) and When We Were Gods (2000), stirs up a potent brew of splendor and misery in this page-turner set during the reign of sixteenth-century Ottoman sultan Suleyman I, called "the Magnificent" in the West. As seen here, Suleyman is a competent ruler with a fatal flaw: an obsession for Hurrem, his favorite concubine. Embittered by slavery, a "living death," Hurrem will stop at nothing, even the murder of her own sons, in her drive for power and revenge. Caught up in the intrigue are other characters, both historical and fictional: Gulbehar, the mother of Suleyman's heir; Ibrahim, Suleyman's trusted Grand Vizier; Julia, a Venetian who is taken captive by pirates and winds up as one of Suleyman's 300 harem girls; and Abbas, the eunuch in charge of the harem, who loved Julia in his youth and paid a terrible price. Plot twists, an exotic setting, and vivid details compensate for some wooden dialogue. This peek behind the walls of the seraglio will seduce lovers of large-scale historical fiction. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (July 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609610309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609610305
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #568,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colin Falconer has published over 40 books in the last 26 years. HAREM was an enormous bestseller in Germany, selling over 200,000 copies.

AZTEC stayed on the bestseller lists in Mexico for four months.

He is a bestseller in Eastern Europe and his work has sold into translation in 23 countries.

He did not write for over five years but returned to publishing in 2010 with the release of SILK ROAD and STIGMATA the following year. ISABELLA was published in 2013. NAKED IN HAVANA and NAKED IN LA, the first two books in a trilogy set in the sixties, was published in November.

He likens his fiction most closely to Ken Follett - books with romance and high adventure, drawn from many periods of history.

His latest legacy novel is due for release by Atlantic London in January, 2014 and St Martins Press, in New York in August 2014.

"A page-turner . . . This peek behind the walls of the seraglio will seduce lovers of large-scale historical fiction." - Booklist

"A wonderful story ... not just a rehash of history but rather a refreshing look at this clever and charismatic leader ... pulsating with the passion of a woman."- Womens Weekly Book of the Month

"Makes dry history into a real rip-roaring read. In Falconer's hands, Cleopatra is a smart, sexy and sassy heroine." - Australian Womens Forum Book of the Month

'Falconer's Cleopatra is vulnerable, intelligent and liberated, defined by her wit as much as her beauty" - Publishers Weekly

"Falconer paints an enthralling fictional portrait of the one of the most powerful and beguiling women of all ages." - Margaret Flanagan, American Library Association

"Falconer's grasp of period and places is almost flawless ... He's my kind of writer." - Peter Corris, The Australian

"Falconer weaves a pacy story of obsession, love, greed and corruption ... Really well done." - Sydney Morning Herald

'Murder, scandal and romance all play their part . . . plausible and engrossing.' - Woman's Day

'If you haven't read one of Colin Falconer's novels, then I promise you are in for a real roller-coaster ride of never ending intrigue with both these novels.' - History and Women

Each chapter ends with a gripping cliff-hanger that makes the book irresistible and unputdownable." - Mirella Patzer, Historical Novel Review

'A magisterial tale.' - UK Daily Mail

'Falconer, whose books have been translated into 17 languages over the last 25 years, has spun together a fiction which will appeal to readers of all ages. With several twists to keep the reader engaged until the very last, Silk Road is sure to find its way onto the bookshelves of lovers of a thrilling tale." - Liverpool Daily Post

"It's wonderfully written, the characters gripping and with an epic story to unfurl within, it's one that keeps you going from the start to the end." - Dros Delnoch, Falcatta Times.

"I enjoyed his storytelling voice so much that, had this book been say, set in modern times, the intriguing main characters would still have been able to pull it off. Thoroughly recommended.' - Bookbag

"... Silk Road then is a highly recommended read. Falconer demonstrates exceptional characterization ...' Bookgeeks

'... an epic and eventful journey that spans a huge swathe of the middle and far east, and it is one that provides action, romance, and beautifully descriptive writing by the cartload." - Des Greene, Novel Suggestions

'This epic adventure story is ... living history at its best, fictionalized yet immensely believable.' Alan Gold, Good Reading.

'Loved, loved, loved this novel. Riveting!' - Historical Novel Review

"Beautifully written in typical Falconer style with plenty of snap and sharpness, and wonderfully researched, I enjoyed every page of this book." - Great Historicals

Falconer's descriptive narrative is exquisite at times. Each short chapter opens with a flowing brush of words that paint precisely, yet mellifluously, in a manner that is almost poetic. - Historical Writers Association

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on July 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In sixteenth century Turkey Sultan Suleyman has three hundred women in his harem. Of all these beautiful females his favorite is Gulbehar because she has given him a son. However, truth be told, the weight of empire building and international relations plays heavily on the weary Suleyman so he has little interest in the inner goings-on inside his harem as long as the ladies do not disturb him.

The omega entry in Suleyman's harem is the newcomer the Russian Hurrem, who resents being a slave and worse being the runt amongst a pack of subservient succubae. Her plan to be first in line immediately is to use her body to seduce Suleyman and her wiles to defeat these jackals that surround her. Thus, the ladies of the harem who previously understood their place in the queue now battle for supremacy in a scheming arena of intrigue, blackmail, and homicide. Hurrem is the ruler magically seducing Suleyman over time so that even some of his supporters in the royal court consider emulating the queen of mean to take control of the empire.

THE SULTAN'S HAREM is an intriguing historical work of fiction that highlights four decades in the inner court of Suleyman the Great during the first half of the sixteenth century. The tale crafts a comprehensive (somewhat exhausting) vivid look at the mores of the harem and to a degree the royal court especially the intrigue, treachery, and strange bedfellow politics, but fails to place any of this on the bigger stage of momentous events. Readers who appreciate an interesting solid diligent glimpse at pebbles with no boulders will enjoy the regal intrigue of Suleyman's harem.

Harriet Klausner
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tyler Hewson on July 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The other reviewer is incorrect. this book was published only in the UK and Australia under the title "Harem" over 10 years ago and I'm delighted that it's finally out in the US in this beautiful hardcover, especially since the UK editions are out of print. I suspect the title was changed because there are several books--fiction and non-fiction--called "Harem" in bookstores right now.

Colin Falconer is a wonderfully polished historical novelist whose books would make terrific movies. He has a very vivid, cinematic style of writing that doesn't flinch away from gory or bizarre historical details, but at the same time his writing is usually lush, sensual and often quite funny (I like authors with a good dark sense of humor).

The Sultan of the title is the great Suleyman the Magnificent of Turkey, and the main characters in the book are the women of his harem, including his honored first wife Gulbehar and two new slaves, Hurrem and Julia. Hurrem is a Russian girl, whose blond hair and fair skin makes her a rare commodity in the harem. Julia is a Venetian girl who was kidnapped while fleeing the city with her lover. While Julia is at first terrified and disoriented by life in the harem, Hurrem sees it as an opportunity. She is unusually clever and malicious, and determined that if she will be a slave in the harem, she will be queen of the slaves, and eventually she plots to turn tables on Suleyman himself. It's a tightly woven plot with lots of twists and turns. I highly recommend this book--it's almost unputdownable and the ending is very satisfying.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sdreprlcr on August 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the historical aspect of the book, and it did create an interest in the story for me. The story grabbed my attention pretty quickly, and always seemed to have something exciting happening, so it never really got dull. I did find the last few chapters a little tedious, and didn't particularly care for the war scenes. A few things that would have made this book better would be a pronunciation guide at the beginning (A LOT of unfamiliar/foreign words), and maybe a description of each character at the beginning to help readers keep everything straight (there were also quite a few characters, some who floated in and out of the story so they weren't easily remembered), and I also wish that Hurrems history had been shared with the reader. For instance, why was she so angry, why did she want revenge so badly, etc. Also, I really wanted to know what happened to Hurrem's letter, and a little more closure on Julia. Overall, I was actually relieved to have finally finished this book, and move on to something a little lighter.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Flora VINE VOICE on July 7, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read a lot of novels about Harems now, and they're all pretty different. Some focus on the sex element some on the capture of the women, some on the feminist element. And then there are those which focus on power and revenge. This is one such book.

"The Sultan's Harem" is a novel of Süleyman the magnificent (or the lawmaker), who is seen as the last of the great warrior sultans of the Ottoman Empire, and the power play that went on in his life between him, his five sons and the three women he honored with attention out of his Harem of 300.

In the beginning Süleyman is a man not happy with his position. Haunted by the bloody way his father took the throne, he is determined to leave no such situation for his own heirs, and thus has never slept with more than woman a blond named Gülbehar, who is the mother of his only child, a son. But the lack of heirs bothers his mother, who schemes to place another in his bed. Though she has no idea what kind of woman she is inflicting upon her son.

Hürrem is a red head Russian girl from the steeps but she is no country hay seed. Filled with hatred about her enforced imprisonment (luxurious as it may be) she is determined to become as powerful as she can. After gaining her place in the Sultans bed, she sets about using any means possible (blackmail, murder, poison...) to maintain her power. When her position is threatened by a young black haired Venetian girl named Julia (captured by Pirates) she takes a particular viscous revenge which endangers Julia's life, and if not for an old friend, would have ended it.

This is a novel full of power plays, danger, and brutal punishment. No one is what they seem and everyone's motives are questionable.
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