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.
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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
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