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The Janissary Tree: A Novel (Investigator Yashim Book 1) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 400 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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- Book 1 of 5 in Investigator Yashim
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Praise for Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire:
"A work of dazzling beauty...the rare coming together of historical scholarship and curiosity about distant places with luminous writing...a meditation on a vanished world that hovers like an apparition over today's grim headlines."--The New York Times Book Review (Front page)
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Yashim flicked at a speck of dust on his cuff.
"One other thing, Marquise," he murmured.
She gazed at him levelly.
The Marquise de Merteuil gave a little laugh.
"Flûte! Monsieur Yashim, depravity is not a word we recognize in the Académie." Her fan played; from behind it she almost hissed, "It is a condition of mind."
Yashim was already beginning to sense that this dream was falling apart.
The marquise had fished out a paper from her décolletage and was tapping it on the table like a little hammer. He took a closer look. It was a little hammer.
Tap tap tap.
He opened his eyes and stared around. The Château de Merteuil dissolved in the candlelight. Shadows leered from under the book-lined shelves, and from the corners of the room--a room and a half, you might say, where Yashim lived alone in a tenement in Istanbul. The leather-bound edition of Les Liaisons Dangereuses had slipped onto his lap.
Tap tap tap.
"Evet, evet," he grumbled. "I'm coming." He slipped a cloak around his shoulders and his feet into a pair of yellow slippers, and shuffled to the door. "Who is it?"
Hardly a boy, Yashim considered, as he let the spindly old man into the darkened room. The single candle guttered in the sudden draft. It threw their shadows around the walls, boxing with one another before the page's shadow stabbed Yashim's with a flickering dagger. Yashim took the paper scroll and glanced at the seal. Yellow wax.
He rubbed his finger and thumb across his eyes. Just hours ago he'd been scanning a dark horizon, peering through the drizzle for lights and the sight of land. The lurching candlelight took his mind back to another lamp that had swayed in a cabin far out at sea, riding the winter storms. The captain was a barrel-chested Greek with one white eye and the air of a pirate, and the Black Sea was treacherous at this time of year. But he'd been lucky to find a ship at all. Even at the worst moments of the voyage, when the wind screamed in the rigging, waves pounded on the foredeck, and Yashim tossed and vomited in his narrow bunk, he had told himself that anything was better than seeing out the winter in that shattered palace in the Crimea, surrounded by the ghosts of fearless riders, eaten away by the cold and the gloom. He had needed to come home.
With a flick of his thumb he broke the seal.
With the scent of the sea in his nostrils and the floor still moving beneath his feet, he tried to concentrate on the ornate script.
He sighed and laid the paper aside. There was a lamp screwed to the wall and he lit it with the candle. The blue flames trickled slowly round the charred cloth. Yashim replaced the glass and trimmed the wick until the fitful light turned yellow and firm. Gradually the lamplight filled the room.
He picked up the scroll the page had given him and smoothed it out.
Greetings, et cetera. At the bottom he read the signature of the seraskier, city commander of the New Guard, the imperial Ottoman army. Felicitations, et cetera. He scanned upward. From practice he could fillet a letter like this in seconds. There it was, wedged into the politesse: an immediate summons.
The old man stood to attention. "I have orders to return with you to barracks immediately." He glanced uncertainly at Yashim's cloak. Yashim smiled, picked up a length of cloth, and wound it around his head. "I'm dressed," he said. "Let us go."
Yashim knew that it hardly mattered what he wore. He was a tall, well-built man in his late thirties, with a thick mop of black curls, a few white hairs, no beard, but a curly black mustache. He had the high cheekbones of the Turks, and the slanting gray eyes of a people who had lived on the great Eurasian steppe for thousands of years. In European trousers, perhaps, he would be noticeable, but in a brown cloak--no. Nobody noticed him very much. That was his special talent, if it was a talent at all. More likely, as the marquise had been saying, it was a condition of mind. A condition of the body.
Yashim had many things--innate charm, a gift for languages, and the ability to open those gray eyes suddenly wide. Both men and women had found themselves strangely hypnotized by his voice, before they had even noticed who was speaking. But he lacked balls.
Not in the vulgar sense: Yashim was reasonably brave.
But he was that creature rare even in nineteenth-century Istanbul.
Yashim was a eunuch.
- Publication date : April 1, 2010
- File size : 1154 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 400 pages
- Publisher : Sarah Crichton Books (April 1, 2010)
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B004S2HZVS
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #217,555 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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It’s a stroke of genius to make Yashim a eunuch and a lala. This gave him an all-access pass to all sorts of places unavailable to other men or women and opened up the story to deeper levels and secret corners. The choice of the Polish ambassador, a diplomat without a country and without allegiance, as Yashim’s sidekick was another stroke of genius and added further scope to the story.
Unlike the West, eunuch had a long history in Asia and did not have the salacious negative connotation associated in the European mind. They wielded tremendous political power because they lived jowl in cheek, and in confidence, not only with the ruling families but also with the powerful elite. They were not all captives or kidnapped. Many men, seeking advancement, volunteered for the job. Some even became military leaders. Justinian sent his trusted eunuch Narses to lead the second Italian campaign and won great victories. The Chinese eunuch Zheng Her was the commander in successful campaigns against the Mongols. After he helped his prince usurp the throne to become the Chinese Emperor Yong Le, the trusted eunuch was appointed the leader of many major expeditions overseas. But, of course there were also many eunuchs who abused their position and misused their power, some even brought down empires.
The Ottoman Janissary system was not new. It was based on the successful Arabic Mamlouk system of levying children from rugged mountain regions known for fierce fighters. By removing them from their family and tribal alliance, the military corp became their new family and the sultan their only commitment. Like the Mamlouks, once they were allowed to marry and have family and became established and entrenched, they lost their edge. And when peace was the policy, they lost their purpose and became a problem. No wonder the reform-minded Mahmut II, who had a French mother, had to get rid of them.
It was very clever to hook the story onto the romantic legend of Aimee du Buc de Rivery, i.e. the Naksidil (Embroidered on the Heart) Sultan. It added another layer of history and intrigue to the complex situation in Turkey at that time.
Set in Istanbul at the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s final century, the book opens slowly because there’s so much to learn about a city vastly different from London or Paris or New York of the 1830’s. Yashim, a eunuch serving at the Topkapi Palace of Sultan Mahmut II, is tasked with solving a series of murders that could portend the revival of the suppressed Janissary corps.
The plot is as convoluted as the twisting streets and crowded marketplaces Goodwin describes, but it gradually gathers momentum, drawn forward by the wily and engaging Yashim—who even manages an affair with the wife of a European diplomat. The author writes with authority and delivers a tale worthy of the attention it demands.
Top reviews from other countries
The subject detective is Yashim, and he operates in the Istanbul of the 1830s. What exactly his job is remains a bit unclear, but he seems to be used by higher-ups in the Sultan's court for investigative work. The theme of this story, the first in a series, revolves around the "Auspicious Event" some 10 years before, when the out-of-control Janissaries finally pushed the Sultan a step too far and got destroyed by more regular troops. In this book Yashim needs to help solve a number of murder mysteries directly related (but how?) to the dramtatic events a decade ago.
In terms of originality, I'd have to rate this one at close to 5 stars. How often does one read stories about Ottoman detectives in the 1830s? This particular one even happens to be a eunuch (which is why he has good access to the palace - it does not stop him from having intimate relationships with ravishing Russian ambassadors' wives), even more original. The subject matter, the capital of the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s, is well chosen. In terms of writing and plot, perhaps closer to 3 stars. Well then, 4 is a good average clearly.
I really enjoyed this, it is earthed in real history but is not entirely historically accurate. Yashim is a very interesting character and his existence within and on the margins of Turkish society is well described. He lives simply but has access to the Sultan and the harem, he has many friends but is still isolated because he is a eunuch living outside the palace.
This makes things interesting, but also raises possible criticisms. Yashim's state makes him unique as a detective, and that may be the point, but his physical state only seems to be a problem when the plot requires it, otherwise, it seems of little consequence, for example:
The question as to Yashim's status - slave or freedman - is never really addressed. Why does he not live in the Sultan's palace?
What is also a little odd is that Yashim seems not to have much fellow feeling for other eunuchs, apart from one character.
He shows sexual interest and can engage in sexual activity - I am sure the mechanics make sense, if I may put it that way, but I wonder whether the long-term lack of testosterone would mean a loss of libido? (There are historical accounts of eunuchs engaging in sex and even impregnating someone, but this was in a situation where the castration was extremely recent!)
Without spoiling things, Yashim's sexual liason seemed highly unlikely, given the culture of the time and place, but the author may have information to the contrary. It is also slightly surprising that Yashim appears to be quite slim - the author gives the impression that the very large eunuchs in the harem got that way simply through over-indulgence, whereas the reality is that castration usually massively increases body mass - e.g.; in the case of capons, etc.
In terms of the narrative, Yashim and many other characters seem to have very modern attitudes and relationships, even the Sultan seems to be quite relaxed and not at all concerned for his own status. This is not a major problem in a detective novel; after all, Cadfael and Falco are not really typical of 12 century monks or 1st century Romans. Nevertheless, I did find myself stepping back from Yashim's Istanbul because something said or done felt a little too anachronistic.
I love cooking, but Yashim's kitchen activities sometimes intruded into the narrative a little too much. We get highly detailed descriptions of relatively familiar dishes and activities and then a dish is mentioned by its Turkish name and an English description, but no explanation or recipe is given. This is annoying - on the one hand, the kitchen scenes take place at odd points and slow the pace abruptly, on the other, they are more detailed than mere background, but not detailed enough to provide much information. I found myself wondering just what genre the author thought he was writing?
Nevertheless, this was a very good story, although the revelation of the culprit(s) was not a total surprise. The author's knowledge of Istanbul and 19th Century politics makes the book come alive.