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The Janissary Tree: A Novel (Investigator Yashim) Hardcover – May 16, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Goodwin, the author of a well-received history of the Ottoman Empire, Lords of the Horizons (1999), makes a welcome shift to fiction with this impressive first of a new mystery series set in the empire's declining decades. In 1836, though the corrupt elite troops known as the Janissaries were crushed 10 years earlier, there are ominous signs that their influence still persists in the twisted alleys and secret places of Istanbul. A series of crimes, including the barbaric murders of several soldiers and the theft of some precious jewels, leads eunuch Yashim Togalu to delve into the past in an effort to separate legend from truth. With special access to all areas of the sultan's royal court, Yashim uses his network of contacts to try to solve the crimes. The author, no surprise, does an excellent job of evoking his chosen locale. While his sleuth's character may be less developed than some readers might wish, no doubt Yashim will emerge as a more rounded figure in future entries of what one hopes will be a long-running series. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Historian Goodwin, author of Lords of the Horizons (1999), introduces a promising new mystery series set in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. When a string of murders disturbs the tenuous tranquility of the sultan's royal court, savvy eunuch Yashim Togalu is called upon to investigate. Digging deeper into the past in order to understand the perils of the present, Yashim discovers a link between the crimes and the Janissaries, a disloyal band of elite soldiers banned by the sultan ten years earlier. As Yashim wends his way in and out of the opulent palace and through the sordid back alleys of nineteenth-century Istanbul, the reader is treated to an appropriately exotic tour of a time and a place where intrigue, deceit, and corruption fueled perilous personal and political passions. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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