This historical thriller cum detective story is set in Istanbul in 1836 and stars an investigator called Yashim who is a eunuch. In fact, there are lots and lots of eunuchs not to mention Preen the dancing boy and his 'girl' friends. There is also a wonderful Polish ambassador who no longer has a country but still receives an allowance from the Sultan, a clever modernising Sultan who is just a bid fed up of having to have yet another girl in his bed every night, a whole harem of beauties, the formidable Sultan's mother (a childhood friend of the Empress Josephine) and a fabulous wife of the Russian ambassador.
The plot concerns the New Guard who are being trained in modern warfare because the old Janissaries, the Sultan's praetorian guard, have become a state within a state. They used to select the new sultan, strangling the old one with a silk bowstring.
The plot is far fetched (artfully arranged corpses designed as a mezze before the main meal of insurrection) and there are various unsuccessful attempts at assassinating Yashim and his confederates (which don't quite work with the plot revealed at the end) but the power of this delightful book is the window into a wonderfully colourful and utterly bizarre world. From the arcane rules of the guild of soup-makers to Yashim's own cooking; from fighting fires to fighting assassins in the disgusting surroundings of a tannery; from dancing boys to eunuchs (of different types) to the harem; old Istanbul and her traditions explode onto the scene as a riot of colour and smell and flavour.
This novel created a world as rich and wonderful as Gormenghast (but considerably more colourful) with some fabulously strong characters. Great fun. October 2015; 329 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57