Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Sultan's Wife by Jane Johnson

Page-turning mystery, grandly seductive romance and full historical immersion into Moroccan court history, this exquisitely depicted and intensely absorbing novel follows in the bestselling tradition of The Tenth Gift and The Salt Road.
1677, Morocco. Behind the magnificent walls and towering arches of the Palace of Meknes, captive chieftain's son and now a lowly scribe, Nus Nus is framed for murder. As he attempts to evade punishment for the bloody crime, Nus Nus finds himself trapped in a vicious plot, caught between the three most powerful figures in the court: the cruel and arbitrary sultan, Moulay Ismail, one of the most tyrannical rulers in history; his monstrous wife Zidana, famed for her use of poison and black magic; and the conniving Grand Vizier.

Meanwhile, a young Englishwoman named Alys Swann has been taken prisoner by Barbary corsairs and brought to the court. She faces a simple choice: renounce her faith and join the Sultan's harem; or die. As they battle for survival, Alys and Nus Nus find themselves thrust into an unlikely alliance--an alliance that will become a deep and moving relationship in which these two outsiders will find sustenance and courage in the most perilous of circumstances.

From the danger and majesty of Meknes to the stinking streets of London and the decadent court of Charles II, The Sultan's Wife brings to life some of the most remarkable characters of history through a captivating tale of intrigue, loyalty and desire.

I have always been fascinated with novels about exotic settings, especially those set in a harem. From the first page to last, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

The year is 1677 and the story takes place in London and Morocco. I adore books with unique characters and at the heart of this story are Nus-Nus, an African eunuch slave, and by Alys Swan, an English woman of noble birth who is kidnapped and brought to Morocco to become one of the Sultan's concubines. When Alys is chosen for the Sultan’s bed, she is defiant and reluctant, but it is Nus-nus who wins her trust and prepares her. From therein, he befriends her and helps her to survive amidst all the very real life and death jealousies, conspiracies, dangers, and intrigues in the harem.

The novel drew me into the story immediately. The writing is excellent and descriptive, concisely and beautifully creating images and smells. The author did not hesitate to show us the cruel and brutal realities of the time. I especially enjoyed the first person narrative through the eyes of Nus-nus, a character who readers will admire for his courage, ethics, and inner strength. First person narratives always read much stronger and this was definitely the case here. 

Nus-nus and Alys develop throughout the story, adapting, changing, facing adversity. The ending was surprising, but satisfying. For those who like to be shocked with the odd and unusual, enjoy reading about the exotic, the mystique, murders, and passionate life and death realities, you cannot miss with this novel! This is the first novel by Jane Johnson I’ve read, and I’m eager to read her other two previous novels. A talented author who knows how to spin a fabulous yarn!


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