My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jane Johnson’s The Sultan’s Wife is a sweeping and phenomenal tale of love in the historical era of 17th century Morocco.
Almost a year back, I read The Sea Gate by the same author and was enthralled by it so much that I jumped when offered a chance to read this wonderful book. The Sultan’s Wife is by no means an easy tale. The scale is ambitious and knowing the bio of the author, one shouldn’t expect anything less. She brings life to Morocco of the 17th century and I do mean that literally. The cacophony of sounds, the miasma of the markets, the lavish palace with its danger, a megalomaniacal emperor, the harem with its chittering females, every single detail has been narrated in a beautiful canvas. Like a movie production scaled up to gargantuan proportions, the story is a journey to be taken at leisure as is clearly evident with the intricate tapestry woven with the detailed historical facts.
The love story between Nus-Nus, a eunuch slave in the court of Sultan Moulay Ismail, and Alys, a white woman sold to slavery is honestly very subtle. In fact, I did wish for a stronger romantic flavor in the voice of Alys as their interactions are kept mild probably reminding the reader of the danger that lurks around the corner but without it, the ending seems like something out of a fairy tale with all bows tied neatly.
But the predominant element of the tale is the life of Nus-Nus, the abuse that robs him of his manhood, how each day is a war by itself with an emperor who has no qualms in severing the throat of anyone for any perceived fault, be it a loyal servant or the grand vizier himself. The kind of dual personality King Ismail exhibits is startling, as he can kick you with his boot and then wipe the dust on your clothes the very next instant so there’s no moment of respite for Nus-Nus and the reader. The stark cruelty depicted in the story; in the politics being played in the harem as well as in the court among its many members, in the tortures dished out regularly, in the poisonous drama that enfolds form the Sultan’s first wife Zidana, in the abuse of young girls, there’s so much that causes turmoil in the minds of a reader but that is how it has been, history has always been bloody.
From Sultan Ismail’s court in Morocco to King Charles’s palace in London, with plague and wars dogging their heels, with few interesting historical figures that I was glad to read about, Nus-Nus is forced to play a game filled with peril and danger to keep the light burning for the reason of his existence.
Majestic beyond words ☔☔☔☔☔
With thanks to Net Galley, Zeus Publications, and the author for a chance to read and review this book. Please note that all my reviews are honest and unbiased, voluntarily given, and in no way affected by any external factors.
1677. In Europe, the Enlightenment is dawning after a century of wars. On the seas and in coastal villages, pirates and corsairs are the scourge of the waves. And in Morocco, Sultan Moulay Ismail is concentrating his power, building an elaborate palace complex with captive labor.
Alys Swann is also a captive, but hers is a different lot: convert to Islam, marry the sultan and give him sons. Or die. Nus-Nus, the sultan’s scribe and keeper of the royal couching book, is charged with convincing Alys to accept her fate. Or they both die. Two powerless prisoners in a world of brutal intrigue, each discovers that they can take strength in the other, to endure that which must be endured in the hope of a better tomorrow.
Rich in detail with compelling characters and an ambitious scope, The Sultan’s Wife is a remarkable tale of adventure, romance, history, and friendship.
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