It's a twisted and fascinating tale with dashes of feminism and female empowerment in an otherwise oppressed world. It's rich in history, of the Ottoman empire, Muslim beliefs and customs, brothers murdering brothers, and the revolt of the janissaries--a group of soldiers that before now I knew nothing about.
Though she's cruel, I loved Esma. She is ahead of her times. Having witnessed the oppression of women, she vows no man will control her and has her own harem of rescued slaves. She's very tough too.
"If you do not consent, I will speak to my brother who indulges me more than any wife, and he will have your head impaled upon my garden wall for insolence."
"An untouchable princess who ordered him from her bed, slapping and biting him on their wedding night. She bloodied his nose with a kick when he kissed the coverlet to approach her."
There are a few love stories entwined in all this. The Sultan and a long long, disfigured slave. The Sultane and her drowning guard/now confessor...but these aren't your traditional romance, but love in a place you don't expect it and you doubt it, and thus, it's suspenseful as the reader doesn't really see that usually easily obtain happily ever after in sight.
This isn't fluff, but real literature.
I think some liberties were taken, however. I was surprised that a harem allows outside men to come and party. That took me aback, but again, this particular harem is Esma's, not the Sultan's. Love these girls, too.
The story is also interspersed with surprise bursts of humor in the jokes among the harem women and just plain name-calling among the villagers.
"Allah curse the beard of your father, the pimp!"
"May Allah do the same to your mother who surely has as coarse a beard on her ugly face as you possess!"
I also liked the looks at religion before man twisted it to suit their purposes. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and learned much about the Ottoman empire while I read...but I was confused about some things. Not everything fell into place for me.
If Emerald is so awful and at the root of all evil, why have him in your harem? If you were born Christian and abducted to be placed in an army and are nothing but a slave, why do you love the army so? Why fight for a Sultan you loathe? There were lots of tiny contradictions I felt weren't adequately explained. You hate being a slave, why not leave?
This was a Vine book.