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The French Sultana
(The Veil and the Crown #2)
The French Sultana
Publisher: self-published by the author
Publication date: July 2014
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Received for review
This book counts for the following Reading Challenges
MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK
Following fellow book bloggers on their site, on Goodreads, signing up to NetGalley or even to judge novels, you sometimes stumble upon gems. The French Sultana is definitely a gem, and I am glad I found it. Imagine: it’s a historical novel focusing on a page of French history I had basically never heard of!
Let me specify right away that even though The French Sultana is actually the sequel to The Stolen Girl, not having read (yet!) the first book never prevented me from understanding and immensely enjoying this 2nd volume.
The book opens in the Istanbul harem, in the presence of a monster of a woman: emotionally unstable (for good reasons when you learn more about her youth during the course of the novel), Nuket Seza (the mother of the Sultan heir Mustapha, 8) is also a drunkard, a drug addict (opium), and a fury, who has already poisoned several women and babies, preventing possible threats from acceding the sultanate instead of her own son.
Her next target is the Sultan’s new favorite, the beautiful, white 20 year old Nakshidil, aka Aimée Du Buc de Rivéry from Martinique (where she was born) and from France, where she’s coming from.
This name may not be too familiar to you, but you may have encountered her briefly if you followed more closely her famous cousin, none other than Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, who became Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife.
This fabulous historical novel is based on letters mentioning Aimée. Because of her amazing fate, some scholars consider most of her story as pure legend, but we do know there was a white Sultana who created a French library in Istanbul, Turkey, and taught French to the Sultan. If a Turkish delegation took time in 2010 to come and visit France on the anniversary of this family, one can assume elements of the story are indeed true enough.
The previous book tells about Aimée’s youth in Martinique, her trip to France, and then how she was captured from pirates, led to Algeria, graciously hosted for 5 months by the mayor of Algiers who finally led her to the prestigious Istanbul harem.
In this present book, we see how her beauty conquers Sultan Abdul Hamid, 61, a gentle and very cultured man. We follow her life and in parallel, through letters they exchange, the life and evolution of her cousin Rose aka Josephine.
I was really stunned by the quality of the book and all I learned through it:
- the ambiance at the harem, with so many intrigues (poison, blackmail, and spies were daily material, as well as black arts, related to the amazing amount of competition between possible heirs
- the interesting structure of the harem, the role of each, for instance how the heir’s mother is in charge of welfare of women and children, schools, hospitals, and public baths
- the horrible customs for the education of the heir (for most of them, spending years in a “cage”, partly to protect them)
- cultural differences between Turkey and France
- importance and help of France in Turkey’s evolution towards modernization as a country as well as in their military techniques
- the struggle (nothing new) between two kinds of Islam: secular Islam (represented by Sultans Abdul and Selim) and fundamentalist Islam (with the Janissaries and the Wahhabis.
Note that Nakshidil was able to remain a Christian. We see her praying the Rosary and even receiving the last sacraments before her death
- the broader international crisis between Turkey, Syria, Egypt, France, England, and Russia
The characters are so real, each with his/her own culture and struggles.
There are also awesome descriptions of the Sultan’s palace and its surroundings.
The book follows the chronological life of both Aimée and Rose (between 1783 and 1817, when Nakshidil died at the age of 54).
But an extra layer is added with the prophecy both cousins received together at the age of 14: an old woman in Martinique told them they would both end up queens. She also specified elements about their final days. This was a great extra red thread to follow. We do hear about this prophecy when reading other historical novels on Josephine, for instance in Becoming Josephine if I remember well.
Through the letters exchanged back and forth between the two cousins, often the only means for Aimée to hear about her country, we also follow closely the events in France, from before the French Revolution to after the demise of Napoleon (after his huge plunder of Egyptian treasures for the benefit of the Louvre).
Another great example that a self-published book CAN be a gem. It is very well researched and I didn’t find any glaring typos. It even included precious historical notes and a great glossary of Turkish names used.
VERDICT: Fascinating portrait of Aimée, a French odalisque at the harem of Istanbul, on the background of the revolutionary events in France and the non less dramatic life of Aimée’s cousin, the famous Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. A must for lovers of high quality and unique historical novels.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT
“Following a short period of drunken and confused deliberation about how to best eliminate the new favorite, Nuket Seza settled upon the plan she always chose. She would poison the girl’s food”.
Thus begins Zia Wesley’s newest novel, The French Sultana, a steamy continuation of the life and travails of Aimée Dubucq de Rivery, the innocent young convent girl abducted by corsairs and given to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and her cousin Rose, unknowingly destined to become Empress of France. [from Goodreads]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I always loved reading the stories of unknown women who managed to make a difference in our world and one such story captivated my interest enough to write it myself. At the age of 69 I entered the world of historical fiction and the next phase of my professional life.
I recently finished the second book in my historical series, The Veil and the Crown. The French Sultana is the continuing story of Aimée and Rose and the next step is seeing it transposed to film.
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