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The Sultan's Seal: A Novel (Kamil Pasha Novels) [Paperback]

Jenny White
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 April 2007 Kamil Pasha Novels
Rich in sensuous detail, this first novel brilliantly captures the political and social upheavals of the waning Ottoman Empire. The naked body of a young Englishwoman washes up in Istanbul wearing a pendant inscribed with the seal of the deposed sultan. The death resembles the murder by strangulation of another English governess, a crime that was never solved. Kamil Pasha, a magistrate in the new secular courts, sets out to find the killer, but his dispassionate belief in science and modernity is shaken by betrayal and widening danger. In a lush, mystical voice, a young Muslim woman, Jaanan, recounts her own relationships with one of the dead women and her suspected killer. Were these political murders involving the palace or crimes of personal passion? An absorbing tale that transports the reader to nineteenth-century Turkey, this novel is also a lyrical meditation on the contradictory desires of the human soul. Reading group guide included. Includes the first chapter of the next Kamil Pasha novel.

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The Sultan's Seal: A Novel (Kamil Pasha Novels) + The Winter Thief: A Kamil Pasha Novel (Kamil Pasha Novels)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (13 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393329208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393329209
  • Product Dimensions: 20.9 x 14.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,926 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Set in nineteenth-century Istanbul, The Sultan s Seal lingers in the mind like the strong, delightful smell of an incense you will remember the next time you catch it in the air. --Elif Shafak, author of The Saint of Incipient Insanities

Book Description

A powerful blend of murder mystery and romance set in the Ottoman Court --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Jenny White, an anthropologist and the author of numerous nonfiction works on Turkish society and politics, has written a real winner with her debut novel, "The Sultan's Seal." A historical mystery with a bit of romance thrown in, this book makes for an unputdownable read! Ms. White paints a remarkably vivid portrait of life in 19th century Turkey, from the luxurious sultan's palaces to the most squalid slums of Istanbul, and writes intelligently of the political turmoil of the period.
Set in the ancient city "Stanbul" on the Bosphorus in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, (1886), political intrigue, espionage and social upheaval are rife, even in the sultan's harem. "Young Turks," a reformist and strongly nationalist group of men, forced the restoration of the constitution of 1876. This new generation of Ottoman political thinkers were convinced that the Empire would never be truly modernized until it had adopted a democratic government and a constitution rather than undiluted power in the hands of the sultan. Gathering secretly in Istanbul, then in exile in Europe, "these reformers propagandized against the governments of Ali Pasha then, when Ali died in 1871, against the increasingly autocratic rule of Sultan Abdulaziz." There is a tremendous struggle taking place to find a middle ground between traditional values of the non-secular East and the very different, more progressive ways of the West.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman defeat in the war of 1877 against Russia imposed an indemnity of $100,000,000 on the Turkish government. By 1881 the whole empire went into receivership. "The British, French, Dutch, German, Austrian and Italian creditors set up the Council of Administration of the Ottoman Public Debt and took control of certain revenues.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sultans Seal 18 Mar 2007
Set in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire, this story follows a top magistrate and the British ambassadors daughter who are trying to foil the mysterious murder of an Englishwoman, washed up on the banks of the Bosphorous. Set in the lavish palaces and harems of the Sultan, this was a neat, well-structured mystery. It was intricate and subtle and the plot never wavered, making it very sophisticated for a debut.

Packed with beautiful descriptions of eighteenth century Turkey, it portrayed an Oriental society and politics in flux. Traditional values and modernity collide, threatening the stability of the empire. A poetic story of betrayal, love, treachery and mystery
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Feel as though the story drowned amongst itself 11 April 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read THE SULTAN'S SEAL in preparation for a bookclub meeting. Scanning the back of the book, the story looked promising enough; there was mystery, murder, romance and intrigue all set within the Ottoman Empire. However, as I slowly got further and further into the novel, I found myself becoming more and more distracted. I suppose it is because I was expecting the story to revolve around the death of the young woman and the investigation around her death. Instead, although this story was there, it felt as though it became more and more lost as the book progressed.
White is able to create a strong sense of place - the customs and the tradition of the Empire - yet, I personally did not feel as though she was able to do the same for her characters. Although I could remember the character Kamil Pasha - the man who is driving the investigation along - I found myself having to remind myself who the others were; had I been introduced to them before, or was this the first time I was encountering them?
What this comes down to, I believe, is the fact that THE SULTAN'S SEAL was not able to hold my attention as other books have. Usually when I read, I can find myself becoming completely lost in the story so that time passes without me noticing. Reading this, that did not happen. Because I could not connect with the characters, it left my reading experience very stale.
Sadly, I will not be recommending this book to anyone. As another reviewer has said, if you are looking for a murder mystery but set within an historical setting, you would do better to look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful flavours of 19thC Istanbul 22 Mar 2007
By H. Ashford VINE VOICE
This book has many strengths - I loved the Ottoman setting - it evokes images of beautiful scenery and exotic customs and culture. The characters are well done, especially the detective Kamil and also main female characters, Janaan (niece of a respected Turkish scholar) and Sybil (the English Ambassador's daughter). I also enjoyed the descriptions of places and customs - the harems, coffee houses, bazaars, bath house etc.

So for me the strengths of this book are more about the time, place and location than about the plot. You get a wonderful flavour of the period and the setting of Istanbul during the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the fantastic wealth and opulence of the palaces and the political intrigue during a period of great change.

However, I wondered why White had chosen to write a detective thriller. She has made the plot line unnecessarily complicated; while all the threads are there, she lacks the skills as a writer to weave them into a strong picture for the reader. Parts of the story are well presented (particularly Janaan's story), but the political intrigue and the roles of various characters within it is muddled and doesn't come clear at the end - so we are left wondering who exactly killed whom and why!

My personal view is that it's a pity White didn't concentrate on those descriptions of people, place and culture that she does so well and keep the plot simpler.
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