The Sultan's Seal: A Novel (Kamil Pasha Novels (Paperback)) Paperback – 17 Feb 2007
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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
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"
A passionate debut. . . . Lyrical . . . enchanting.
Starred Review. CSI goes Ottoman Empire . . . with readers easily transported back to those days when mystery and intrigue lurked around every corner.
Intricate and subtle as a Turkish carpet, lush as silk upon the skin. . . . A fascinating and remarkably knowledgeable look at a society in flux, its very appealing characters caught between East and West, Islam and Christianity, and bound in a web of murder and treachery that only the lucky few may escape.--Diana Gabaldon
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.See all Product description
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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." The nineteenth century came to an end with the Ottomans under the political and economic domination of European powers and the threat of Western domination is obvious during the period the "The Sultan's Seal" takes place.
Kamil Pasha, our protagonist, is a magistrate in the new secular courts of Istanbul. He is extremely intelligent, a modern man with a good understanding of the foreign community as he had been educated in both England and Istanbul. When the naked body of an English woman is discovered floating in the Bosphorus in Pasha's district, he begins an investigation, making the acquaintanceship of the English ambassador's daughter, Sybil, in the process. The dead woman, a governess in the royal harem, was wearing a pendant inscribed with the tughra, or seal, of the sultan. Sybil, an independent and attractive young woman devoted to her ailing father, assists Kamil by contributing information she compiles through her connections in the royal harem.
Kamil Pasha ties this case to an almost identical death that occurred eight years before when another palace governess was found murdered, wearing the same pendant, which cannot be reproduced without the approval of the palace.
This is truly an unusual detective story filled with a wide range of fascinating characters set against a rich and mysterious backdrop that was Istanbul at the end of the nineteenth century.
One of my favorite characters, Jaanan, is another independent and well educated woman about the same age as Sybil. She is Turkish, and the niece of a respected jurist and scholar. Her story, filled with adventure and tragedy, ties in with the main plot and is every bit as interesting.
Ms. White's writing is as sensuous as the shimmering harem silks and the waters of the Bosphorus she describes so eloquently. I really enjoyed this wonderful novel and highly recommend it.
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
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.
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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