(Cover picture courtesy of History and Women.)
He had everything a man might dream of; wealth, power and the choice of hundreds of the most beautiful women in his Empire.
Why then did the King of Kings, Possessor of Mens Necks, forsake his harem for the love of just one woman, and marry her in defiance of the centuries-old code of the Osmanlis?
This is the astonishing story of Suleiman, the one they called the Magnificent, and the woman he loved. From medieval Venice to the slave markets of Algiers, from the mountains of Persia to the forbidden seraglio of the Ottoman’s greatest sultan, this is a story of passion and intrigue in a world where nothing is really as it seems.
This is more the tale of three very different women than the tale of Suleiman, but the thought is definitely there. We hear not only from him, but from the three women the story focuses on: Hürrem, Gülbehar and Julia.
First off we get the story of Hürrem’s rise to power within the harem. Since Suleiman truly loved Gülbehar, she used every trick in the book to steal him away from his favourite. Like so many stories that take place in the harem, the ladies in here are not necessarily sympathetic, but they are interesting. No one can deny Hürrem is a forceful person that will do anything, including kill, to gain power. Most of the book is from her perspective, although we do see things from Gülbehar’s perspective as she watches as she’s displaced as Suleiman’s favourite, knowing she can do nothing about it.
While Hürrem’s story was the main focus and it was fascinating, the story of Julia, the Italian who is captured and taken to the harem as a concubine is my favourite. We don’t see her until the last part of the story, but she is my absolute favourite character and couldn’t be a more stark contrast to the scheming, sometimes sadistic Hürrem. Her story and that of poor, poor Abbas are inexplicably entwined and how their story is resolved is both heartbreaking and happy.
I can’t and certainly won’t comment on the historical accuracy of Harem. In his author’s note, Colin Falconer admits that the three main women in the novel and their actions are pretty much pure speculation but that Suleiman was of course a very real person. Seeing as I know essentially nothing about Suleiman’s empire, I also won’t comment on the day-to-day minor historical details either. I will note that I don’t think Colin Falconer’s main objective with this novel was to be as historically accurate as possible, meaning he likely gave himself a little wiggle room when it came to details.
My only real complaint about the novel is that for such a good book, the proofreading was not so great. There were your vs. you’re mistakes sometimes and simple proofreading errors that looked like typos (lanbguage instead of language). There weren’t so many that it detracted from the story, but just keep in mind that they are there.
I give this book 4/5 stars.