Equal of the Sun

Equal of the Sun

3.3 8
by Anita Amirrezvani

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Legendary women—from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots—changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf

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Legendary women—from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots—changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf of their sons, and ruled in their own right. In Equal of the Sun, Anita Amirrezvani’s gorgeously crafted tale of power, loyalty, and love in the royal court of Iran, she brings one such woman to life, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi.

Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and protégé, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but the princess’s maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, are in possession of an incredible tapestry of secrets and information that reveals a power struggle of epic proportions.

Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, Equal of the Sun is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of the unlikely bond between a princess and a eunuch. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and in her lustrous prose this rich and labyrinthine world comes to vivid life with a stunning cast of characters, passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Filled with political intrigue, heartbreak, and passion, Amirrezvani's second novel (after The Blood of Flowers) is an intense ride through the fickle regimes of Iranian shahs in the 1500s. Javaher made the unprecedented choice to become a eunuch at age 17 in order to gain access to the harem and uncover the truth behind his father's murder. His plan seems to be working when he becomes a servant of the most powerful woman at court, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi (an historical character upon whose life the story is roughly based), but all goes awry when Pari's father, the shah, dies, and her brother Isma‘il assumes the throne. Pari tries to temper Isma‘il Shah's despotic rule, but as a result, her former allies turn against her. Desperate to restore order, the ambitious and reckless princess devises a treasonous plot, and Javaher must decide whether to jeopardize everything to help the woman he's come to admire or to step back as the fabric of his world unravels at the hands of a deranged shah. Saturated with color and emotion, Amirrezvani's newest is a provocative and thrilling historical. (June)
The Washington Post
“A page turner…. Here’s hoping Amirrezvani will write many more tales illuminating the incredible history of the Iranians.”
San Jose Mercury News
“A vibrant portrait of a country in the throes of change, with an extraordinary woman at its center.”
From the Publisher
Equal of the Sun is a page turner, with plenty of gripping moments. Here’s hoping Amirrezvani will write many more tales illuminating the incredible history of the Iranians..” —WashingtonPost

"Expertly woven." —Kirkus

“Equal of the Sun is a fine political novel, full of rich detail and intrigue, but it’s also a thought-provoking study of the intersection between gender and power.” —Historical Novel Society

"Amirrezvani's sixteenth century Iran is a world as complex as Shakespeare's London, that seethes with intrigue, passion, and lawlessness, a world where a brilliant young princess, who longs for power denied her as a female, and a servant, with a desire so relentless he half-destroys himself, make a desperate pact to control the government and fate of the country, and in doing so discover their greatest loves and sorrows. In this astonishing novel Amirrezvani reminds us what all human hearts suffer and dare. EQUAL OF THE SUN is an irresistible novel." —Jonis Agee, author of The River Wife

“A dazzling historical novel of ancient Persia, a fairy tale of universal resonance, EQUAL OF THE SUN is a story of love and ambition, loyalty and intrigue, the eternal anguish of a heart—and a country—at war with itself. —Gina Nahai, author of Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith and Caspian Rain

Library Journal
This second novel by the author of The Blood of Flowers imagines the details of the life of the real Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, the daughter of a 16th-century shah of Iran. When her father dies, Pari tries to exert her influence on the succession, only to fall out of favor and fear for her life as the new shah begins a campaign of killing his enemies. The story is narrated by Pari's vizier, a eunuch named Javaher whose own desire to avenge his father's execution is equally interesting. The novel offers insight into the complexity of the life of someone who rates only brief mention in official historical accounts and illuminates how brilliant and ambitious women were unable to follow their dreams because of their gender. It also helps readers understand what it meant to be a "cut" man. While the book begins slowly, its pace accelerates as plots evolve to assassinate the despicable shah. VERDICT Recommended for fans of historical fiction and political intrigue and for those who enjoy the novels of Mahbod Seraji, Dalia Sofer, and Indu Sundaresan. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC
Kirkus Reviews
Sexism, violence and skullduggery cast 16th-century Iran into turmoil in the second historical novel by Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers, 2007). Javaher, a eunuch, is the loyal servant of Princess Pari, a wise if occasionally headstrong daughter of the shah. He admires both her strong will and her generosity to the impoverished women who come to her for support. But he has personal motives for getting close to the upper tier of Iranian royalty: He is determined to learn who among the nation's elite is responsible for his father's murder. That's what prompted him to become a eunuch and thus enter the court, a transformation that Amirrezvani describes in visceral and surprisingly sensuous detail; though the process itself is unsettling, Javaher becomes an attentive lover, in keeping with his acuity for understanding people's motivations. His best-laid plans are upset when the shah dies and is replaced with his son Isma‘il, who begins a reign that is neglectful, deadly and petty, and that threatens to break down the fragile truces with neighboring lands. Pari, marginalized by Isma‘il's tyrannical behavior and overall sexism in the court, begins a scheme to end his reign, with Javaher serving as assistant, sounding board and spy. Making Javaher central to the story is an ingenious tactic on Amirrezvani's part; his role allows him to navigate the highest and lowest castes of Iranian society, and though the cast of characters is large, the nature of the disputes never become too baroque. The story is bogged down somewhat, though, by many interior scenes that are big on platitude-heavy courtly language. A subplot involving Javaher's sister has little spark, and even the mystery of his father's murder lacks much drama. But as Isma‘il's reign lurches toward its inevitable fate, the closing chapters gain momentum. An expertly woven, if occasionally talky, tale of gender rights and freedom.

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Product Details

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6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

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Equal of the Sun


    I swear to you on the holy Qur’an there has never been another woman like Pari Khan Khanoom. A princess by birth, a strategist by the age of fourteen, fierce but splendid in her bearing; a master archer, an almsgiver of great generosity, and a protector of prostitutes; a poet of uncommon grace, the most trusted advisor to a shah, and a leader of men. Do I exaggerate, like a court historian writing flowery panegyrics to a leader in the hope of being rewarded with a robe of honor? No such gift is forthcoming, I assure you: I am a man without a protector.

    I wrestled over whether to attempt this work, since I am neither biographer nor historian. Despite the danger, the ignorance of the men around me compels me to set down the truth about the princess. If I refuse this task, her story will be misrepresented or distorted to become a tool of those in power. Court historians report only the best known facts about how royal women have led troops into battle, deposed shahs, killed their enemies, and thrust their sons into power. They are forbidden from observing the lives of these women directly and therefore must rely on rumors and invention.

    As Pari’s closest servant, I not only observed her actions but carried out her orders. I realized that upon my death, everything I know about her would disappear if I failed to document her story. But I must proceed in the greatest of secrecy. If this book were discovered by the wrong man, I could be executed, for I have committed monstrous deeds and made mistakes that I would prefer not to reveal—although what man hasn’t? Man is flawed by his very nature. His ears hear only what they wish; God alone knows the absolute truth.

    Perhaps, now that I think of it, I exaggerate slightly in saying that Pari was the only woman of her kind. She came from a dynasty that bred valiant women, starting with her grandmother Tajlu Khanoom Mowsellu, who had helped elevate her own ten-year-old son, Tahmasb, to the throne; and her aunt Maheen Banu, who advised Tahmasb until she died. By then, Pari was fourteen and wise enough to take Maheen Banu’s place, and she reigned unchallenged as her father Tahmasb’s advisor, above and beyond his wives, until his death almost fourteen years later. But Pari’s deeds outshone those of her foremothers, and her boldness knew no bounds.

    When I think of her, I remember not only her power, but her passion for verse. She was a poet in her own right and lavished silver on the poets she admired, keeping bread and salt on their tables. She had read all the classics and could recite long sections from them. Of the books of poetry she loved, a single tome stood out above others: the Shahnameh, or Book of Shahs, in which the great poet Ferdowsi recounted the passions and struggles of hundreds of Iranian rulers. During the time I served her, one story from that great book—about the usurper Zahhak and the hero Kaveh—guided our thoughts, directed our actions, and even invaded our dreams, so much so that I sometimes wondered if the story was about us. We turned to it for advice, wept over it in despair, and drew comfort from it in the end. It guides me still, as I celebrate Pari for the sake of generations to come.

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