"A wonderful read…. An historical novel of the highest quality."—Iain Pears
Publishers WeeklyHistorical drama meets traditional murder mystery in this uneven but passionate debut. Istanbul in 1886 is in a state of enormous political and social unrest. Upper-class society has evolved a strange new stratum combining British expatriates, colonials and the clashing traditional and modern Turks, all struggling to find their place as the Ottoman Empire wanes. The citizens of Istanbul are leery of the bold and immodest behavior of the Englishwomen in their midst, but all are shocked when young Mary Dixon, governess at the imperial harem, is discovered brutally murdered. Few seem to have known the quiet, retiring Mary, but readers snatch a glimpse in the interwoven story of Jaanan, a young Turkish woman about to be forced into marriage to a man she hates and who has a strange connection to the murdered woman. The writing is lyrical and the characters enchanting, particularly Kamil Pasha, the region's magistrate, who finds himself entangled in the case. But the rich historical setting makes an uneasy match with the whodunit sleuthing; neither ends up being able to sustain the book, particularly given the placid pace of the investigation. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Children's LiteratureIt is hard not to think about the current strife in the Middle East while reading Jenny White's debut mystery. Set in 1890s Turkey, the story unfolds amid the turmoil of a weakening Ottoman Empire and a rising secular dissent. Kamil Pasha, a local magistrate, finds himself investigating the delicate matter of an English woman found naked and murdered. His inquiry introduces him to the daughter of the English Ambassador, Sybil. She helps Kamil by linking his current case to the unsolved murder of another English woman. Kamil becomes caught between his own adherence to tradition and his desire to find justice for both women. When he chooses to challenge tradition he endangers his career and safety. A large and diverse cast of characters, ranging from apparent allies with dark secrets to servants with hidden agendas, aid and hinder Kamil's work. Despite the artfully fashioned mystery, the story shifts awkwardly from three points of view: a present tense unraveling of the mystery; a first person account of Jaanan, a witness to events in the past; and a series of letters that allow the reader into Sybil's thoughts. There are discrete references to homosexuality and rape. White sometimes fails to provide enough context or definition for the reader to understand the importance of a multitude of Arabic, Ottoman, Muslim, and even Chinese references. But those interested in the culture, art, and politics of the Ottoman Empire will revel in all the richly embroidered details that bring Kamil's adventure to life. 2006, W. W. Norton & Company, Ages 16 up.
L. F. Wade
KLIATT - Nola TheissThis novel is all about its settingIstanbul in 1866. The Ottoman Empire is in its last days and the traditions and way of life it represents are eroding around the edges. When a young Englishwoman's body is found washed ashore, the authorities become involved in solving her murder. This leads to a renewed interest in another Englishwoman's murder years before and to the inner workings of Turkish society. Both women had worked as governesses for high-ranking Turkish officials. The unusual pendant bearing the Sultan's seal that both murdered victims wear ties them to Turkish inner circles, where the investigators encounter young women who seem to know more than they're telling about the murders. The author sometimes seems to forget that there is a mystery to be solved as the intrigues of society and the fate of its young women, some of whom still want to live in the old ways and others who are rebelling against arranged marriages and the inequities between men and women, become her focus. The young Turkish woman Janeen, who is resisting marriage to a man who rapes her but is her family's choice, is the symbol of the corruption of the old society. Although the story is complicated and confusing in parts, the writing is good and the setting makes this an interesting tale about the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.
Library JournalThe naked body of a young Englishwoman washes ashore in Istanbul and the pendant around her neck connects her to the royal household and possibly to the murder of an English governess years earlier. Then Janaan, a young Muslim woman resisting an arranged marriage, slowly reveals her connections to both dead women. Magistrate Kamil Pasha has no idea where the investigation will lead, and despite his attempts to rely on scientific analysis, he must operate within a web of political and personal intrigues. As subplots intertwine, trust disintegrates until neither the book's characters nor its readers know who will betray whom. White brings extensive knowledge of Ottoman culture to her writing, but at times the amount of detail and number of characters overwhelm rather than clarify the plot. Although the mystery of the woman's death ultimately is revealed, many loose ends suggest either a sequel or a lack of attention to detail. This book will probably appeal more to fans of historical fiction than mystery readers. Despite its limitations, it is worth considering for public library collections, particularly because it holds the promise of strong successors. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus ReviewsA Turkish murder mystery, love story and cultural/historical panorama, told from three points of view. White uses a dead body-drugged, drowned English governess Mary Dixon, who worked at the imperial court and is found floating in the Bosphorus-as the point of entry into this evocation of the waning days of the Ottoman empire, a world of eunuchs, harems, secret police, bath houses and bazaars, teetering on the brink of modernism and dissolution. Kamil Pasha, an Istanbul magistrate, has the task of investigating the crime. Thoughtful and honorable, Kamil works at a careful pace, assisted by a Jewish surgeon, Michel Sevy. During his enquiries he meets Sybil, the under-occupied daughter of the British ambassador, who joins the detection team, offering access to female members of society and the court who are off limits to Kamil. An interest inevitably develops between the magistrate and the Englishwoman. More exotic and complicated is the story of Jaanan, a well-born girl whose life is crammed with incident: She is raped by a prospective husband favored by her father; kidnapped by a cousin who has been forced into political exile and is also linked to another, earlier murder of a British governess; and was once propositioned by Mary Dixon who, it seems, was a lesbian. Although the story loses its way in a fog of exposition and overlapping intrigues, White's intelligent, sensuous writing marks a promising debut.
Diana Gabaldon“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.”
Elif Shafak“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.”
Booklist“Starred Review. CSI goes Ottoman Empire . . . with readers easily transported back to those days when mystery and intrigue lurked around every corner.”
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Diana GabaldonIntricate 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.
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