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The Sultan's Harem

The Sultan's Harem

4.5 15
by Colin Falconer

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From the author of the critically acclaimed When We Were Gods comes a dramatic, unforgettable novel of cruelty and passion, set in the great Harem of the Ottoman Empire.

In Constantinople there is only one ruler: Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Lord of Lords of this World, Possessor of Men’s Necks, Allah’s Deputy, absolute ruler of the


From the author of the critically acclaimed When We Were Gods comes a dramatic, unforgettable novel of cruelty and passion, set in the great Harem of the Ottoman Empire.

In Constantinople there is only one ruler: Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Lord of Lords of this World, Possessor of Men’s Necks, Allah’s Deputy, absolute ruler of the mighty Ottoman Empire. And at the heart of his palace is the Sultan’s vast Harem, the domain of hundreds of scented, pampered women—some wives, some concubines, some merely slaves. Among them is Gülbehar, the Sultan’s submissive favorite and mother of his heir; Julia, the daughter of an Italian lord, kidnapped when she attempted to flee Venice with her lover; and Hürrem, a Tartar girl from the Russian steppes, sold into slavery.

All three women are beautiful, but Hürrem is the most dangerous—ruthless in her desire to rule the Harem and, ultimately, Süleyman himself. Endlessly manipulative and clever, she carefully arranges the downfall of her rivals and endears herself to the Sultan, who places her at the center of the Empire’s power. It is his obsession with Hürrem—not his enemies—that in the end costs Süleyman his allies, his sons, and finally his dynasty.

Bestselling author Colin Falconer offers an irresistible glimpse into a world of intrigue, sensuality, and violence, where an empire can be controlled not by the might of its king but by the women hidden behind the Harem walls.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lengthy, involved and meandering, this epic soap opera by veteran historical novelist Falconer (Feathered Serpent, etc.) is set in the court of the 16th-century Turkish sultan Suleyman and its harem of 300 beautiful women. Suleyman favors Gulbehar, who has borne him a son, but Hurrem, a ruthless red-haired Russian, schemes to be next in line, seducing the sultan with her wiles: thus begins an epic catfight. For nearly four decades (1522-1559), Hurrem conspires mercilessly against her enemies, employing lies, blackmail and poison. One of her victims is Julia, a captive Venetian girl, whose own unlikely story (she once loved the man who is now the eunuch in charge of the harem) plays out in counterpoint to Hurrem's. As Hurrem becomes bolder, Suleyman falls under her malevolent spell, until his ability to rule is questioned. Although filled with meticulous detail about the customs and role of the harem, the book pays little attention to the greater historical events of the era. Loaded with court and harem intrigue, it is short on action and long on bedroom conspiracies, which lose their juicy appeal long before the drawn-out conclusion. Agents, Tim Curnow and Anthea Morton-Saner. (July 13) Forecast: Of a recent glut of harem novels, the best is Janet Wallach's Seraglio (Jan. 2003), but Falconer's rep should help his heroine get noticed in a sea of nubile competitors. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, Suleyman the Just was regarded as the most significant ruler of his time by both Muslims and Europeans. His armies expanded his empire significantly during his rule, and he was directly responsible for the advancement of culture, architecture, philosophy, and education in the East. Falconer (When We Were Gods) presents an entirely different vision of Suleyman. His sultan is a man weighed down by the cares of empire building who wants nothing more to do with warfare, preferring to spend his days writing poetry. When a newly arrived Tatar slave named Hurrem catches his eye, she quickly becomes a favorite, supplanting the mother of his son and upsetting the order of the harem. Enraged by her slavery and empowered by Suleyman's love, Hurrem engages in a long-term plot to avenge herself on the sultan and Islam. Originally published in Great Britain in 1992, this is a gripping novel of intrigue, power brokering, obsession, and sensuality. Recommended for all public libraries.-Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Last seen amidst the bloodthirsty Aztecs (Feathered Serpent, 2002), Falconer checks into a Turkish harem. Looking for a sensual tale of debauched sultans and languorous odalisques who scheme, sulk, and smoke dope? Then skip this version. Suleyman the Magnificent can't even have sex without obsessing over international relations, circa 1550, his role as a statesman, and why it all seems so empty. As the naked, voluptuous, perfumed royal favorite Gulbehar displays her vermilion-painted pubis for his delectation, Suleyman realizes that it's only her familiarity that he loves. "Perhaps this protocol that I hate has molded me into its creature after all," thinks he. "I love order and repetition too much." As time goes by, unfortunately for Gulbehar, Suleyman also realizes that he loves the fair Hurrem, a gorgeous Tartar interloper who wants to be his one and only. But palace politics come first in this half-hearted romance as assorted viziers, eunuchs, and power-hungry sons with glittering eyes skulk about and complain in overwrought dialogue (through thin, cruel lips) straight out of a bad silent movie. Okay for anyone who can't get enough of camels-and-couscous epics-but readers who loved the heated sensuality and intrigue of Barbara Chase-Riboud's much more polished Valide or even Bertrice Small's fabulously trashy The Khadin are not likely to be wowed.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.28(w) x 9.52(h) x 1.39(d)

Read an Excerpt

1: Rhodes, 1522

Silence, but for the steady rhythm of the rain, splashing into blood-stained pools, dripping from the eaves of the tents. Camels and men trudged through the mud; even the nostrils of the beasts of burden twitched at the stench of sick men and poor sanitation, but most of all at the reek of the moat.

The moat around the fortress was sixty feet deep and one hundred and forty feet wide, and in places it had been almost filled with the bloated bodies of the dead. The smell of putrefying corpses pervaded everything, seeping into clothes and hair and skin, pungent even in the silken sanctum of the Sultan's tent itself, despite the incense burners and the perfumed handkerchiefs that the assembled generals held to their noses.

The young man who sat with his legs astride the mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell throne looked like a panther poised to spring. His lips were drawn back from his teeth in a snarl as he listened to the mumbled obeisance of his second vizier. His long artist's fingers curled and uncurled into claws, the face below the silken turban pale with rage.

"How many of your Sultan's men did you lose today?" he hissed, referring to himself, as he always did in public, as if he were some other person.

The second vizier's face was blackened with dried blood from a sword slash on his forehead. It had dried and crusted in his black beard, where it glowed, dully, like a thousand small rubies. Half a dozen times that day he had led the charge to the breach in the wall below the towers of St. Michael and St. John, while the grizzled old veterans of the Cross slashed down his azabs with their broadswords and their arrows. Women and children had torn up paving stones from the streets and hurled them down on their heads from the ramparts. He had even seen one of their pale priests take a turn at the walls to help upend the vats of boiling pitch. Some of his men had run, their nerve broken; Mustapha had cut them down with his sword, then rallied his soldiers again for a renewed effort.

And now, for the first time that day, he was afraid.

"How many men?" the young man on the throne repeated.

Mustapha dared to raise his head a little to stare into the Sultan's eyes. Oh, great God. "Twenty thousand, Lord," he whispered.

"Twenty thousand!" He leaped to his feet and every man in the room—except one—took a pace backward.

In the long silence that followed, several of the generals thought they could hear Mustapha try to swallow.

When Sultan Suleyman spoke again, his voice was soft and sibilant. Like the death rattle in a man's throat, Mustapha thought. "You advocated this expedition. For three centuries the infidels have taunted the Osmanlis from this fortress. Even the Fatih and my father Selim could not dislodge them. But you told your Sultan that this time it would be different!"

Mustapha was silent. He knew there could be no excuse for failure. Besides, he could not be sure his men would follow him to the walls again.

The silk of Suleyman's robes rippled in the light of the oil lamps as his body shook with the force of his rage. His hands were clenched into white fists at his side. A froth of spittle had formed in the corners of his mouth.

"Another twenty thousand of your Sultan's army lie in the mud at the foot of this accursed rock, the rest are afflicted with the pestilence, and still the walls stand! Winter is at hand; even now the storms are boiling on the horizon, ready to shatter the fleet and freeze the rest of your Sultan's army. Yet if Suleyman turns away now, it will be to drag the banner of the Osmanli, the banner of Islam, in the dirt! You brought your Sultan to Rhodes. What will you have him do now?"

Mustapha was silent.

"You advised this!" he screamed, and he stabbed his finger at the second vizier as if it were an iron spike. He turned to the bostanji waiting in the shadows, a sullen and malevolent presence. He made a quick motion with his hands to summon the deaf-mute and screamed, "Execute him!"

The negro strode forward and shoved Mustapha to his knees with one expert motion of his left leg and arm. The bands of muscle in the man's back tensed as he brought his killic above his head to strike.

It was old Piri Pasha, the Grand Vizier, who moved first. He stepped forward, both hands held upward in supplication, momentarily distracting the bostanji. The blade of the killic glittered in the light of the oil lamps.

"Great Lord, please! Spare him! Misguided he may be, but he has fought like a lion in front of the walls! I have seen him—"

"Quiet!" Suleyman screamed, and now there was saliva on his beard. "If you think he is so worthy, then you can join him in Paradise!"

It was as if an unseen hand had swept the room with a scythe. Piri Pasha! He was an old man, the Vizier who had survived Selim the Grim, and had been Suleyman's own tutor as a child. He himself had advised against the attack on Rhodes. The generals and counselors assembled in front of the young Sultan fell on their faces, each of them moaning forbearance.

It was only Ibrahim, the falconer, who dared approach him. "My Lord," he whispered, and took Suleyman's hand. He knelt, and kissed the ruby on the ring finger of his right hand.

Suleyman was about to summon his bostanji for a third commission when he recognized the young man at his feet.


"Great Lord, there is another way."

Suleyman seemed about to pull away from the young man, who still held his hand in both of his. Instead he said: "Tell it, then."

"The histories tell us that the Greeks besieged Troy for fourteen years for the sake of a woman. Will not the Turk, then, oppressed by piracies and invasions from this rock for over three centuries, endure one winter's siege?"

The bostanji shifted his weight. The killic was growing heavy.

"What is your counsel, Ibrahim?"

"They say that when one of the Roman Caesars invaded an island, he would burn his fleet on the beach. Great Lord, perhaps if you were to build a villa on this hill, in full view of the castle, the defenders will know there is to be no reprieve until the fortress is ours. It will crush their spirit. And if our soldiers know your conviction also, it will give them heart."

Suleyman sighed, and eased himself back on to the great throne. With his forefinger he caressed one of the turquoise stones inlaid near the arm. "And what of them?" he said, nodding in the direction of the two men who still knelt, heads bowed, below the killic. He looked at old Piri Pasha and winced. How could he have contemplated such a thing?

"There has been too much Turkish blood spilled today already," Ibrahim said.

What a diplomat you are! Suleyman thought. An almost imperceptible shake of the head and the bostanji vanished once more into the shadows.

"Very well," Suleyman told them. "The Sultan stays."

Meet the Author

Colin Falconer is the author of When We Were Gods and Feathered Serpent, as well as several other historical novels that have been published throughout the world. He lives in Perth, Australia.

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The Sultan's Harem 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
jeninabellakait More than 1 year ago
I cannot put this book down. I do not want it to end for it will be hard to find another book which stirs my emotions like this one, yet, I need to know if these characters who suffer so much will be justified. If that is even possible after the unbelievable cruelty and suffering they have endured. Colin Falconer has outdone himself with this one. I recommend you read all of his books but this is by far the most intriguing and chilling.
BooksMania More than 1 year ago
Colin Falconer's masterpiece
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AnaMardoll More than 1 year ago
Sultan's Harem / 978-0-307-23845-0 The Sultan's Harem is a spectacular tale of hatred and revenge, as Falconer weaves the tale of a single woman - a slave of the most powerful man in the world - who tears down a powerful empire by careful manipulation of the man who loves her. This one woman, Hurrem, manages to take down an entire empire, all while only ever being seen by a handful of men - the sultan and his personal eunuchs. While all this may seem completely cold-blooding, out heroine staunchly disagrees with the idea that she is a slave now, so why not make the best of it and be a good harem girl? She despises her sultan, the man who tore her from her home as just another bauble to add to his endless harem, the man whom she must keep amused lest she be tossed aside for another faceless girl waiting, claws ready, in the harem to overthrow her. Carefully, coldly, she designs to bear the sultan a child (not necessarily HIS child, if the situation requires), remove his previous favorite, entice him to fall in love, and then maneuver her freedom and unprecedented marriage to the emperor. No longer slave, but wife, she is still a slave in all but name, and she uses her mental hold on her husband to send him spiraling into madness while the kingdom collapses slowly around him. Falconer carefully treads the personal and the political here, as with all his novels, and we see sympathetic glimpses into both the main players (sultan and sultana) and into the lives of the hapless girls living silently in his lavish harem. Each girl has her own history, her own loss, and her own sadness, and - faced with the realities of the harem, and of the monogamous sultan - finds her own pastimes and petty jealousies. Are these women better off than the ones on the outside? They have little freedom, but they are safe and pampered. Since the sultan is not particularly voracious in his appetites, they are not even really 'sex' slaves. Yet the silence and loneliness gnaws at their souls and the passage of time weighs heavily on all involved. Is Hurrem, our dark heroine, really so unusual in her hate, cruelty, and madness? Perhaps all the other women in the harem feel as she does, but does not have the fortune to act out. Gripping and suspenseful, the Sultan's Harem is a compelling read - I could not put it down. I agree with another reviewer in that the story would make a wonderful movie, should anyone ever acquire the rights. Like other Falconer novels, the writing is frank and does not shy away from the 'facts' of life, but the writing is not overly lurid or vulgar, and he does not give into the temptation to throw in gratuitous sex scenes to try to increase readership. ~ Ana Mardoll
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A tale of a revered ruler and the woman who would ultimately destroy him, his sons, his allies and his dynasty. Author Colin Falconer effortlessly breathes colour and life into a tale of obsession built around a ruthless and fascinating woman ¿ Hurrem. Brought to the Sultan¿s Harem from her country of Ukraine, the Tartar red haired vixen was determined that she would not live the life of a slave in an empire she despises. When a terrified Jewish harem girl confides in Hurrem that she is pregnant, Hurrem seizes the opportunity to use this information against the Kapi Aga, who, fearing for his life, yields to Hurrem¿s threats and ensures that Hurrem shares the Sultan¿s bed. One night was all she needed for thereafter no one else existed before the Sultan. With the Sultan¿s firm and unbending fixation on her, Hurrem¿s power over him and the empire becomes catastrophic, as she succeeds in influencing him to destroy his loyal followers and those who sincerely loved their Sultan. Falconer leads us through the turbulent times behind the giant doors of the Sublime Porte during the Ottoman empire, and brings us face to face with names we have encountered in history, bringing to life honourable men such as Suleyman¿s Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, Suleyman¿s honourable firstborn son, Mustafa and their tragic endings. The fictional side story of Venetian beauty Julia Gonzaga and Abbas adds a more mesmerising tune to this haunting depiction of 16th Century Turkey. Falconer¿s dark, caustic storytelling flair and elaboration of every morbid and particular detail cleverly recompenses for the wooden dialogue and repetitive, tiring descriptions of the exotic surroundings. Those interested in tales of vile, malicious and venomous women would shiver at Hurrem¿s touch. A revisionist historical fiction at its finest that will slip under your skin, invade your bloodstream and seize your heart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the historical aspect of the book, and it did create an interest in the story for me. The story grabbed my attention pretty quickly, and always seemed to have something exciting happening, so it never really got dull. I did find the last few chapters a little tedious, and didn't particularly care for the war scenes. A few things that would have made this book better would be a pronunciation guide at the beginning (A LOT of unfamiliar/foreign words), and maybe a description of each character at the beginning to help readers keep everything straight (there were also quite a few characters, some who floated in and out of the story so they weren't easily remembered), and I also wish that Hurrems history had been shared with the reader. For instance, why was she so angry, why did she want revenge so badly, etc. Also, I really wanted to know what happened to Hurrem's letter, and a little more closure on Julia. Overall, I was actually relieved to have finally finished this book, and move on to something a little more enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even the imaginative Scherazade could not have woven tales more fascinating than the stories revealed by those behind the giant doors of the Sublime Porte during the Ottoman Empire. 'The Sultan's Harem' is revisionist historical fiction at its finest, skillfully weaving fact and fantasy to create a tapestry of intrigue and passion. Readers of Colin Falconer's story of Cleopatra, 'When We Were Gods,' will be equally mesmerized by his portrayal of the absolute ruler Suleyman and the women who were able to bring him down. Rich with period detail 'The Sultan's Harem' is an epic drama whose star is Suleyman the Magnificent. At that time Constantinople knew only one mighty ruler:sultan, Suleyman, 'Lord of Lords of this World, Possessor of Men's Necks, Allah's Deputy.' He ruled not with an iron fist in a velvet glove but solely with an iron fist. His home was an opulent palace, and at the heart of the palace was his Harem, the envy of many European kings. Here lived hundreds of women, women of them never even saw their master. Traditionally, a harem was described as the women's portion of a Muslim household. In Suleyman's case it was a small community comprised of hundreds of women, including his mother, his daughters, his favorites, plus countless concubines and slaves. It was a place where power was currency. Among those who had found favor with Suleyman were Gulbehar, the mother of his heir; Julia, a young Italian woman who had been kidnaped; and Hurrem from the Russian steppes who had been sold as a slave. Of the trio Hurremwass the most greedy, the most conniving, determined to have total authority in the Harem and even over Suleyman himself. Step by careful step she undercut her rivals just as she ingratiated herself with Suleyman. He becames obsessed by her until she who was once a slave is now t mistress, holding the power. Falconer's story is taken from a time during the 16th and 17th centuries in Ottoman Turkey which was called The Reign of Women, when the Sultan's mother and his favorites usurped his power and position. Factually little is known beyond that. Leave it to the innovative Falconer to once again bring history to wide screen, full color life. - Gail Cooke
harstan More than 1 year ago
In sixteenth century Turkey Sultan Suleyman has three hundred women in his harem. Of all these beautiful females his favorite is Gulbehar because she has given him a son. However, truth be told, the weight of empire building and international relations plays heavily on the weary Suleyman so he has little interest in the inner goings-on inside his harem as long as the ladies do not disturb him.---- The omega entry in Suleyman¿s harem is the newcomer the Russian Hurrem, who resents being a slave and worse being the runt amongst a pack of subservient succubae. Her plan to be first in line immediately is to use her body to seduce Suleyman and her wiles to defeat these jackals that surround her. Thus, the ladies of the harem who previously understood their place in the queue now battle for supremacy in a scheming arena of intrigue, blackmail, and homicide. Hurrem is the ruler magically seducing Suleyman over time so that even some of his supporters in the royal court consider emulating the queen of mean to take control of the empire.---- THE SULTAN¿S HAREM is an intriguing historical work of fiction that highlights four decades in the inner court of Suleyman the Great during the first half of the sixteenth century. The tale crafts a comprehensive (somewhat exhausting) vivid look at the mores of the harem and to a degree the royal court especially the intrigue, treachery, and strange bedfellow politics, but fails to place any of this on the bigger stage of momentous events. Readers who appreciate an interesting solid diligent glimpse at pebbles with no boulders will enjoy the regal intrigue of Suleyman¿s harem.---- Harriet Klausner