Wednesday, 4 January 2017

"The Sultan’s Wife" - not a soppy romance story but a novel about an interesting time in Moroccan history

When I bought the book I expected some light reading material like "The Sheikh" to find myself suprised by a story about 17th century Moroccan sultan Moulay Ismail who built Meknes. The story is told by the black African courteunuch Nus Nus and the enslaved English concubine Alys Swan.

Moulay Ismail uses slave labor to built a huge palace and surrounding town in Meknes. His corsairs are attacking European ships and the seamen are used as laborers for the building project. Alys is a very pale and blonde woman sailing from Scheveningen to her betrothed in London when her ship is also attacked. The corsair leaders send her to the palace. The sultan is a very pious man and refuses a woman who is not Muslim so his queen orders Nus Nus to make sure Alys converts (or killed). During those meetings the eunuch and the foreign woman become friends.

The Moroccan court is a very dangerous place to live. Not only is the sultan definately mad in the head big time, his chief wife, a woman from Subsaharan Africa and a former slave, is as dangerous. Everybody believes her to be a witch and she has a habit of killing the other women and their children off using her potions. No one can be sure of his life around the two of them. While Zidana is cruel and evil the sultan however has more mellow moments. For instance he loves his children.

The book offers an interesting view into a period of history not many of us know a lot of. For those of us who have been in Meknes it is even more interesting. We read about all the different inhabitants of the area: the Westerners who occupy Tanger, the Jewish mellah and the obliged clothing for Jews, the Europeans who "turned Turk", the courtofficials ready to kill each other, the pest, the campains against the Berbers.

Part of the story is set in London at the court of King Charles the Second as Nus Nus is part of a delegation send to the English king that is led by a son of another British slave who is the architect of Meknes and whose English is perfect. The similarities and differences between the two courts are interesting: a king with many women, court ladies who rival each other, huge building projects. But while the sultan makes you shiver, king Charles is as interesting but a nicer person.

I reread the book over the Christmas holiday. Due to having read "The Tenth Gift" the first novel of Jane Johnson, and more or less a prequal to this one as that deals with the whole corsair and slavery subject, I enjoyed "The Sultan's wife" even more because I now knew what would happen to Nus Nus and Alys and focussed more on all the historical details and subplots.

A 5 out of 5 stars. Really recommend it. And the good news: Only 99 cents for the Kindle version



AMAZON wrote:
1677. In Europe, the Enlightenment is dawning after a century of wars. On the seas and in coastal villages, pirates and corsairs are the scourge of the waves. And in Morocco, Sultan Moulay Ismail is concentrating his power, building an elaborate palace complex with captive labor.

Alys Swann is also a captive, but hers is a different lot: convert to Islam, marry the sultan and give him sons. Or die. Nus-Nus, the sultan’s scribe and keeper of the royal couching book, is charged with convincing Alys to accept her fate. Or they both die. Two powerless prisoners in a world of brutal intrigue, each discovers that they can take strength in the other, to endure that which must be endured in the hope of a better tomorrow.

Rich in detail with compelling characters and an ambitious scope, The Sultan’s Wife is a remarkable tale of adventure, romance, history, and friendship.

BOL.com wrote:

"The author of The Salt Road and The Tenth Gift Jane Johnson returns with a captivating historical novel The Sultan's Wife set in Morocco. Morocco, 1677. The tyrannical King Ismail resides over the palace of Meknes. Through the sweltering heat of the palace streets, Nus Nus, slave to the King and forced into his live of servitude as court scribe, is sent to the apothecary. There he discovers the bloody corpse of the herb man, and becomes entangled in a plot to frame him for the murder. Juggling the tempestuous Moroccan king, sorceress queen Zidana and the malicious Grand Vizier is his only hope to escape the blame. Meanwhile, young, fair Alys Swann is captured during her crossing to England, where she is due to be wed. Sold into Ismail's harem, she is forced to choose: renounce her faith or die. An unlikely alliance develops between Alys and Nus Nus, one that will help them to survive the horrifying ordeals of the Moroccan court. Brimming with rich historical detail and peppered with real characters, from Charles I to Samuel Pepys, The Sultan's Wife is a story of enduring love and adventure. 'Jane Johnson writes the sort of books you want to tell everyone about - they hook you from the first page and sweep you along with passion, history and romance. I'm addicted' Katie Fforde 'An utterly compelling story' Stuart MacBride, author of Cold Granite 'Imagine the darkest Arabian Tale combined with Tremain's glorious Restoration' Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist 'An irresistible page turner - I loved it' Barbara Erskine 'Full of intrigue, deceit, skulduggery and murder. It has romance in it, but also heartbreak and personal tragedy. It's deeply evocative of North Africa - the sights, the smells, the culture, but there are also great depictions of London at the time, and the court of Charles II. I really enjoyed it' Ben Kane, bestselling author of Spartacus: The Gladiator 'Far more than a rip-roaring read: it's a true work of art. Deftly recreating the court intrigue of the tyrannical Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail - with all its trappings of superstition, black magic and torture - it sucks you down through interleaving layers steeped in blood, sweat and raw adrenalin, to a mesmerising bedrock of real history...The Sultan's Wife gets inside you, conjuring its magic long after you read the last line' Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph's House Jane Johnson was raised in Cornwall but now lives for half the year in a remote mountain village in Morocco. Her first novel set in North Africa is The Tenth Gift, and this was followed by The Salt Road. The Sultan's Wife is her third Moroccan novel. She has been involved in the book industry for many years and combines her work as a publisher with writing for both adults and children.

Recensie(s)

Jane Johnson writes the sort of books you want to tell everyone about - they hook you from the first page and sweep you along with passion, history and romance. I'm addicted -- Katie Fforde An irresistible page turner - I loved it -- Barbara Erskine An utterly compelling story -- Stuart MacBride, author of Cold Granite Imagine the darkest Arabian Tale combined with Tremain's glorious Restoration. A truly alluring read -- Essie Fox, author of The Somnambulist Full of intrigue, deceit, skulduggery and murder. It has romance in it, but also heartbreak and personal tragedy. It's deeply evocative of North Africa - the sights, the smells, the culture, but there are also great depictions of London at the time, and the court of Charles II. I really enjoyed it -- Ben Kane, bestselling author of Spartacus: The Gladiator Far more than a rip-roaring read: it's a true work of art. Deftly recreating the court intrigue of the tyrannical Moroccan Sultan Moulay Ismail - with all its trappings of superstition, black magic and torture - it sucks you down through interleaving layers steeped in blood, sweat and raw adrenalin, to a mesmerising bedrock of real history... The Sultan's Wife gets inside you, conjuring its magic long after you read the last line -- Tahir Shah, author of The Caliph's House"
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