The Oracle of Stamboul ~ by Michael David Lukas (reviewed by Shellie)
A poetic page turning historical début with an unusual and precocious young girl as the main character. All set in an exotic, magical, yet politically volatile country and time.
About: When Eleanor Cohen is born there are auspicious signs that she is not your normal child. She is to be a prodigy with gifts of memory, languages, extreme intelligence and something which is just a tad mystical. Set in the late 1800s in what is now Turkey, 8 year old Eleanor finds herself in Stamboul within the struggling Ottoman empire, after a decision to follow her father. As the fates conspire she is linked to the king - Sultan Abdulhamid II - and becomes his advisor for a short time during the ill fated years of his declining empire.
Thoughts: This was such a lovely read with my very favorite type of female character, one who is strong, brave and kind. Yet Eleanor is also beyond brilliant. Endearingly she makes a few girlish decisions creating a wonderfully realistic and exceedingly likeable character.
As a historical fiction novel, it is light enough to appeal to those who are not so historically inclined (like myself). I would even recommend the book to young adult readers due to its wonderful character and easy to read lyrical writing style. For those that enjoy history, also mentioned are classic texts which are significant to the political choices made within the novel, making it of particular interest.
As Lukas’s first novel, The Oracle of Stamboul is complex yet easy to read. His descriptions are sensual but there is no sex in this story, and many volatile elements are just alluded to. This combination gives the novel a very strong appeal -it’s a rare combination in my experience and leads me to think that Lucas is an extraordinary writer. He took six years to complete this story and it shows.
In my opinion this book is rated 4.5 stars since it doesn’t get much better - a lyrical historical novel with mystical yet realistic threads. I am wondering when we will see his next book? Hopefully it won’t be another six years.
This book review is part of a tour hosted by TLC. TLC is a book tour blog which hosts reviews and more by bloggers for author’s and their books. The badge to your right links to the host’s dedicated page for this book. There you will find links for additional reviews; below are some examples:
- Monday, March 14th: Like Fire
- Wednesday, March 16th: The Whimsical Cottage
- Monday, March 21st: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
- Thursday, March 24th: Janet Boyer Blog
Thank you to Trish for including Layers of Thought in this tour, and to Harper Books for the copy for review.
Some relevant historical data for the novel compiled from various Wikipedia posts:
Set in what is now Turkey, Stamboul is considered the the old city of Istanbul. Until 1928 the town was called "Constantinople" and "Stamboul" - meaning the Old Town (the historical peninsula). It was named Byzantium during antiquity, and became known as Constantinople when it was the second capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine I (330).
It is located on the Strait of Bosphorus, which separates Asia from Europe, and connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, making it an area of great cultural and religious diversity and a valuable trade port. Today the modern city is much larger and covers both European and Asian sides of the Bosphorus. (You can see from the red bit in the map above its location and hence its importance).
A key character in the novel is Sultan Abdülhamid II. He was born September 21 or 22, 1842 and died February 10, 1918. He was the 34th sultan of the Ottoman Empire and became the sultan on August 31, 1876. Being of Islamic beliefs he had 14 wives and a large number of children.
Of interest for the setting of The Oracle of Stamboul is the beginning of the dissolution of Abdulhamid's rule. This was in part due to the Russian’s declaration of war on April 24, 1877 that culminated in a Russian victory in February 1878. During the ensuing difficulties Abdulhamid did not receive any help from the British or German/Austrians, as the Russian chancellor Prince Gorchakov had effectively purchased Austrian neutrality, and the British were sensitive to reports of Ottoman brutality in a Bulgarian uprising.
Sultan Abdülhamid II oversaw a period of decline in the power and extent of the Empire, ruling until he was deposed on April 27 1909. He was the last Ottoman Sultan to rule with absolute power, and was eventually succeeded by his brother.
I’m hoping you enjoyed my journey into 19th century foreign history. Considering that I am inept at any sort of history, I learned quite a bit creating this informational snippet. Thanks for reading.