The Sultan's Wife
by Jane Johnson
In 1677, during the reigns of the Mulay Ismael, Louis XIV and Charles II, Nus Nus, the central character, eunuch slave, food taster and scribe to the Sultan lives in constant fear for his life, caught in the machinations of the three most dominant figures in the court: the viciously unstable Sultan Moulay Ismail; his wife Zidan, feared for her use of poison and black magic; and the conniving Grand Vizier.
The young Englishwoman, Alys Swann, is taken prisoner by Barbary corsairs and taken into the Sultan's harem. In their battle for survival, Alys and Nus Nus help each other and a mutual respect develops into a deep and moving relationship in which they find courage in the most perilous of circumstances.
The book is well written and the characters are engaging, coming to life very quickly; fully fleshed and credible in a fast-paced plot with plenty of excitement. The dialogue flows well, told in the first person, from the viewpoints of Nus-Nus and of Alys, with all the intrigue and danger one could wish for, in London and Morocco. There is heartbreak and personal tragedy, but also romance and gentle moments.
This historical thriller is full of deceit, the dark arts, and shocking killings; it is fast-paced and exciting to follow and is highly recommended, though not for the faint hearted or squeamish, as there are moments of gore and extreme cruelty.
Review by Irene Cradick