Elizabeth Staveley is a graduate student working on escape narratives when she comes across mention of Celia Lamprey, who may have been the first known English girl to be sold into a Turkish harem. After her discovery, the story intertwines the narrative of Elizabeth, who struggles with modern day love, with Celia’s, who longs to escape the harem and be reunited with her love, Paul Pindar.
I really enjoyed Celia’s story. I found the environment of the harem fascinating and the political machinations inside of it were intriguing and added to the mystery. I didn’t expect at all what would happen and remained just as clueless as Celia, if not more so, which I always like. It was clear that this was an intricate, self-contained world; I even more enjoyed the backstory of some of the girls, particulary the Valide Sultan’s. I found it to be very good historical fiction.
I did not enjoy Elizabeth’s story as much. I think the author, Katie Hickman, was going for something like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but it doesn’t work here. For one thing, Elizabeth’s life is too melodramatic and that takes away from the story. She seems barely interested in Celia and makes discoveries only after the reader has encountered them, so as a result her chapters drag as we wait for her to make some discovery or feel sensual or sleep with someone (although having a romantic interest named Mehmet made the crusades historian inside me very happy for purely silly reasons). I don’t think they added to the book, and in all honesty it would have worked a lot better without them at all. I liked Hickman’s message, that history speaks to us even now, but overall, not worth it.
I’d wait for this one in paperback. I enjoyed it, but there is better out there. Still interested? Check out The Aviary Gate: A Novel on Amazon now.