(Finally!) Review: ‘Odalisque’ by Fiona McIntosh
Rating: 3 stars
Source: Bought – Waterstones.com
Published: by Hachette Digital in February 2011
Fifteen-year-old Boaz is the new Zar, freshly ascended to his throne. In the turmoil following the old Zar’s death, courtiers jostle and conspire to secure their positions – not least his scheming mother, the new Valide. It seems his only genuine friends are his late father’s mad jester; Spur Lazar, head of Percheron’s security; and a golden beauty – a new odalisque purchased in the foothills as a slave for the harem.
But can a madman, a soldier and a concubine be trusted to keep him safe from the Byzantine manoeuvres of his father’s ambitious entourage?
As I often find myself writing, this wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. In fact, I say that with such regularity that I do wonder what is going on when I am buying books. The confusion/ignorance here, perhaps, came from a few things:
1. I was lured in by a pretty cover;
2. I had had a rubbish day and decided that downloading a whole host of fantasy books would make me feel better AND that meant that I was not too fussed about the whole finding-out-what-the-trilogy-was-about thing;
3. I didn’t know that ‘odalisque’ was a real word…as opposed to a fantasy word…
What is an ‘odalisque’ you ask? (At least, I hope you do because that will make me feel less silly!) According to Wikipedia, and therefore of course The Trust, an odalisque is:
“Odalisques were ranked at the bottom of the social stratification of a harem, serving not the man of the household, but rather, his concubines and wives as personal chambermaids. Odalisques were usually slaves given as gifts to the sultan, bought or given by wealthy Turkish men”
You live, you learn! So an odalisque got to hang out with the Sultan’s fancy-women and one day might even get to be an actual love-object herself if she’s lucky! Oh, to have something to aspire to…
Perhaps that little tidbit (and this review) will help you make a more informed decision than I did! ANYway, this book is about a harem and by golly do you know it! All aspects of the physical *ahem* rituals receive unflinching . If you’ve ever wondered how a eunuch was “made”, you’re in luck! If you’re squeamish, you are most definitely not…Personally, though I by no means enjoy reading about brutality, I thought that it worked in the context and does lend something other than shock value to the story. The atmosphere is brutal and the culture barbaric but that’s the world that McIntosh wants us immersed in, from the safety of our armchairs or duvets; a magical slant on ancient civilisation.
This isn’t the kind of fantasy where you’ll have warring mage factions on every corner and faeries lending a hand. It’s the kind of fantasy where something huge is definitely coming but you can’t put your finger on what. There are malevolent powers abound and simmering, slightly odd ladies in churches on hills that seem to know more than everyone else and enjoy prophesising, fierce warriors and damsels in distress. Oh, and odalisques, naturally.
So, can a madman, a soldier and a concubine keep a king safe from a whole host of seriously twisted and dark foes? That, my friends, remains to be seen!
Overall: I’m going to reserve my usual gushing recommendations or damning indictments for the time being; at least until I have read the second. That should indicate my feelings enough, I hope. This was an interesting and certainly unique story and has enough going for it that I shan’t be abandoning the series but had some flaws that make me reluctant to urge you all to rush off and buy it straight away….soooo…rain check?!