Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Tears of Pearl

Tears of Pearl
by Tasha Alexander
Recommended Ages: 13+

Lady Emily has just become Mrs. Colin Hargreaves, and for their honeymoon, they've traveled to Constantinople. Mysterious stuff starts happening before they even arrive, however. First a gentleman on their train barely survives an overdose of sleep medicine. Then, during a night at the opera in the Sultan's private theater, a concubine is strangled to death in a nearby courtyard and proves to be the aforementioned gentleman's daughter, kidnapped when she was a child. The old gent, who works at the British Embassy, is showing signs of slipping mentally, and his estranged son seems to be up to some kind of mischief, and as far as Emily can find out – I mean, obviously, she's going to investigate, right? – the young woman's murder is tied up in harem intrigue, and meanwhile another concubine imposes on Lady Emily's social conscience in an appeal for help to escape from the seraglio.

Working alongside her intelligence-agent husband, Emily penetrates the strange and exotic world of eunuchs and concubines. She bathes in the hammam. She stumbles socially in an unimaginably remote culture where women are all at once captives and yet more free than their English counterparts, slaves and yet powerful, and where jealousies, illicit affairs and treasonous plots fester despite the walls having countless eyes and ears. The scenery and architecture are gorgeous, the food is incredible, the clothing and jewelry are exquisite, and the leading concubines move with grace, all while an undercurrent of brutal savagery flows not too deep below the surface.

Meanwhile, as Emily struggles to piece clues together, she is hampered by her own frailties and fears – fear for her friend Ivy back home, whose pregnancy has a matter of grave concern; fear that she herself may be with child, a thing she has dreaded since childhood when she heard the screams of an aunt dying in childbirth. And it certainly doesn't help that a high-ranking concubine, known for her gift of prophecy, has given Emily a dire omen of her future.

As Emily moves from one palace and harem to another, in and out of favor with the Sultan, learning something new with each visit, the circuit of luxurious settings grows increasingly, and paradoxically, claustrophobic. An oppressive sense of doom lowers over her like a storm cloud, doing justice to this book's designation as "a novel of suspense." Her rare (for a Westerner) peek into the unique, inner circles of the declining Ottoman Empire reveals both fabulous opulence and morbid rottenness. And when the solution clicks – you'll definitely feel it – Emily's genius, daring, foolishness and vulnerability combine to put her in breathtaking danger.

This is the fourth Lady Emily mystery. Coming next is Dangerous to Know, with subsequent titles including (but not limited to) Behind the Shattered Glass, Uneasy Lies the Crown and a soon-to-be-released 17th novel, A Cold Highland Wind.

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