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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Charming, Melodious Prose Makes The Oracle of Stamboul Enjoyable, If Not Exciting

(Image from Indiebound)

When a flock of exotic hoopoes descends on the Romanian city of Constanta and two Tartan midwives arrive suddenly at the home of a laboring woman, it's a sign: Something special is happening. It's the birth of a young girl, a cause for celebration, but one that's tinged with sadness as the infant's mother perishes from blood loss. Raised by her devoted father and her stepmother, a woman "dangerously close to thirty, wrung out by life, and profoundly resentful" (8), Eleanora Cohen shows extraordinary intelligence at a very young age. When her parents realize the extent of their child's abilities, they react in different ways - Eleanora's father wants her to study, expand her knowledge, while Ruxandra, her stepmother, insists on limited her learning so as not to scare off potential husbands.

Not at all enamored of her stepmother, 8-year-old Eleanora is distraught when her father announces he's traveling alone to Stamboul (now Istanbul) for a month to sell carpets. Not willing to stay behind, the child stows away in one of her father's trunks. When she arrives in the city, Eleanora's mind fills with the rich sights and sounds of the great city. She's happy spending time with her father, exploring the grand library of his benefactor, and watching the hoopoes who have followed her across the sea. When the Sultan learns of the young savant living in his city, he seeks her company, an invitation that throws the child into the confusing world of politics. As the ruler comes to increasingly rely on Eleanora, she becomes an unwitting adviser to people far and wide on all manner of subjects. When the pressure becomes too great, she must decide how much of herself she's willing to extend to help those around her before she collapses from the weight of so many conflicts. And, of course, there's the matter of her own future ...

The Oracle of Stamboul, a historical novel by newcomer Michael David Lukas, is difficult to summarize because, truly, not a whole lot happens. The story's rich in setting, characters and language, all of which make the book enjoyable, if not exciting. Considering the melodious charm of Lukas' prose, I expected more from his debut - more focus, more story, more magic. As is, the tale lacks that special something it needs to really shine. It's still worth the read, however, for the eloquence with which Lukas writes. Just pack some patience; you'll need it for this slow, meandering trip into the colorful Ottoman Empire.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for vague references to violence

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of The Oracle of Stamboul from the generous folks at Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours, for whom this review was written.


  1. This seems the sort of book that allows you to really "see" the locations in the story because of the author's ability with descriptions. I love being able to visualize the settings in a book so that is definitely a bonus for me.

  2. This seems the sort of book that allows you to really "see" the locations in the story because of the author's ability with descriptions. I love being able to visualize the settings in a book so that is definitely a bonus for me.

  3. I love historical fiction, will add to my list.


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