If you knew absolutely nothing about this book and I said that it was set in the 16th century, featured a royal princess who needed to fight and scheme for her royal rights, court intrigue, illicit romance, murders and so much more, you might think Elizabeth I, or maybe Mary, Queen of Scots. Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi was a contemporary of those two women but instead of looming large on the world stage, Pari's power was concentrated in the harem and the court of Iran.
Pari is the beloved daughter of the Shah Tahmasb, and she is one of his closest advisors. When he dies, she puts her own grief to one side and begins to corral the powerbrokers of the court to bring them together to protect the throne for her brother Isma'il as he makes the journey from exile back to the Royal Court to claim his throne. Pari fully expects that, in gratitude and in recognition of her actions, Isma'il will name her as one of his chief advisors and she will help him reign. But, in a familiar tale the world over, many of the most influential figures in the court are threatened by a strong woman who they say should be at home looking after her children and not asserting herself into the volatile political world. Rather than giving Pari the power she desires, Isma'il is convinced that she is a threat to him and treats her accordingly.
With the shahs having several wives and many children, there are lots of possible contenders for the throne and so Pari has plenty of scope for intrigue and for planning but would the viziers and appointees that people the court follow Pari if, or maybe it should be when, there is a need to find yet another Shah in due course.
Pari's story is told by the eunuch who rose through the ranks at court to the exalted rank of her vizier. Javaher was something of a rarity among the eunuchs in that he chose to be made into a eunuch at the age of 16, having experienced the joys of sexual love rather than being forced to have the operation as a young boy.
Whilst Pari's story was the focus of the novel, Javaher's own story was also very interesting. The reason why he chose to be castrated was so that he would come to court to serve the Shahs but also to try and find out what exactly happened to his father. He was an accountant who had risen to the top of the court, but then he was accused of treason and killed leaving Javaher to look after his sister and mother. As a eunuch, Javaher can access the parts of the harem that are off limits to normal men. Many eunuchs traded the secrets of the court, and Javaher is no exception, acting as Pari's eyes and ears as well as messenger and co-conspirator.
I read and absolutely loved this author's first book, Blood of Flowers which I read nearly five years ago now. As soon as I heard that there was a new Anita Amirrezvani book coming out, I was very excited! Whilst this one wasn't quite as good as Blood of Flowers for me, I did find it very interesting to read, mainly because it is a such a different setting within which to look a the lives of women than you find in your normal run of the mill historical fiction novel. There are times when the details that the author provide crowd out the plot and yet it is hard to be critical because of lot of those details were fascinating for the most part. The food, the clothes, the palace were all detailed in a way that leapt off the page. Sometimes though, those details slowed down the action. I was a little bit surprised at how graphic the castration scene and the after effects were (left me feeling a bit squeamish just like the foot binding scenes do when you read historical fiction set in China) and also by the scenes talking about Javaher's sexuality.
I will definitely be looking forward to Anita Amirrezvani's next book. I just hope that we don't have to wait another five years for it!
Legendary women--from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots--changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf of their sons, and ruled in their own right. In "Equal of the Sun, "Anita Amirrezvani's gorgeously crafted tale of power, loyalty, and love in the royal court of Iran, she brings one such woman to life, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi. Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah's daughter and protege, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but the princess's maneuvers to instill order after her father's sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, are in possession of an incredible tapestry of secrets and information that reveals a power struggle of epic proportions.
Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, "Equal of the Sun "is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of the unlikely bond between a princess and a eunuch. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and in her lustrous prose this rich and labyrinthine world comes to vivid life with a stunning cast of characters, passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.
Thanks to the publisher and TLC Booktours for providing a review copy of this book. Don't forget to check out the fascinating guest post - Why I Love to Write About Eunuchs - from Anita.
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