by Amie O'Brien
Page Count: 466 (according to Amazon)
Release Date: July 24, 2016
Format: Kindle E-Book
How got: free from author
First attention getter: setting
As a missionary’s daughter, Sarai was taught that love and faith conquer all. But when her parents are murdered, she quickly learns that the world doesn’t stop for love.
As a teen, Sarai—now called Leila—is enslaved, a palace concubine-in-waiting for the Ottoman Sultan Aziz. Though she does her best to elude him, she’s forced out of her shell when his son, Prince Emre, claims her for his own. Tossed into competition with the other girls in his harem, Leila must face the lavish attention of her young master and the resulting retaliation from his prior favorite, Aster. But it’s an unexpected gift and a glimpse inside his family’s struggles that collide headfirst with Leila’s upbringing. Soon, despite her better judgment, she finds her heart has a mind of its own.
Can she subject her faith and independent spirit to such a future—a future in which the best she can hope for is to be his favorite? How will she stand sharing him with the other girls in the harem? As the sultan’s fragile kingdom unravels around them, will it even matter?
Star Rating - 3.5
For a self-published work, this novel has a lot going for it. The author put in the effort to research her timeframe and society setting, not an effort many put in with a harem setting. I also loved the slow build for our main relationship for most of the book. Yet, there are some issues that keep this from true stardom.
1870s Ottoman Empire is a world in flux, the modern world and European powers encroaching on a traditional Muslim world. Told through the eyes of a captive Ottoman prince and his harem favorite love, the reader gets an in-depth and intimate look at a powerful family in freefall from power. Just a short 40 years after this book’s events, the Sultanate and the empire they rule fall. I was as intrigued by the political conversations and maneuverings as I was our main relationship.
I appreciated the time and care the author took in building our relationship into something believable and real. Most historical romances don't take this route, instead of going straight for the sexy times. This is especially true of a harem setting. Emre and Leila reached a pinnacle of mutual respect and friendship before they even start to think of a physical consummation of their relationship. Starting out as friends first is always the best way to build a relationship, I feel, so I was very pleased to see that here.
I also enjoyed our lead’s personalities overall. Emre was the perfect blend of a gentleman and friend. He respected Leila as an individual, enjoying her mind and personality just as much as her physical form. Being trapped in the insular society that was Ottoman palace and harem politics made his personality stand out all the more as he had to please other parties besides himself, so acting in a way that was hard for him and his dealings with different hair him and family members.
My like for her starting out strong way, Leila proved herself to be a strong, iron-willed gal who didn't take gruff from her fellow harem members while also possessing an equally strong diplomatic streak. Ever since the death of her parents, Leila’s life has been one tragedy or struggle after another. So her finally finding a meaningful relationship with Emre and other harem members gladdened the heart.
Yet, as the story progresses, she started to wear on the nerves. She'd blow hot and cold on Emre, alternately wanting to be with him then punishing him for small, sometimes even imagined, slights with silence and the cold shoulder treatment. The latter half of the book contained these instances more and more, as we went along. By the time we got to the end, at times, I felt like Emre could have done better.
I also felt that this book was far too long. Clocking in at over 400 pages, this book felt like it had extra padding. The relationship journey between Emre and Leila could have been told in half their scenes together. Repeated themes and the conversation topics bogged down their time together in the latter half. Maybe that's why Leila started to grind on me a bit; she was rehashing emotions and thought patterns that I felt should have been resolved or at least evolved by that point.
Still, at the end of the day, this read stands out far above other historical romance titles in the harem sub-genre. It takes the time to explore the world of the Ottoman Empire and the many political maneuvering's that were a part of daily life, both within the harem and without. The main relationship is also build up with a firm foundation and respect and friendship, with romance coming after that. Our leads are relatable for the most part and enjoyable, with occasional bursts of irksome behavior from our heroine. While the heft of this volume is daunting and unnecessary in many places, I'd still look into this title if you're looking for a well-written historical romance.
Note: Book received for free from author in exchange for an honest review.