Tasha Alexanders fourth book in her Lady Emily Ashton (now Hargreaves) series has Emily in Constantinople honeymooning with adoring husband Colin, a diplomat and investigator of the British Crown. When suspicious events followed by murders occur, Emily seems unable to keep herself away from the role she loves best - investigating and solving injustice acts. There are many suspects. The twilight of the Ottoman Empire simmers with power struggles between Sultan Abdul-Hamid, deposed Sultan Murad V, their chief eunuchs and viziers, and other suspects, some of them British.
Emilys explorations take her to famous Constantinople places, including the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, the bazaars, womens haman (bath), and the Roman built water cisterns. Much of action, however, occurs within two imperial harems, the Topakapi, ruled by the former Valide Sultan Bezime (later Pertevniyal), and Yildiz, ruled by Valide Perestu, mother of the reigning sultan. Lady Emily, given her gender and class, is able to enter these forbidden places where secrets between the valides and the concubines slowly are revealed.
Alexander has clearly relied on Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who in 1717 described the lives of upper class Ottoman women. But Montagus much earlier observations perhaps have little relevance to late 19th century institutions. And, Emilys ease in asserting her authority within these spaces overreaches reality.
The story does reflects Wortleys positive views about aspects of Turkish womens lives which compared favorably with those of her English peers. It also reveals the possibility of a relatively equalitarian relationship with ones husband and ones maid, while reminding readers of womens fears of the age old dangers of childbirth, where deaths of both child and mother were still common.
A brief Authors Note included.
See this sites inclusion of Lady Montagu in Women as Cultural Emissaries
Read about our curriculum unit Message for the Sultan: 16th Century Ottoman Turkey