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 protégé, 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.
Anita Amirrezvani's latest novel, Equal of the Sun, transports readers to 16th century Iran. At the centre of the story is Iranian princess Pari Khan Khanoom, daughter of the Shah. Although Pari lives in a male-dominated society, she becomes her father's closest adviser due to her unrivaled knowledge and understanding of court politics. When the Shah dies suddenly without naming an heir, the country falls into chaos. Putting her prodigious skills as a courtier to use, Pari works tirelessly to install her brother Isma'il on the throne, hoping he will reward her efforts by naming her his chief adviser. While her efforts on behalf of Isma'il are successful, her aspiration to become his chief advisor goes unrealized, and ultimately contribute to the power struggles that characterize Isma'il's reign. At Pari's side is her chief adviser, Javaher, a eunuch whose loyalty to his princess never wavers. Together, they must navigate their way through an increasingly treacherous court, one where it is difficult to tell friend from foe.
The greatest strength of this novel lies with Amirrezvani's conveyance of the customs and conventions of the royal court, especially as they pertain to women. Whether Pari or Javaher are in audience with the Shah or simply trying to collect information through associates in the royal harem, the reader is given great insight into life at court. Although Pari is at the heart of this novel, I feel it is her trusted adviser Javaher, from whose perspective the story is told, who is the real star of the book. Although born into the nobility, Javaher's father is accused of treason and put to death. To prove his loyalty to the court, Javaher does the unthinkable and voluntarily becomes a eunuch. Amerizzvani does a masterful job developing Javaher's character, showing his determination to balance his service to his princess while at the same time attempting to uncover the truth about his father's death. She also successfully conveys Javaher's inner struggles to come to terms with his decision to become a eunuch.
Given my knowledge of Iranian history is limited, I was immediately drawn to this novel because reading it would present me with the opportunity to learn about historical people and places of which I know little. Upon reading the first couple of chapters, however, I wasn't immediately sure that the historical components of the novel would be detailed enough to meet my expectations. Nevertheless, by the time I finished I realized my concerns were unfounded, as I had, in fact, learned an awful lot. Although it did take me a bit of time to connect with the novel's characters and story lines, by the midway point, when court power struggles and intrigues come to the forefront of the story, I found the book difficult to put down. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Note: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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