The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer by Lucille Turner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
”The bitter smoke of cannon fire poked its fingers through gaping holes the size of ships in the great double wall that enclosed the city of Constantinople--the wall that had withstood the Varchonites, repelled the first of the Mohammedans and tormented the Norsemen. It hung about the turrets and the shattered towers in garlands of honeyed gossamer.”
Murad II, the Ottoman Sultan, has dreamed his whole life that he would conquer Constantinople, but the soothsayer has told him that it won’t be him. It will be his son and heir, Mehmet. He wasn’t supposed to be the one to rule the Ottoman Empire, but when his older brother Aladdin was strangled to death under unusual circumstances, the middle son became the oldest son.
Meanwhile, further North in Wallachia, there is a brooding Rumani named Vlad Dracul, a prince with a throne but also a vassal of the Sultan. He is caught between the Catholics and the Greeks of Constantinople and the Turks in the South. His heart is with the Greeks, and his friendship is with the Catholic Hungarians, but his oath has been made to the Sultan. He is caught in a cauldron of religious disagreement, but the real reason for war will be the age old need for conquest.
Vlad has a bigger problem. He has the family sickness and so does his middle son, Vlad. They have seizures that grip them like death, but once the seizure is over, they are stronger than ever. On St. Andrew's night, which is the equivalent of Halloween for Romanians, the 29th of November, doors and locks are no barriers to strigois. The Night of the Vampires is an evening when all should retire early and lock, bolt, and block all your doors. The father has developed some control, but the restlessness in the middle of the night is something he still shares with his son. When Murad demands his sons as hostages to insure his continued loyalty, Vlad takes the two younger ones, but the oldest, Mircea, is left in Wallachia as regent.
The middle son, Vlad, has a similar problem to the one that Mehmet had. He is not the oldest son. He is a spare, at best, until something happens to his brother. He knows something is wrong with himself, but is unsure what this strange illness is. Both Vlad and Mehmet were born knowing that their destiny is much larger than even what their fathers can comprehend.
If you are looking for battle scenes with lobbed off limbs, spurting blood, and epic ball vibrating, sword clashing, hand to hand combat, this is not your book. Any battles that happen occur off the stage. What Lucille Turner has done is taken us inside the meetings where political alliances, intimidations, and betrayals are happening before our very eyes. She has done her research, and even though I’m not an expert on 15th century history, I have read enough to know that the history she uses is authentic.
I especially enjoyed the infatuation of Murad with his Serbian hostage Mara Brankovic. A young girl so ethereally beautiful that she makes men go weak in the knees, and if they gaze into her gold flecked, blue eyes, they are lost forever. Murad is used to women prostrating themselves at his feet, but Mara is a princess who would have been a king if she’d been born a boy. Murad sends her presents; she sends them back. He sends her poetry and receives a tepid response, as if he left her his laundry list instead of his heart engraved in words. He can take her anytime he wants. It is his right, but he is old enough and philosophical enough to know that taking her against her will is not nearly as satisfying as complete capitulation. He wants her to want him.
A man, even a Sultan, can dream.
Turner also explores the difficult relationships between fathers and sons. Discovering that your son is a brilliant tactician, but a psychopath. Do the ends justify the means? Turner ends this book just as we are seeing Vlad and Mehmet on the way to reaching the pinnacles of their powers. Fast forwarding just a bit, we would see that things do not always go well for either one of them. I do wish that Turner would have had time to explore the world of John Palaiologos, the Greek Emperor, and his brother Constantine further, but she has so many balls in the air that I perfectly understand keeping them as background characters. I wish for more about them because I know so little about them. The interesting thing is the fact that the Catholics and the Orthodox Greeks would have been stronger together. Their religions are even very similar, but there is also a natural rivalry between them that kept them from forming a strong alliance.
Vlad prefered the Greeks, but was close friends with Governor Janos Hunyadi of the Hungarians, who also represented the interests of Rome in this region. The question is, will Vlad betray his truce with the Turks to help the Greeks? If the Catholics rally to the cause of the Greeks, would they save Constantinople? Can Vlad bring them together?
I absolutely could not put this book down. The politics of this region and time are fascinating. The diverse, powerful cultures, each desiring control, are intent on growing their influence. Each wishes to consume the other. The vampire aspects of the story are more about the history of vampirism and the effects of this disease on Vlad Draculi and his son. This is a historical fiction book with mild aspects of mysticism and supernatural. The Draculi family did exist, and for the purposes of this book, she focuses on the historical aspects of the male line and not so much the blood sucking fiend that Bram Stoker wrote about so brilliantly.
This book is so much more serious than I expected, but it is not tedious or bogged down with historical facts. It reads...well...like a well written novel. I’m looking forward to Turner’s next book, which hopefully will be a sequel to this one. Highly recommended!
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