Monday, July 7, 2008

The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman

The Aviary Gate
Katie Hickman
Bloomsbury USA
352 pages
Book provided by Bloomsbury USA through Shelf Awareness

The parchment, when Elizabeth found it, was the amber colour of old tea, frail as leaf mould.
~ Prologue, Oxford: the present day, and so begins The Aviary Gate ~

The story follows Oxford researcher Elizabeth Staveley as she uncovers the 400-year-old story of Celia Lamprey, a sea captain's daughter engaged to merchant-turned-diplomat Paul Pindar when she's lost in a shipwreck. Celia doesn't drown, of course. She becomes a concubine-in-training in Constantinople, where Paul serves as secretary to the British Embassy. When the embassy sends a gift to the sultan (a ship made of spun sugar), Paul finds out that Celia is alive and well. Meanwhile, the sultan's chief black eunuch has been poisoned and as his favorite concubine battles for supremacy with his mother, both women draw Celia into their intrigues.

As I've come to love reading historical fiction I was expecting good things from this book just by looking at the cover art work which is beautiful. Yes I'm guilty of attempting to judge a book by it's cover. Alas, it started a bit slowly while the author lays the groundwork for the various story lines. I did find it all a bit confusing until about 1/2 way through and almost put it down a couple of times. Once the author starts tying the story lines together it then picks up speed and becomes a rather enjoyable read. I always find the courtesan and harem lifestyles fascinating and no less so in this book. There is such an aura and sense of the secretive surrounding this way of life especially for the females.

While reading the book I kept feeling it was set in the 1800s instead of the very late 1500s and had to keep reminding myself of the time frame. I suppose this was due to the vocabulary and speech patterns of the main characters. In addition usually clothing and place descriptions are a good indicator of time frame and these didn't really set it for me either.

I did immensely enjoy moving between modern day Oxford and ancient Constantinople. I always love moving through history current and past and tying two story lines together. While it doesn't make my top reading recommendations of this year you should give it a try if you like historical fiction.

** If you've read the book and posted a review on your blog feel free to leave the link in a comment on this post for others to check out **


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