Review: The Oracle of Stamboul

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Oracle of StamboulThe Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Published by Harper on February 8, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Magical Realism
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Late in the summer of 1877, a flock of purple-and-white hoopoes suddenly appears over the town of Constanta on the Black Sea, and Eleonora Cohen is ushered into the world by a mysterious pair of Tartar midwives who arrive just minutes before her birth. "They had read the signs, they said: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. It was a prophecy that their last king had given on his deathwatch." But joy is mixed with tragedy, for Eleonora's mother dies soon after the birth.

Raised by her doting father, Yakob, a carpet merchant, and her stern, resentful stepmother, Ruxandra, Eleonora spends her early years daydreaming and doing housework—until the moment she teaches herself to read, and her father recognizes that she is an extraordinarily gifted child, a prodigy.

When Yakob sets off by boat for Stamboul on business, eight-year-old Eleonora, unable to bear the separation, stows away in one of his trunks. On the shores of the Bosporus, in the house of her father's business partner, Moncef Bey, a new life awaits. Books, backgammon, beautiful dresses and shoes, markets swarming with color and life—the imperial capital overflows with elegance, and mystery. For in the narrow streets of Stamboul—a city at the crossroads of the world—intrigue and gossip are currency, and people are not always what they seem. Eleonora's tutor, an American minister and educator, may be a spy. The kindly though elusive Moncef Bey has a past history of secret societies and political maneuvering. And what is to be made of the eccentric, charming Sultan Abdulhamid II himself, beleaguered by friend and foe alike as his unwieldy, multiethnic empire crumbles?

The Oracle of Stamboul is a marvelously evocative, magical historical novel that will transport readers to another time and place—romantic, exotic, yet remarkably similar to our own.

This is another book that receives the label of ‘disappointing’ from me. The time period is an exceedingly interesting one: the Ottoman Empire is on the verge of collapse in the days before WWI, trying to navigate the stormy waters of international politics. Eleonora, too, is a really interesting character (to me at least), what with her incredible intelligence and love of literature. Somehow though, this does not equal a thrilling tale.

The story, such as it is, plods along incredibly slowly. There is little action (and when there is a more exciting thing, like a sinking ship, the narration skips from the beginning to the aftermath. Plot was definitely lacking. I never identified any real purpose to the story, aside from the really lame and said-straight-out comments in the brief epilogue.

Despite being historical fiction, the story didn’t do anything with the history at all. It was such a waste. Ellie’s hinted powers were wasted as well. What of her connection with animals? What else can she do? The ending seemed not so much the intended conclusion as an escape from the author not knowing how to conclude the story he had begun. The book is not particularly long, so there was definitely room for more narration, but it just ends, unsatisfactorily.

I mentioned before that I found Eleonora to be an interesting character. However, the narration follows a number of different people, most of whom I had absolutely no interest in. For example, Reverend Muehler irritated me from the beginning and got perpetually worse (and is plot line was never tied up).

For me, this book showed a lot of promise in subject matter and is well-written, but fails to achieve much of anything. Of course, looking at other reviews, I find that many people loved it. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

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