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Review: Tears of Pearl, by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily Ashton and her husband, Colin Hargreaves, are on their honeymoon to Constantinople, when a girl in the harem, the daughter of an Englishman dies. Lady Emily, at the behest of the English Crown, enters the harem to discover who murdered the girl.

I enjoy reading about the Victorian time period, I really do. I read Tasha Alexander’s first book, And Only to Deceive, and liked it, in a way. The details of Victorian England were well-researched. But here, with the Ottoman Empire, I feel that the author skimped on historical accuracy in order to focus on the exoticness of the location. There was a lot that I found to be in-credible, mainly that Emily as a westerner would be able to come and go in the harem so easily—and that the women there would be so willing to talk to her. Or that a woman of the harem would be able to do what Roxelana tries to do, without any consequences! Also, Emily had free and easy access to the sultan, which wasn’t believable to me, either. I don’t know much about the Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century, so I don’t know if my misgivings about the accuracy are correct or not (for all I know European women took baths frequently with women of the harem). However, I think the author should have at least have attempted a story that seemed realistic.

For all that Emily prides herself on being forward-thinking, she’s still prevented from understanding the players in this particular game by her own narrow views on the Ottoman lifestyle (which she seems to have mostly gleaned from romance novels). And she exhibits no interest in understanding them, either. Even when common sense would dictate that helping Roxelana do what she does is a very, very stupid idea, Emily still assists her. Is it really stupidity on Emily’s part? Or ignorance? In any case, the way that Emily goes about solving the murder of the harem girl is, in her usual way, very single-minded. How can you solve a crime if you don’t even try to understand the people involved?

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the sexual tension between Emily and Colin; they haven’t merely settled down into a life of marital complacency. Things between them are still intriguing and exciting. It’s too bad that the writing seems to have fallen down a bit, because there was a lot of potential here.


Alyce said…
This does sound like it would have been an appealing story if not for the issues you mentioned.
History Buff said…
Katherine and Alyce,

Tasha Alexander has the history right. English women in the nineteenth century did a lot of traveling (solo, in pairs, even without males). And they went to the mid-east, North Africa, and the Orient. We have all sorts of travel books and letters written by them. Just two examples for you. The wife of a British Ambassador to Turkey (he was Lord Layard) was a friend of the Sultan and frequently visited the harem. Lady Ashley Wortley Montagu wrote, among other things, about going to the Turkish baths in Constantinople. And those absolutely fascinating books verify that Lady Emily could have done all those things in Tears of Pearl.

This is a favorite period of mine. I've read a ton about it. I've found Alexander to be extremely careful and accurate. We need to be careful readers and NOT judge on the basis of inaccurate preconceptions about the way things were.

If you want a really good story and also have an easy opportunity to learn about social history, you can rely on Tasha Alexander!

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