Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul
Author: Michael David Lukas
Publisher: Harper (an imprint of HarperCollins)
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Edition: ARC
* Won through Shelf Awareness.

Summary from GoodReads:
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.

My Thoughts:

Eleonora Cohen is not your typical eight year old girl. Her mother died giving birth to her, a flock of purple and white hoopoes follow her about, and more importantly, she's extremely bright for a girl her age. When her father's business takes him to Stamboul, Eleonora can't bear to be left with her stepmother and hides away in one of the trunks that contain her father's rugs. Once there, Eleonora meets Moncef Bay, a friend of her father's--as well as the man that they're staying with--and when a tragic event strikes, leaving her in Stamboul with Moncef Bay she is ultimately sucked into politics (well, rather, her name becomes known to the Sultan due to the connection with Moncef Bay). Suddenly the Sultan is seeking her advice and she's faced with a set of choices that will forever change her life.

The Oracle of Stamboul is a charming, descriptive story that will make you want to break out a birding book (or use the internet) when faced with the names of the different types of birds mentioned within. Granted of course that the birds are not the focal point of this story, Eleonora is. For an eight year old girl, she's extremely bright and her advice, if anything, is quite sound. She loves to read (a habit which I always adore in a character) and she's quite good at everything she attempts to do. I feel like I should note that the story is told in third person (which worked quite well with the storyline) and that in encompasses Eleonora's birth to the end of her time as the Oracle of Stamboul.

The Oracle of Stamboul was certainly an interesting and descriptive read--and by descriptive, I mean that it really does paint a picture for you, one that you might sorely wish to step into. If the storyline seems interesting to you, I'd definitely tell you to go for it--although if you're skeptical, there's always the library as a viable option (or perhaps open the book to a random page and see how well you like the writing style). The opening does seem to drag a little, but once Eleonora gets onto the boat things do get more interesting. The pace is pretty steady throughout and well, the ending certainly wasn't what I was expecting, though I can understand Eleonora's decision.

Overall Rating: ★★★★

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