Publishing year: 2012
The novel starts in 1576 in Venice.
The doge is worried because the plague has broken out, and when he consults six of the famous doctors in the city, they don’t come up with any real remedies. When those doctors are dismissed, he calls Andrea Palladio, an architect. The doge, Sebastian Venier, thinks that the plague is the result of the vice and sin in the streets of Venice, so he asks Andrea to build a magnificent church where the Monastery of Santa Croce used to be and now there are only ruins.
The story then takes us to Constantinople a month before. We are introduced to Feyra, a young woman, whose father is a sea captain for the sultan. Feyra is a kira, that is a go-in-between for the women of the harem and the outside world, and also a medicine woman. Feyra serves Nur Banu, the mother of the sultan. The day that she arrives in the palace, she finds Nur Banu, doubled with pain and calling for Cecilia Baffo. Feyra discovers that Nur Banu has been poisoned by some grapes, a present from the dogaressa of Genoa. Then Nur Banu tells her a shocking story. Nur Banu’s real name is Cecilia Baffo and comes from Venice, the niece of the doge Sebastiano Venier. Her father wanted to marry an old man, but during a ball in her palace she met a seaman who she fell in love with and fled with. The man is Feyra’s father, and Nur Banu fell pregnant. The baby she eventually had is Feyra, but destiny meddled in her life, and when the sultan once saw her, he claimed her and sent the baby with her father. Feyra learns that Nur Banu is her mother in the last moment of her life. Nur Banu tells her that she has to go to Venice and see a man called Saturday; she admits that her son is cruel and plans something terrible for the city. She talks about four different horses, and gives Feyra a ring with a engraving with the horses. Yet, Feyra isn’t able to learn more because Nur Banu dies.
When the woman dies, Feyra leaves, and her master, the doctor, tells him that her father will be sent to Venice and she must warn him not to board that ship. In the palace we witness the interview between the sultan and Feyra’s father. We learn that it is the sultan who has killed his own mother, making it look as the poisoning came from the dogaressa. The sultan orders him to sail to Venice and plant a terrible trap for the city. Besides, the sultan orders him to send his daughter to him as a wife of his harem.
Back at home, Feyra and her father are afraid and even though they decide to escape, their intentions are thwart when the sultan men come for her father. Some guards remain outside the house so that they can drive her to the palace and to the sultan. Feyra can’t stomach the thought of becoming a wife to her own brother, so she escapes through the back door and sneaks into the ship and hides in the hold. There she keeps hidden behind the supplies, and apart from that, the men load a sarcophagus. At some point during the voyage, Feyra feels sick: hot with fever and she finds a bulbous under her arm. I guess that she had the plague, but miraculously, she finally gets over it. Then a voice calls her, and she realizes it comes from the sarcophagus. A man is inside, who calls himself death, and he tells him that he fell sick with the plague, and the sultan decided to give him a mission. He’s supposed to mingle with the people from Venice and spread the disease.
Now Feyra wants to prevent this from happening. I wonder what she’ll do to stop this wicked plan.
The beginning is great. The tone is different from the one in The Botticelli Secret. I miss the humour we had with Luciana; that gave the novel a balanced mixture of seriousness and humour. So far there is no love interest for Feyra; actually, Feyra tries to hide her beauty and avoid men completely. I imagine that at some point there will be a nice man for her.