The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

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The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: A magical tale set in the mystical Middle East. The central character, a young girl called Eleonora Cohen, does not let personal tragedy and humble beginnings stand in her way of making her mark on the world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755377701

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The book is set in the Ottoman Empire and the reader is given a potted history of those times,. Wars, troops, Rome and the Byzantines all get a passing mention ... and a baby called Eleonora is born. Sadly, her mother does not make it and it's left to her father to bring her up. He struggles and decides the best thing for himself, but more importantly, for his young daughter, is to enter into a marriage of convenience with a member of his extended family. Domestic life rumbles along, but underneath the surface, things are brewing ...

The reader gets a taste of things to come as early as Eleonora's birth. Why did she survive and her mother die? Was it just luck - or something else? And we also get a strong flavour of division in the story's location A filthy city ... filled with Turks. There is no doubting strong feelings and deep-seated hatred among the inhabitants. It cannot bode well and what's more Eleanora and her small family unit are outsiders: they are Jewish.

Interspersed with Eleonora's humble life story is the grandest of grand lives. The Sultan, no less. ... Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, servant to the Holy Cities, Caliph of Islam, Commander of the Faithful, and Supreme Padishal of various realms ... Now there's an introduction to make the reader sit up and take notice. And I did. I almost felt as if I had to sit up a little straighter in my armchair, he's so regal. He only has to lift an eyebrow and servants run to obey his every wish and whim. And the contrast with young Eleanora could not be greater and of course, that's the whole point. It all makes for interesting reading. Lukas also gives his readers a sense of place, a sense of the local culture.

There's an illuminating piece where His Excellency is being brought up to date by one of his advisers The Russians wanted Kars, the French had long coveted the Levant, and the Greeks wouldn't stop until they got their grimy paws on Stamboul. And so we come to The Oracle of Stamboul (the title of the book) and you may be surprised to find out how it all comes about. Lukas skilfully weaves his magic: believable characters set in an other-wordly culture. And as the plot develops the paths of the poor, but gifted Eleanora and the ultra-rich and powerful Sultan cross and cross again. But we have to remember that she is still a young girl, she's not even into her teens. But it's almost as if she's lived several lives already. Can she continue to hold it all together? A tall order.

Lukas has created a terrific character in Eleanora. She's very bright and clever, but she's not arrogant. And as she grapples with things and ideas and concepts way beyond her young years, the reader is also taken on an enchanting journey of discovery with her. The whole story is saved from being over-sentimental by Lukas's elegant and poetic style. There are many beautiful phrases and sentences such as: The morning came smothered in a heap of goose down and shadows and Eleonora lay curled around herself like a dried leaf ... There are also some good examples of individuals who are not really comfortable with Eleanor and her 'gift'. She embarks on several adventures. Some of the conversations she has with others, notably grown-ups, are delightful. This is an adventure story written with elegance and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might like to try The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman and The Walls of Byzantium (The Mistra Chronicles) by James Heneage.

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Buy The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas at


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