Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review: Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

I am not normally drawn to books set in the near East, but this was for my book club, and I loved it! The story of Pari, a princess in Iran in 1576, told from the point of view of her eunuch vizier, Javaher. The setting felt very exotic and foreign, and yet it was explained so thoroughly as to not be confusing at all. And it was wild to realize that during this story, which felt like it might be very, very long ago, Elizabeth I was queen of England and this is during modern history.

Pari's father, the Shah, has died and not declared a successor. Chaos and power struggles ignite nearly immediately. Pari has been his primary adviser  working side by side with him for years, and understands how the court works, inside and out. She wishes to serve her people and her brother, whichever brother ends up being Shah, so that everything goes smoothly and there is as little disruption as possible. However, many see her as power-hungry and dangerous, which puts her own life in danger. Javaher's father was executed years ago when he was suspected of plotting against the Shah, shaming his family and impoverishing them. Even though Javaher is older, seventeen at the time, he decides to become a eunuch so he can serve at court and find out who set his father up and is to blame for his death. Meanwhile, he serves Pari as her trusted adviser and helper in all things, including court intrigue.

A fascinating inside look at the court of Iran in the 16th Century, I was captivated by Pari's story, and how she was nearly as powerful as female rules elsewhere, like Mary Queen of Scots and Isabella of Spain, and yet we've never heard of her. While in some ways, what with harems and chadors, women in the Middle East seemed very repressed at the time, in other ways they were far advanced beyond our Western ways, in that they could inherit and hold property and money in their own right. But it is too bad Pari was not a male, as she would have made a wonderful ruler, but perhaps if she had been, she would have been killed at a young age, by other aspirants to the throne. It's impossible to know of course, but her story is an amazing one that deserves to be told, and the side story (completely fictional) of Javaher's search for the truth behind his family's scandal is a nice diversion from the sometimes complicated and heavy machinations of the court. But Pari really did live and really did advise the Shah for many years, wielding great power and influence.

I checked this book out of the library.

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