Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: The Fourth Queen

I read Debbie Taylor's The Fourth Queen last week-I really liked it! Here is a synopsis:

Helen Gloag runs away from her well-to-do Scottish home early one morning after a fight with her step-mother. She ends up on a ship bound for the Boston. It is 1769. She is pregnant. This is the least of her problems. The ship is captured by Barbary pirates and she is taken as a slave. At the procurer's house she is selected by the Moroccan Emperor's emissary: a dwarf and an old crone. Helen is alone and frightened, for she does not speak Arabic, and seemingly nobody speaks English. The crone quickly recognizes that Helen is pregnant and terminates it immediately, so that she may become part of the Emperor's harem.

Interspersed with Helen's story are journal entries by the dwarf-Microphilus. We learn early on that he has fallen in love with Helen-and will do whatever he can to make her fall in love with him-beginning with the revelation that he is Scottish and also speaks English.

In the Emperor's harem we learn that this whole world revolves around sex. In 1796 Morocco, the Emperor is allowed 4 wives, but countless concubines. A ll the men in the Emperor's harem are eunuch's-with the exception of Microphilus. The king assumes he is a eunuch because of his size, and thus hasn't a clue that Microphilus has been the lover of the first queen Batoom for years. The Emperor selects his women for the week every Thursday-and few are requested more than once. We follow Helen as she is selected immediately, but she does not understand what is expected of her-she does not even realizes that this is the emperor-and is thrown from his chamber. The Emperor is known for his cruelty and Helen's life could have easily been taken for her disobedience.  Microphelius enlists Batoom's help and as translator he ensures Helen is tutored in the ways of a lover in the hopes that she will be given another chance by the emperor-he cannot bear the thought of losing her.

She is in fact given another chance and ends up falling in love with the Emperor, and as we can conclude form the title she does indeed become the Fourth Queen-but at what price.  The Queen she replaces was sent away, another is has a mysterious illness and is wasting away- nobody can figure out why-and Helen quickly joins her in sickness. 

The Fourth Queen is a scandalous tale, a romance, a mystery, and an historical fiction novel, all rolled into one. The book reminded me of The Tenth Gift which also involves a Scottish woman brought into the Moroccan Emperor's harem against her will. It is also comprised of two stories, however in the Tenth Gift the first narrative is in present day England and the second in 1625 Morocco. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it!!

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