Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The Drowning Guard’ |

Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The Drowning Guard’

by Susan Cottle on behalf of the Pitkin County Library

‘The Drowning Guard’

Linda Lafferty

Paperback: 414 pages

Amazon Publishing

I delved into this richly woven tale with little knowledge of the Ottoman Empire and was expertly introduced to it by the author’s deft descriptions of the sights, sounds, sins and socio-political milieu of 19th-century Constantinople.

Linda Lafferty’s “The Drowning Guard” offers up a colorful cast of characters, from the beautiful, spoiled and mysterious Esma Sultan and her ruthless brother Sultan Mahmud, to a host of other carefully articulated characters, including a devilish eunuch, a bewitching harem girl and an endearing horse master.

We find out early on that Esma Sultan has an appalling habit of sending her Christian lovers to be drowned by the formidable giant Janissary guard, Ahmed Kadir. Ahmed is revolted by the blood on his hands and abhors the Sultaness. But when she begins to smell foul odors undetected by others, dreams of men who have eyes “clouded with death,” and starts to waste away, he finds out that she shares more with him than he could have imagined.

As the plot wends these two unlikely souls together, so does it skillfully intertwine the lives of other characters who may not be all that they seem, making for some unexpected plot twists.

Lafferty paints scenes of palaces and harems, mass murder and polo matches, marketplaces and aromatic meals equally well, delivering a fascinating tapestry of life in 1800s Constantinople (what is today Istanbul). She elegantly inserts history lessons, Islamic law, secrets of the harem, and other well-researched details to educate, entertain and ultimately draw the reader more deeply into her story.

Though set in a crushingly patriarchal society, Lafferty brings her female characters into the light, casting them as the book’s heroines. Their show of strength, solidarity, self-sacrifice and their creative solutions to tyranny play an important part in bringing peace to a land dominated by men hungry for power at all costs.

I recommend “The Drowning Guard” to anyone who wants to time-travel to a fascinating city at a complex time in its history or who simply wants a great read about star-crossed lovers, secret tunnels, mysticism and evil eunuchs. I can’t wait to see where Linda Lafferty will take us next.