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Slave to Love

The Harem: a deadly game of thrones

She never wanted to be the most powerful woman in the empire.

She has grown up as a nomad on the wild steppes north of the Caucasus. The only walls she has ever known are the animal hides of her family’s tent.

All that is about to change.

One day, some Turkish soldiers appear and order her to go with them. She will never see her family or her clan again.

She is terrified that she is going to be raped and murdered. But her captors treat her well, fearsome as they look. They take her to a vast city called Stamboul, a place so huge and so crowded it is beyond her imagination. There she is imprisoned in a gloomy, wooden palace.

She aches to go home. She yearns for the wide-open spaces and people who speak her language. Instead, she is put into a tiny room and forced to sew clothes. She is taught Arabic and the words of the Koran. She realises she is a slave. Any small infraction of the palace rules is met with brutal punishment.

Such is the life of any girl unlucky enough to be chosen for the sultan's harem.

Contrary to common belief, a harem was not a paradise of baths and murmuring fountains. Quite the opposite. It was a snake pit of jealousy and intrigue. The only way out was to attract the sultan’s eye, not an easy thing to do in a palace of three hundred concubines. But it was essential to find some way into his bed. Those girls who didn't were neglected and forgotten.

Suleiman the Magnificent

Whoever the sultan chose had a chance.

Her preparation for this night of nights was elaborate. First, she was bathed by the Keeper of the Baths in water scented with jasmine and orange. Slaves shampooed her hair with henna and coated her body with a mixture of warm rice flour and oil. She was dressed in clothes of incredible richness. Then the chief black eunuch escorted her to the sultan's bedchamber.

If she pleased him, he might invite her to his bed again. If the invitations became frequent, she become a favourite. She was given her own apartments, slaves, even an allowance.

Should she give birth to a male child, then she became a kadin, one of the sultan's four wives. A kadin was a breath away from power. She was also in extreme danger because only one wife could become the mother of the next sultan, the sultan valide.

To become valide was the pinnacle of achievement for a harem girl. Achieve that, and her power inside the palace and within the empire became absolute. She would rule the harem, while her son would reign supreme over the people who had made her a slave.

The other three wives? Often, they would end up at the bottom of the Bosporus, drowned in a sack.

It was a deadly game of thrones. A slave concubine had to be at all times clever, charming, beautiful, and utterly ruthless if she was to succeed.

These were the choices. This was the game.

This is the story of Harem.

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In the harem you love, you rule… or you die.

Istanbul, 1520: Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman’s greatest sultan, must protect his legacy at all costs. On the battlefields and behind the doors of the forbidden palace, his sons and viziers engage in a game of deadly intrigue for absolute power. And his concubines vie for his favour, whatever the cost. One of them is Hurrem. She knows there is only one way out of the sultan’s gilded prison – catch his eye and bear him a son. In Venice, Abbas is the impetuous and headstrong son of the city’s military commander. He embarks on an ill-advised romantic adventure with horrific and unthinkable consequences. A twist of fate throws Abbas and Hurrem together inside the byzantine world of the Ottoman court. Their intrigues threaten the future of the Ottoman throne – but a terrible death awaits if they are discovered.

From medieval Venice to the slave markets of Algiers, from the mountains of Persia to the Topkapi palace of Istanbul, this is a gripping tale of betrayal, revenge and murder spanning four decades.

Harem has been translated into 15 languages, and on release sold 150,000 copies in Germany. ‘A page-turner. . . This peek behind the walls of the seraglio will seduce lovers of large-scale historical fiction.' Booklist. ‘A great read.' Martina Cole Recommends. ‘A spectacular, haunting tale of malice, obsession and zeal.' Historical Novel Review.

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