This installment : a Persian historical novel; Armenian historical novel, and yet another Scandinavian mystery.
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvanni
Her first novel, The Blood of Flowers, featured an impoverished tragic heroine and an interleaving of history and fable. I liked it a lot. This one also takes place in long-ago Iran but the protagonist is a high-ranking woman. Legendary Princess Peri has a great understanding of the inner workings of court but is thwarted at every turn by her gender. When her father dies his successor is up for grabs and she manages to manipulate an outcome that seemed to be the most positive choice. Not. Things turn worse and eventually it's chaos all around (a fascinating foreshadowing of current Middle East struggles). The narrator is her eunuch, Javaher, who was "cut late" so he retains some manly aspects. The language tends to formal and flowery, as befits the era (for instance,Javaher addresses Peri as "Lieutenant of my life,"); there are rhyming poems, phrases in Farsi, and a legend of bravery from old lore that plays out in segments throughout the book. It took me a while to get into it, what with the intricacies of historical events (history isn't "my thing") but I'm glad I stuck it out. Especially fascinating: the sex lives of eunuchs.
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
It took me a while to connect with this book, what with shifting back in forth from Syria in 1915 to current day America. But when I caught on that it covered different generations in the same family, the various strands started to braid together and draw me in. All the talk of "starving Armenians" from my childhood came to devastating life, as the Turks and Germans attempted to decimate the locals back then, with grisly success. A young American woman, Elizabeth, comes to Aleppo to help, falls in love with a heartbroken Armenian man, gets involved with the plight of a particular orphan, and stays on after the delegation she arrived with leaves. Bohjalian is a solid storyteller, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about a dim but haunting corner of history which the powers that be tried desperately to cover up.
Last Will by Lisa Markland
Another fascinating Scandinavian mystery. A very peculiar assassination at a Nobel-prize dinner baffles everyone, from motive to method. Why did they pick a committee chair and how did the killer get through security? Annike, a reporter, is right on the spot but hamstrung by police procedure and can't make her knowledge public. Her marriage is in trouble, her job is on the fence, but she perseveres and finally pieces together the story, a sorry tale of multinational big-pharma greed. We also learn the odd, sad story of Alfred Nobel. And oh what a chilling "weapon"--a murderer known as The Kitten. Riveting.
Back next Tuesday (Monday’s a holiday).