Publishers Weekly, 1986-05-23 When a sultan of the Ottoman Empire died, even the horses in his funeral procession (aided by pepper placed under their lids) wept. Alive, he had access to an eighth of the world's riches, a harem of nearly 400 women and his murder-minded heirs, all of whom were kept under virtual house arrest pending his demise. This is the world that Chase-Riboud, the prize-winning author of Sally Hemmings, painstakingly evokes. Her book is moored to an irresistible historic footnote; that in 1741, a French-American girl of 14, captured by Algerian pirates at sea, was forcibly placed in the sultan's Istanbul harem where she later bore him a son whose own accession to the throne made her an empress. So long as it adheres to this story, Valide is consistently interesting. The scenes of life in Topkapi Palace and a bewildered girl's perceptions of it, more than make up for the author's superficial characterization. A greater and ultimately debilitating fault lies with Chase-Riboud's tendency to stray too far afield: readers suddenly find themselves in France with Napoleon, at a gaming table in Russia or on the high seas with John Paul Jones. Because of this, the narrative, though often engrossing, falls short of its exceptional promise. (July 16)
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