The Drowning Guard
When you are an officer in the Ottoman army, you do as you are told by the Sultan and his family. If Esma Sultana, favored sister of Mahmud II, commands you to drown her Christian lover in Constantinople’s Bosphoros Strait, you do it. However, performing this gruesome task night after night after night, then delivering the desperate man’s final words to the Sultana’s eunuch, is tearing Ivan Postivich apart.
Then Postivich is taken to the Sultana’s palace. It seems that Esma is tormented by horrific visions and thinks that confession might ease her conscience. After all, Ivan Postivich shares her moral burden and won’t be able to judge her, but he might understand what she is going through. Postivich would rather break the woman’s neck for her crimes, but to refuse her would be suicide. He listens to Esma’s side of the story and slowly comes to believe her. Postivich also begins to love Esma despite her appalling acts. However, Esma has also proven herself to be ruthless. Now that she has told Postivich her secrets, can he survive?
In her historical drama, Linda Lafferty invokes Scheherazade as she introduces us to the real-life Esma Sultana, born in 1778. Elevated by birth beyond many of the strictures applied to Muslim women, Esma owned her own palaces and had her own harem of women rescued from slavery. Lafferty does a terrific job weaving fact and fiction into a lush psychological tale which will haunt you, just as Esma and Ivan Postivich are haunted by their intertwined deeds.