The Mapmaker’s Daughter
During the reign of the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, young Cecilia Baffo Veniero of Venice is kidnapped by Ottoman pirates and taken to Istanbul. There she catches Suleiman’s attention; he deems her intelligent and strong enough to carry out the dictate of the empire’s most horrifying law when she must. Renamed Nurbanu, she is trained to become the mother of a future sultan, and marries Suleiman’s son Selim. Before he dies, Suleiman orders Nurbanu to follow the horrifying law when her own son becomes sultan.
While this is a decent read, Nurbanu never really seems to come to life. Years sometimes pass in the space of a page, and the flow of the story can be abrupt. Despite the lovely use of language, the setting is dreamlike, rather than descriptive. If the reader doesn’t already know what the locations looked like, or where the cities are in relation to Istanbul, this book won’t give you a concrete sense of the time and the place.
So The Mapmaker’s Daughter is a mixed bag. The good: beautiful language and excellent history (with minor exceptions involving plants). The bad: I never felt I really knew Nurbanu; she seemed oddly aloof from the reader. So when her son Murad becomes sultan and she must order the killing of all the other male heirs, many of them small children, it’s hard to understand why she carries out this appalling law since we don’t really see her character change over the years. (By the way, the oddest incident—the rise and destruction almost immediately of the observatory—turns out to be fact, although the reason for its destruction doesn’t owe anything to Murad’s relationship with his mother.)