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The Aviary Gate: A Novel
by Katie Hickman

Elizabeth Staveley discovers a mysterious fragment of manuscript, the first page of an account of a woman kidnapped at sea.  She has been researching captivity accounts, and is fascinated and sets off on a quest to determine what happened to this Celia Lamprey.

As Elizabeth searches for Celia in our modern era, the book flies to the harem of the Sultan in Constantinople, 1599.  A poison attempt has killed one of the concubines and nearly offed the chief of the eunuchs.  The power struggles between the Sultan's mother and his favored concubine lead to intrigues  and cover-ups, a furious secret activity that Celia Lamprey is thrust into when she is brought forward by the Sultan's mother to be a new favorite for the Sultan (fat and flairless and seemingly oblivious to the furious rivalries and backstabbing surrounding the women of his palace.)

Paul Pindar, a merchant bringing a fancy clock to the Sultan, was once engaged to Celia.  When one of his staff members sees her in the Sultan's palace, will Pindar be able to free the woman he loves?

Confused yet?
Katie Hickman's novel is beautifully rendered and lush with life.  As she describes the pleasure garden of the Sultan Valide, you can hear the breeze whispering in the trees and smell the heavy perfume of the roses.  The exquisite instruments of the Valide's favored astronomer/alchemist are as easy to imagine as the sumptuous sweetmeats and silks the concubines delight in.  The ancient world of Constantinople is exquisitely imagined and it's clear that a lot of research went into this work. 

In comparison, Hickman's renderings of modern-day Turkey and Elizabeth's quest to forget her lover in England and find Celia are intrusive and vague.  Her "research" of Celia relies heavily on intuition and little psychic visions; her constant longing for her lover (who doesn't notice she's gone for weeks) is distracting, and detracts from the main story in the past.  Had Hickman abandoned this Mary-Sue-esque character and kept her account solely in 1599, the story would have been much stronger.  As it is presented, The Aviary Gate simply has too much going on in too few pages.  The many, many different story-lines make it difficult to fully realize several of the main characters, and the flurry of activity can get confusing at times.

That said, Hickman does a wonderful job immersing the reader into the past.  The richness of Hickman's descriptions will transport you to the world of the Sultan's harem.


Well, that's going to be my Amazon.com review up there.  Additional thoughts:

I really, really dislike the current trend of interlacing historical incidents with current researchers.  It's something I first noticed in The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, but at the time I didn't mind it much because that whole series is dippy cheesecake fun anyway.  But I'm seeing it more and more, and it's getting rather ridiculous.  Elizabeth Staveley adds absolutely nothing to the book.  She's whiny, she's lonely, she thinks constantly about her jerk lover Marius; she's that irritating girlfriend you always feel a bit sorry for and listen to her complaints with sympathy, but roll your eyes because she's telling a story she's told at least five times before with a different man playing the title roll.  In other words, she never learns.  Ugh.

It's mildly entertaining, but I'm pretty sure there's better books with the same theme.  Go read one of those.


Buy the book on Amazon.com, or add it to your wishlist.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 8th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)
I requested this book from Shelf Awareness, but never got it. It doesn't sound like I missed much.
Aug. 14th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)
Hmm, sounds like one to miss!
Aug. 14th, 2008 08:15 pm (UTC)
For a moment I though this was the Hickman who wrote the Dragonlance series (a secret favourite of mine, despite its many flaws) -- I'm relieved to find that one hasn't suddenly gotten a bit worse!

Aug. 19th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
I like the Carnation series, but I might not like this if the present-day story is a total dud. However, it sounds fun. I'm all for political intrigue.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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