Monday, May 12, 2014
The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich
3.0 out of 5 stars - Sequel to The Midwife of Venice recreates Constantinople circa 1578 when Sultan Murat III is God of the Ottoman Empire and his mother, Valide, schemes to ensure that he sires many children to continue the line of ascension to the throne.
Hannah and Isaac Levi have left Venice with their adopted son, Matteo, and set up their silk business in the city of Constantinople. Because of Hannah's reputation as a midwife, she is commanded to the palace to examine a new slave girl. This peasant Jew, Leah, has attracted the attention of the Sultan and her virginity must be assured before any "couching" can take place. The desperate young girl, abducted from her village, is not intact. Hannah decides to intervene and save Leah from prostitution and death.
In another side plot, Isaac's brother has died and a woman who claims to be Leon's widow appears at their door asking for her dowry to be returned. Because of their move and the fact that silk is not selling well, the Levis do not have the 100 ducats she is owed. Hannah and Levi are faced with Jewish law forcing them to make a huge change in their marriage to satisfy their debt.
Although the conclusions to these separate narrative lines is predictable, and Hannah's involvement a bit far-fetched, the real enjoyment of this book comes from the details about harem life and the descriptions of the palace and the city. The reader will delight in the descriptive prose and almost see, touch, smell, taste, and hear what the center of the world in Constantinople must have been like in that day and age.
I enjoyed this very fast read and quick conclusion complete with the historical information that corrects the liberties taken with fiction. I think it would be best if readers had finished the first book in the series prior to this one. I'd read another about Hannah and Isaac Levi.
Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for the e-book ARC to review.