Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

oracle of stamboul cover

Eleonora is a little girl with a great destiny. Not only was her birth prophesied, but she's incredibly intelligent, with a photographic memory and a gift for languages. Birds follow her around and animals don't treat her like a normal human being, but like Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. When she moves from Constanta to Stamboul with her father, little does she know how deeply drawn into the world of politics and intrigue she will be, going so far as to advise the Sultan on matters of state.

I really enjoyed the first half of this novel. It felt like a child's story, but a very intelligently written child's story that can be just as easily appreciated by adults. I immediately felt like the Sultan and Eleonora were being drawn to one another and couldn't wait for them to meet. The trial of being forced to grow up "normal" when one certainly isn't made me infuriated on behalf of Eleonora and completely engaged in the story. I also loved the fairy-tale-like hints of Eleonora's gifts and the descriptions of Constanta. When Eleonora traveled to Stamboul, I was with her a hundred percent, even though I had to do a major suspension of disbelief to be so.

However, once the book passed mid-point, I felt like the editor gave up and the story lost some steam. Eleonora stopped behaving like a little girl, and it really threw me out of the story. Even stranger was the way adults treated her, which was pretty much like she was an adult woman. It was quite odd--not enough to make me give up on the book entirely, but enough to bother me.

My main problem with The Oracle of Stamboul had more to do with the ending. I'm not going to discuss the ending specifically for fear of spoilerage, but I think it's part of a larger problem in this book, namely that nothing in the story pans out. We have political suspicions that go nowhere, lessons that don't seem to teach anything, signs and portents that predict nothing, puzzles that are never solved, advice that is never given. Eleonora is a Jew but this has almost no bearing on the story, especially after she moves to Stamboul. I could go on. Believe me, nothing in this novel leads anywhere, and the ending is just the cherry on top of the nowhere-going. There are so many disparate elements in this book and none of them are effectively brought together or tied up.

A lot of people have felt "meh" about this book, and I agree entirely. I don't know what or how I'm supposed to think about a book that has no idea what it wants to say, what story it wants to tell. How can you possibly have a book about the destiny of a little girl who doesn't follow her destiny? Does that in any way shape or form make sense as a narrative? I think Lukas has a great writing style and I hope he writes more novels, so I don't want to discourage him; but at the end of the day I wish this book could be rewritten so that it lived up to its potential. As it was I kind of felt like I had wasted my time with it.

Thank you to Harper-Collins for sending me an ARC of Oracle of Stamboul for review!

To see a collection of images from the book, check out my board at PInterest.

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