Author: Jane Johnson, 2012.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Morocco and England 17th Century.
Other Details: Paperback. 384 pages.
Morocco, 1677. The tyrannical King Ismail resides over the palace of Meknes. Through the sweltering heat of the palace streets, Nus Nus, slave to the King and forced into his live of servitude as court scribe, is sent to the apothecary. There he discovers the bloody corpse of the herb man, and becomes entangled in a plot to frame him for the murder. Juggling the tempestuous Moroccan king, sorceress queen Zidana and the malicious Grand Vizier is his only hope to escape the blame.
Meanwhile, young, fair Alys Swann is captured during her crossing to England, where she is due to be wed. Sold into Ismail’s harem, she is forced to choose: renounce her faith or die.An unlikely alliance develops between Alys and Nus Nus, one that will help them to survive the horrifying ordeals of the Moroccan court. - synopsis from author's website.
Jane Johnson has once again written a sumptuous novel that captures the extravagances and dangers of Morocco during the 17th Century. When the action moves to Restoration London Nus Nus' narration provides a sense of the differences and similarities that he experiences as a stranger in a strange land.
Though not a sequel to her earlier work 'The Tenth Gift' (aka Crossed Bones in UK) the 17th century heroine of that novel, Catherine Tregenna, does make a cameo appearance as a fellow Englishwoman who provides advice to Alys Swann when she is first captured.
While Nus Nus and Alys are fictional characters the text is peppered with historical figures both in Morocco and London. Johnson provides a useful historical note, a glossary and a bibliography of some of her sources.
Overall I enjoyed this novel very much though I did find that there were some disturbing scenes during battle and especially the Sultan's tendency to lash out with deadly intent at the slightest provocation.
Jane Johnson's page on 'The Sultan's Wife' - includes excerpt to download or listen to.
How a painting inspired 'The Sultan's Wife' - interview about genesis of the novel.