There is much fascination with the Sublime Porte: Jason Goodwin has recently produced a brace of books featuring a crime-solving eunuch in the nineteenth century, and now Katie Hickman has written The Aviary Gate, her second novel, set in Istanbul.
Veils are set a-flutter, jewelled slippers patter down corridors, the scent of myrrh fills the Sultan’s Palace, and the Chief Eunuch – a hideously ugly black man known as ‘Little Nightingale’ – is found poisoned (but not dead). It is 1599, and Britain wants to keep its trading rights with the Ottoman Empire. In order to do this an embassy has been sent with a gift for the Sultan. In attendance is Paul Pindar (a real-life merchant) who is in mourning for his lost love, Celia Lamprey, thought to be drowned.
As it turns out, Celia has been enslaved by the Sultan and is now part of his harem; and so the slow machinations of palace intrigue are set in motion. A ship spun out of sugar with the name ‘Celia’ on its side is discovered next to the Eunuch’s body;