In fourteenth-century Spain, former friends vie for a man’s heart and the future of his kingdom. Both women are captives sold into the harem of Sultan Yusuf I of Moorish Granada. A young girl with a hidden heritage, Esperanza Peralta, forges a new identity as Butayna and becomes the mother of Yusuf’s firstborn son. The Jewess Miriam Alubel takes the name Maryam and also bears Yusuf’s children, including two sons. The clash between former friends is inevitable, as each finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power beside their husband. Both remain aware of the struggle ahead, for only one heir may inherit Yusuf’s throne and only one woman can claim the revered title, Mother of the Sultan.
Publisher and Release Date: Alhambra Press, 22 Jult 2013
Time and Setting: 14th Century, Moorish Spain
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars
Review by Ginger Myrick
Sultana: Two Sisters is the beautifully written and heartrending story of Esperanza Peralta and Miriam Alubel, two friends who are taken captive in a Moorish raid on a caravan in southern Spain. They are separated, and each has only herself to rely upon during their subsequent stay with a slave broker and eventual sale into a royal Moorish harem. They are then forced to compete with each other for the affections of Sultan Yusuf I, who is drawn to each of them for their own distinct talents and personalities. Ultimately, he takes them both as wives, elevating them to Sultanas Butayna and Maryam, the mothers of his royal offspring. Their rivalry continues, perhaps even more fiercely than before, in a plotting, scheming fashion to see their respective firstborn chosen as Yusuf’s successor.
This is realistic, gritty historical fiction that satisfies every qualification of the genre. The sheer research that went into the work is mind-boggling and needs to be recognized in and of itself. The love between Butayna and Yusuf was solid and enduring, and their tender moments only served to make the story more tragic. Reading it with Western eyes was difficult, and my heart cried out at Butayna’s fate for my perceived injustice of the Moorish traditions of harem and multiple wives, and being forced to convert to Islam or suffer the stigma and consequences of clinging to her Christian faith. Her plight simultaneously demonstrates the strength and fragility of the human spirit. I both loved and hated every moment of this book.
That said, this poignant portrayal could only have succeeded with Lisa Yarde’s talented and delicately balanced voice. It is a feat she achieved superbly, and Sultana: Two Sisters is a brilliant work that she should be very proud of. This story is not for everybody, especially those looking for a light read with a happy ending, but I’m certain there are others out there who crave a challenging read, can comprehend the cultural differences, and still appreciate the book without agreeing with the philosophy. To these courageous few, I recommend Sultana: Two Sisters with a hearty thumbs up and genuine enthusiasm.
At the time of review, the Kindle edition of Sultana: Two Sisters was $3.99