Friday, January 21, 2011

Julie's Review: The Oracle of Stamboul

Summary: A girl changes the course of the Ottoman empire in Lukas's middling debut. Eleonora Cohen--born in 1877 Romania, prophesied to alter history, and gifted with great intelligence--stows away at age eight to follow her father to Stamboul. Her first weeks there are a whirlwind of beautiful new dresses and cultural experiences, but the idyllic adventure takes a terrible twist after her father is killed in an accident and Eleonora is taken in by her father's wealthy and politically slippery friend. She proves to be a quick study, and once her tutor alerts the palace of Eleonora's immense intelligence, she finds herself in attendance at the sultan's court, commenting on a political standoff between the Ottoman empire, Russia, and Germany. As the sultan's interest in her grows, so, too, does her reputation and importance, though Eleonora is unsure if her new role is what she wants from life. The backdrop is nicely done, but Lukas can't quite get his characters to pop or the plot to click; indeed, the buildup of Eleonora's oracle-like powers culminates in a disappointing fizzle. It's well intentioned, but flatly executed.

Review: For Eleonora Cohen, her life has been a whirlwind since the day she was born. She's had a lot of tragedy for such a young life. Yet, it seems that Eleonora, Ellie, is destined to be something great. You see Ellie starts to read and comprehend her lessons from a very young age and her dad knows she's special. Her step-mother fears that people will look at her differently plus they are Jews in a Muslim city.

When Ellie turns 8 her dad goes on a business trip to Stamboul. Ellie decides to stow away in one of her father's trunks to go with him. One never knows how a split decision can change your life and this decision of Ellie's changes the course of her life.

Upon arriving in Stamboul, Ellie is enamored with the city loves being with her father and learning his business. She also learns a great deal from his friend Moncref Bey while traveling about the city. Tragedy strikes and Ellie's life is forever changed.

Is Ellie the girl in the prophecies? Or is she just a young girl with an extraordinary gift?

What I thoroughly enjoyed about The Oracle of Stamboul was the description of Constana, Stamboul,and the Sultan's palace. I loved that this book was set in a part of the world that I don't read about and a fascinating part of history. The Ottoman Empire is one with a deeply rich and complex history and Mr. Lukas did a wonderful job of capturing a snapshot of history. He made the city of Stamboul jump off the pages and I could picture the architecture vividly as I was reading.

On the other hand, I didn't connect with any of the characters. While I found Ellie to be interesting, there wasn't anything profound about her. I found the Sultan to be less than charismatic. While the story was interesting, I found that it dragged on and got caught up in the details at times.

As I finished the novel, I wasn't quite sure what had happened and what I was to take away from it. For me, the novel ended without saying anything or resolving anything. The novel had so much potential in the pages but for me it was never realized.

I think that with his considerably interesting background, Michael David Lukas has a bright future ahead of him as a writer. While I might not have had my socks blown off by his debut novel, he is someone I will keep my eye on in the future.

On a side note, this ARC is one of the most beautiful and intricately designed covers and packaging I have ever seen.

Final Take: 3.5/5

This book will be released on 2/8/2011. Thanks to the Harper for sending me an ARC of the book.



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