Friday, August 27, 2010

The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White

Jenny White's first novel in the Kamil Pasha series, The Sultan's Seal, was far and away one of my favorite books this year. White has the uncanny ability of imparting a ton of knowledge about the Ottoman Empire, a subject of which she is well versed, without lecturing or falling into a litany of facts. The plot remains the most important aspect of the book.

The Abyssinian Proof, White's second entry in the nineteenth-century mystery series, tells a nuanced story of a little-known religious group living in the middle of Ottoman Istanbul. The information White has at hand about this leftover Byzantine Christian sect is fascinating. There was a tenuous moment when the story veered into a mention of Templars and I feared White had fallen into the trap of writing another derivative Christianity gone bad novel, à la Dan Brown. But, she saved herself and didn't go there. Thank goodness.

It is easy to lose oneself in White’s novels. She tells a compelling story with plenty of interesting twists and intrigues to keep me reading. The mystery is not overly straight-forward but she does throw in clues throughout to keep me guessing. However, White is also knows her history. She is not writing about stereotypes and overused characteristics of the Ottoman Empire. Her depth of knowledge allows me to learn relevant, genuine historical information within the scope of a fictional story.

Moreover, White tends to throw in some subtle social commentary about our own world. The intrigue between the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews; the distrust of differing religious beliefs; the debate over political and cultural power based on ethnicity all ring as remarkably true today as they did 150 years ago. White manages to point out that the Ottoman Muslims were not some evil religious offshoot with nothing but bloodlust in their hearts. Her characters are somewhat universal.

I look to disappear into my books. But I don’t mind learning something along the way. Jenny White is one of the best current authors who allows me to do both of those things at the same time. I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for the third book in the series. (Oh, and I heard a rumor she may attempt to discuss the Armenian Genocide in a future story. That would capture plenty of attention.)

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