Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book Review - Tasha Alexander's Tears of Pearl

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 1st, 2009
Format: Paperback, 307 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

What is one to do after a month of apologizing in Kent to one's family for eloping? Escape as soon as possible. Emily and Colin have taken themselves to the continent and are aboard the Orient Express speeding towards Constantinople for their honeymoon. Though they are able to use their cabin ingeniously, they occasionally have to go to the dining car to partake in sustenance. At one of their meals they meet Sir Richard. A diplomat with a sad past who seems to have overindulged. Before passing out he talks of the daughter he lost to kidnappers years and years ago, Ceyden. When they all disembark in Constantinople it becomes apparent that Sir Richard has lost more than his daughter, as some papers are missing from his compartment. The poor man is discombobulated and Emily and Colin feel sorry for him. Yet it is their honeymoon and Colin is determined it shall not be derailed by speculating on what really happened to Sir Richard so they leave him after a thorough search of the train and go to their lodgings. But Sir Richard feels their kindness should be repaid and invites them the next day to a performance of La Traviata at the palace.

Never has kindness so badly been repaid as an incident after the opera draws Emily and Colin into a plot that will blot out all thoughts of their honeymoon. A member of Abdul Hamit's harem has been murdered and the girl turns out to be none other than Sir Richard's missing daughter Ceyden! How could his daughter have been under his noise this whole time? Sir Richard begs Colin to investigate, knowing of his work for the crown, but it's really Emily's help that is needed, not just as Colin's partner, but as the only one able to go where the men can't, the harem. Soon Emily is embroiled in the politics of the harem, with the current valide sultan, Perestu hindering her investigation, while the former valide sultan, Bezime, holds her secrets close to her chest and offers Emily cryptic clues. While Emily tries to unravel all the secret allegiances, her Western mentality is rebelling at the idea that these women, while having access to the finer things in life, are really slaves. She is even willing to help one of them escape. Not just because Roxelana might be the key to Ceyden's fate, but because she is a Christian living in sin and Emily has a hero complex. As Emily gets closer to the truth Sir Richard's son is eyed by the authorities, but she knows this doesn't feel right, nothing feels right, and nothing may ever feel right again.

Taking a well loved couple from a flirtatious unmarried state to a married one can spell disaster for a series. What if the chemistry shifts and it just doesn't work after their relationship is consummated? Having just rewatched all of Moonlighting recently, it's amazing how quickly that show fell apart once Maddie and David did the deed. And they weren't even headed down the alter! They just headed to the bedroom! In fact for years I'd argue with anyone who would listen that it wasn't the consummation of their relationship but the outcome of the relationship that ruined the show, Maddie becoming pregnant to accommodate Cybil Shepherd's real life pregnancy and then having the baby die on the show! But I now see that it really was the consummation of the relationship and the shift this gave to the show that made it virtually unwatchable. So to all those people over the years talking about the Moonlighting Effect... you were right. Thankfully Tasha is able to keep the dynamic of the leads in this transition. There is no Moonlighting Effect, instead I think there is what I'll call the Peabody Effect. What is the Peabody Effect? Well, I'm of course referring to Elizabeth Peters' beloved Amelia Peabody series and how Amelia and her husband Radcliffe Emerson despite being married off in the first book continue to have a dynamic loving and playful relationship. Here's to Colin and Emily, the new Amelia and Emerson!

What I found really compelling in this installment is that Emily has so taken to her new life she is literally in wedding bliss. She is fully under the influence of the Peabody Effect! Therefore when she thinks that she might be pregnant, an expected outcome of marital relations, she is shook to her core. She has everything she could have ever wanted and the thought that after working so hard to achieve it, to get to work side by side with Colin as an equal, that she might be benched due to pregnancy scares her. It wasn't the pregnancy scare that I connected to, it was that feeling of everything going so right that any change could ruin it. Sometimes life is just perfect and anything, not to mention the enormity of having a child, could destroy it. Life is so rarely perfect, so rarely exactly how we want it, that you have to revel in the moments of perfection. Hoard them up and look back on perfect moments and perfect days. When Emily married Colin she saw her life being perfect from there on out. An adventurer solving crimes with Colin by her side. This vision didn't include a baby. Yes, an heir would be expected. Eventually. But not right at the beginning. Not right at the start of everything clicking into place. Oh, how I wanted to hug Emily and tell her, this is life, expect the unexpected.

Though Emily had very legitimate reasons to fear this change, and not just because it was change, but because pregnancy is dangerous, even in this day and age among my friends I think there was only one who didn't have scary complications or lasting problems. As for Victorian childbirth? Let's put it this way, Queen Victoria and her healthy brood were aberrations for the time period. Death was very commonplace, for the mother, for the baby, or for both. We read historical fiction and think that female confinement is quaint and antiquated, but it was necessary for the safety of all involved. And Emily is constantly reminded of the dangers of childbirth because her dear friend Ivy is in the midst of a precarious pregnancy. Being constantly reminded of the risky situation Ivy is in, that the next time Emily's in England Ivy might be no more makes her realize that she is just as susceptible, no matter how healthy she appears. Add to that the fact of her childhood experiences, loosing twin brothers, having her Aunt Clarabelle come to visit one Christmas and instead of celebrating a new addition to the family there was a joint funeral, and you can see why Emily is scared. And as for those anguished screams that woke her one December night? They now haunt her dreams.

With the plot of this book dealing with pregnancy and the harem, this is very much a book about women and the world they live in. I love that this book is taking real history and showing us aspects we would never have expected and yet they are 100% true. Tears of Pearl gives us a new way to look at history that we didn't necessarily do before. Because the truth is I'm sure almost everyone picking up this book has the same lurid ideas of what a harem is as Emily did from reading popular literature. We've been conditioned to think of the harem as sex slaves through sensational literature to films to television. I can even remember they did a harem episode on Jack of All Trades with Bruce Campbell, so you can imagine what impression that left... But the truth is far more complicated and political. Some of the women might never even meet Abdul Hamit! This is more a community of women with factions, but it's a family too, with children and love. So while it may be a gilded cage, the cage has it's advantages in education and wealth. The harem encourages education, unlike the Western world Emily hails from. In fact Victorian society is very much a cage too, just more invisible and therefore perhaps far more insidious.

Speaking so much about how Victorian yet feminist this book is makes me almost want to end my review here, but there's something odd that happened to me in reading this book that I must share. As I'm sure some of you know because of my Pink Carnation Dream Casting for Lauren Willig's books I have a tendency to cast actors as characters when I read books. It might have to do with being such a film buff before I turned to literature or my love of Star Wars novelizations, but it's just what I do. I know, it's a little weird, especially if you can't find the right actor. I know a lot of people would object to this way of thinking, especially because it indicates that the final form of a book isn't what's bound between the covers but what eventually makes it onto a screen, which I don't agree with, so let's just put it down as a quirk and move on. So one of the characters, who I will NOT mention because it's the murderer, was instantly cast the second he spoke as David Bamber, he of Mr. Collins fame in the Colin Firth adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Now I greatly admire David Bamber, but the truth is, I always think he's up to no good, even when playing good characters! So there was just something in the way the character first appeared that subconsciously triggered me to his guilt. I didn't even knowingly suspect him until near the end of the book! I say that proves what I great writer Tasha is, suspect everyone, but deep down, you sense the evil and despair!


I'm glad you are doing Alexander Autumn, because it has made me realize that I somehow got way behind in my Lady Emily reading. I had to check GoodReads to see where I left off, and evidently the last one I read was The Adventuress in 2015! Time to catch up.

Time to catch up indeed Ashley!

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