Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book review: Equal of the Sun, by Anita Amirrezvani

Amirrezvani’s lush and tautly suspenseful followup to The Blood of Flowers (2007) is set in a treacherous sixteenth-century court. Her splendid heroine is ambitious, proud, and refuses to marry. A canny strategist dedicated to her country’s preservation, she is too confident of her abilities to let an incompetent man rule.

Unlike the faraway queen of a “less important Christian kingdom,” however, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, favorite daughter of Iran’s late shah, can never claim the throne and must conceal herself behind a velvet curtain while advising the nobility.

When the half-brother whose reign she initially supports turns into a paranoid tyrant, Pari takes matters into her own hands. Javaher, a eunuch who knows harem affairs and male politics equally well, becomes her loyal advisor while seeking his father’s killer.

The cast is large, the surroundings elaborate and colorful as this unlikely pair forms a strong alliance amid the intense and often shocking drama. Historical novels can serve to highlight the accomplishments of overlooked historical women, and Pari is a most deserving subject.

This review was written for Booklist last July.  The paperback is out now from Scribner, with a new cover as above ($17, 464pp).  With the 175-word limit for reviews, not everything could be spelled out in full, so here are some additional points I thought I'd make for potential readers:

(1)  We could use more fiction with settings like this.
(2)  The cutthroat politics of Equal of the Sun make the court intrigue of The Other Boleyn Girl feel like a summer playground. 
(3)  This is the sort of historical novel that drops you right into a foreign culture without anything familiar to cling to.  It takes active work to make the mental adjustments, but once there, it's an immersive experience.  Think Cecelia Holland, Pauline Gedge, Michael Ennis, or Maurice Druon for comparisons.
(4)  See (1).


  1. (1) We could use more fiction with settings like this.


  2. Sarah: I like point no. 3. I received a review copy of this last summer and had trouble getting into it and set it down. I'll definitely give it another try after this review!

  3. I enjoyed The Blood of Flowers but was not really planning on buying Equal of the Son. Now I am re-thinking my decision because of your wonderful review! I may give it a try.

  4. I've read Blood of Flowers too, and I first approached Equal of the Sun thinking the style would be similar, but it isn't really. It has the same focus on women and power, but the cast and scope are both larger, and there's a lot thrown at the reader in the beginning. It took a while for me to become accustomed to this world, though I can't say I was ever comfortable there... the court is NOT a friendly place.

  5. I read this, I think last summer? I liked it very much, not least for not obeying the expected conventions. The narrator in particular was very well handled, and an interesting person in his own right.

    Love, C.

  6. Very true on all counts. I appreciated its unconventionality.

    btw under (2) above, I meant court intrigue, not courtroom intrigue; I've fixed it. This is what happens, apparently, when I spent part of the day helping students with legal research.

  7. Anonymous6:31 PM

    Loved the authors first book and I'm looking forward to this one. I'm so glad she wrote another book. This is a must buy for me. --Gina

  8. I'd like to read this one. There seems to be challenges for lots of people on this one but I'd still like to give it a go.

  9. Thanks for a review that introduces me to an unusual environment and a country I don't usually enounter. I love reading Cecelia Holland and always seek authors who might have a similar fresh window on history.

  10. This book is on my To Read list. Great review!

  11. It's encouraging to see so much interest in this book - that bodes well for other novels with similar settings!

  12. Anonymous10:27 PM

    Your comment about Pauline Gedge struck a nerve. She makes plenty of factual mistakes; one of my students came up with a two-page list (single spaced). I've only read two of Gedge's novels, but I would point out, for example, that the Egyptians didn't eat oranges and didn't use desks. Egyptian women didn't paint themselves yellow all over, either (this one might have been the author's obsession with makeup coming to the fore). Her passion for melodrama and glamour leads her to write of murders for which there was absolutely no evidence (that Hatshepsut-was-poisoned nonsense--she gets an F right there) and put false elements into her settings. Marble water steps, anyone?
    It's really hard to be drawn into a fictional world so full of blunders.

  13. I had to turn down the opportunity to review this one due to time constraints and other commitments at the time - but I loved the idea of the setting and the story being told. Thanks for the review.