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).