When I picked up Odalisque, it looked very promising. Fiona McIntosh creates an interesting harem setting (think Ottoman Empire) and some lively characters. Unfortunately, Odalisque doesn’t live up to its potential.
The characters are almost totally one-dimensional. All of the good guys are nice and humble while all of the bad guys are cruel and ambitious. Lazar, the main (and most likeable) character, is an amazing warrior, yet throughout the story he sits back, clenches his jaw, and watches all of the bad guys do bad things. He really feels bad about this, but he never stands up for justice. Even the young Zar, a good guy who’s theoretically in charge, lets his cruel mother (a concubine) and a couple of servants run the show, brutally killing people who have gotten in their way. Why won’t the Zar and Lazar stop them? Because it’s the rules. Why don’t they change the rules? Because they can’t. Why can’t they change the rules? They’re not allowed to. Why not? Because it’s the rules.
Most of the action is in the form of dialogue-driven political intrigue. I found this boring and had no urge to stay up late to keep reading, so it took me a long time to get through Odalisque. Much of the plot was easily foreseen and too much of it was explained in advance, leaving the reader completely unimpressed by plot twists.
The writing was fine, but not exceptional. Again, too much was explained. I don’t need to be explicitly told that what someone just said was a “cleverly couched yet nonetheless direct insult.”
Odalisque didn’t live up to my expectations. Fiona McIntosh didn’t make much use of her exotic setting; It could have been so fascinating.
In fact, the entire novel felt like it was just a set-up for the sequel. Perhaps Emissary will be better. Certainly the setting and the characters have potential.
Percheron — (2005-2008) Publisher: Captured by slave traders in the inhospitable desert, Lazar fought his way to freedom, earning the coveted position of Spur of Percheron. Charged with protecting his adopted city from enemies on both sides of its walls, he has led a charmed life as confidant to and protector of Zar Joreb for many years. But now Joreb is dead… Though Joreb’s well-intentioned fifteen-year-old heir, Boaz, will take the title of Zar, the balance of power lies in the hands of his beautiful and cruelly ambitious mother, a former harem slave who rose to power by the Zar’s favor. Aside from Lazar, whom Boaz trusts and respects, the young Zar’s only friend is Pez, the court jester, a misshapen dwarf whose tricks and diversions are accepted only because he is known to be mad. When a stunning young girl is brought to the palace to fill a space in Boaz’s harem, both Boaz and Lazar are surprised by their unexpectedly strong reactions to her. But Ana, the odalisque, finds the closeted world of the harem stifling and unbearable. And unbeknownst to all, the gods themselves are beginning to rise in a cyclical battle that is just beginning, and will enmesh everyone in the palace in a struggle for the very soul of Percheron.