I read this book for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' New Years 2017 Reading Challenge. For more info about what this is, click here.
You know what I like best about Bertrice Small? Her work is like glorious, trashy fanfiction of historical characters, set in an AU of special specialness, where all "good people" are beautiful, unless they're female and not the heroine in which case they are "evil, conniving you-know-whats," and all ugly/fat people are slovenly villains. The descriptions of clothes and food last for pages; in my heart of hearts, I imagine Bertie and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro sitting down together for coffee, trading ideas of how to squeeze as much clothes porn into one's books as possible. #IShipIt
THE KADIN is set in the 16th century - so yes, history snobs, I realize that I'm using a Renaissance book for my Medieval challenge...and I do not CARE! Mua ha ha ha. Janet Leslie is a beautiful and feisty Scots girl who is supposed to marry a nobleman, but her Moorish slave betrays, and she ends up being sold to a slave trader who spirits her away to the Middle East. With her vibrant red hair, vibrant green eyes, and amazing bod, she fetches the price of 30,000 coins from a eunuch under the employ of Sultan Bajazet. It turns out that he's planning this great conspiracy to collect brides for Bajazet's younger son, Selim I, to put him on the throne instead of the two older brothers. The best way to do that is to have a stunning harem filled with viable wives; a sign of power.
I really liked the story of Zuleika, Farousi, and Cyra. I'm a huge fan of intrigue storylines, and the war that the women had against Besma, the evil mother-in-law, was fantastic. I read through these sections in fifty-page chunks and had a hard time putting the book down. I also liked how the focus of this story was on the friendship of the women - I've never encountered a Bertrice Small book with that theme before; she's usually all about that girl-on-girl hate. It's a unconventional love story, as any story would be where the heroines share one man, but I actually thought it was pretty well done (although, of course, Cyra/Janet has to be the favorite). Kind of like a Renaissance edition of Big Love. Honestly, the title of this book shouldn't be THE KADIN. It should be called THE FAVORITE, or THE SUE (as in, The Mary Sue), because whenever Janet/Cyra had the spotlight, she hogged and mugged it like a reality TV star wearing six inch platform heels and metric ton of bling, and saying, all sassy-like, "I didn't come here to make friends."
I've only read a handful of Small novels - this one is either my fourth or my fifth - but she has a definite theme: terrible sex scenes with all the euphemisms done in the purplest prose you can imagine; very young teenage heroines (the one in this novel was like fourteen or fifteen at the beginning); heroes who fluctuate between abusive and attentive; and That One Catty Witch character who is jealous of the heroine(s) and must destroy her At All Costs. The Catty Witch character is played out by three different women in this book, and Besma was the best. The evil daughter-in-law was pretty good too but by that point, it just felt like Besma Redux, like Small was trying to plump out the page count and was recycling the earlier plot thread. Anne was just lame, a pathetic Dickensian-order of witch-with-a-b and she had me rolling my eyes more than she had me screaming, "Bertie! Bertie! Bertie!" in a live-stage audience for a special taping of "My Sister-in-Law Thinks I'm Too Sexy for Sixty!" (seriously, was it really necessary to say - repeatedly - how even fifty-year-old Janet/Cyra looked like a teenager?)
The book falls apart in the last act, when Janet/Cyra returns to Scotland and encounters Anne of Green-with-Envy-Gables and the odious Colin Hay, love interest #2, who is such a CREEP. He takes her by force and then the next day they're cuddling. Um. Also, at one point, he tells her that she had better take her dress off because it "screams rape" - whatever that means. He also brags about how he killed one of his previous wives because he caught her cheating on him. Brags about it. Like it was his right. Oh, and just in case that weren't enough, King James also makes an appearance and takes advantage of her too, basically using the "it's not rape if you're a king" excuse, because nobody can say no to a king (*SIDE EYE*), but it's okay because he makes Janet/Cyra a countess as a reward. The book ends with the Battle of Solway Moss and that's where I started skimming, because I no longer cared about Countess Special and her Special Family. It's pretty boring to read about a woman who always gets her way and is admired wherever she goes. There's no conflict.
I highly doubt that this book is historically accurate, although it did inspire me to do some research while I was reading to get some background information, and some of the details did actually seem correct. For example, Selim I was known for killing many of his viziers, to the point that a popular curse at the time was allegedly "May you be a vizier to Sultan Selim" - something this book does mention. I always wonder if part of the problem can be chalked up to the research materials that were available at the time. The internet makes verifying information so much easier, and offers so many more tools; researchers in the old days had to venture into the stacks or delve into the microfiche, and it took so much more dedication. Based on my superficial research, I suspect that the character of Cyra/Janet was loosely based on an actual person: Hafsa Sultan. It makes sense, because Janet/Cyra is referred to as Hafise Sultan in the book. Hafsa Sultan was also probably a convert to Islam and not native to Turkey, according to the Wiki article and the linked sites used as reference, but unlike Janet/Cyra, Hafsa Sultan was not from Scotland or even Western Europe. She was (most likely) Circassian or Georgian. I guess maybe it was more "special" to have someone with unusual coloring as the heroine, as opposed to what Hafsa Sultan actually looked like. Also, Bertie Small seems to have had a thing for blonde/red-haired/fair protagonists. Whatever, it just seemed weird...
Overall, this was a pretty good story. If not for the last 25%, I would have given this a five on entertainment value. But that eye-glazing ending was so bad that I deducted a star and a half, and can't really give this book anything more than a 3.5. If I recall, ADORA - another book I really liked - had the same problem. There was more WTFery in the storyline, and more of the bad sex scenes that she was known for, but it was also marred by slow spots that had me skimming to the "good stuff." Like Stephen King, Bertrice Small appeared to have had difficulty knowing when to let her characters go and how to wrap things up with a nice and tidy bow and not, say, a tangle of shoelaces.
Still; if you're into tales of court intrigue and outlandish adventures, this book is a solid choice.
ETA: One thing I forgot to mention in my original posting of this review - THERE ARE SO MANY FREAKING TYPOS. Seriously, who ever typed this up from the paperback format to the ebook format did a really, really, really, really bad job. There were sentences missing periods, names changing (yasmak became "jasmak" and Hadji Bey became "Hadji Bay" and I'm pretty sure Bejazet became "Bajazet" a handful of times). There are self-published books that are edited better than this, many of them without the benefit of an editor. So what the heck happened here, HarperCollins?
Here are some of the book's greatest hits (emphasis mine):
Anne took another tact (383). (It should be "tack" - I looked it up to be sure. It's a common mistake people make, like "pass mustard" instead of "pass muster.")
Marie of Guise-Lorraine stared hared at Janet (439).
3.5 out of 5 stars