The Sultan’s Wife (Review)

Book cover for "The Sultan's Wife" by Jane Johnson.Title: The Sultan’s Wife

Author: Jane Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

Pages: 416

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Source: E-review copy from the publisher through

From the cover:

The author of “The Salt Road” and “The Tenth Gift” Jane Johnson returns with a captivating historical novel set in Morocco. The year is 1677. Behind the magnificent walls and towering arches of the Palace of Meknes, captive chieftain’s son and now a lowly scribe, Nus Nus is framed for murder. As he attempts to evade punishment for the bloody crime, Nus Nus finds himself trapped in a vicious plot, caught between the three most powerful figures in the court: the cruel and arbitrary Sultan Moulay Ismail, one of the most tyrannical rulers in history; his monstrous wife Zidana, famed for her use of poison and black magic; and the conniving Grand Vizier. Meanwhile, a young Englishwoman named Alys Swann has been taken prisoner by Barbary corsairs and brought to the court . She faces a simple choice: renounce her faith and join the Sultan’s harem; or die. As they battle for survival, Alys and Nus Nus find themselves thrust into an unlikely alliance – an alliance that will become a deep and moving relationship in which these two outsiders will find sustenance and courage in the most perilous of circumstances. From the danger and majesty of Meknes to the stinking streets of London and the decadent court of Charles II, “The Sultan’s Wife” brings to life some of the most remarkable characters of history through a captivating tale of intrigue, loyalty and desire.

This is me giving you fair warning: once you pick up The Sultan’s Wife, you’re going to have trouble putting it down.

For one, the story is intricate and extremely well thought out. It’s historical fiction, and the narrator is definitely made up – and yet he comes alive off the page. I don’t remember the last time that I became so emotionally involved with a male narrator; Nus-Nus just captured my heart from the very beginning and wouldn’t let it go. While I liked some of the other characters, and was intrigued by others – like Zidana, holy crazy lady! – he was the one that I was really hoping would find happiness in the end.

The historical aspect was also interesting for me, in large part because it was really all new for me. I confess that I knew pretty much nothing about this point in history, especially in the context of Morocco. But the book does an excellent job of giving you enough background information to increase your interest and understanding, but not so much that it feels like you’re reading a textbook.

The Sultan’s Wife is more than just a period drama: it’s intense, filled with magic, religion, scheming and conniving, murder, intrigue, love, sex, and madness of all kinds. I can’t do it justice, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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