Europe in 1454 teemed with plots and subplots. Enmity persisted between Ottomans, Christians and Jews, with individuals on all sides constantly plotting revenge to thwart any possibility of co-existence.
In his new novel, Daniel Smith employs these tensions to showcase his hero Asim, a 25-year-old soldier and emissary for Ottoman Emperor Mehmed II, who leaves Istanbul to accompany a royal party to Portugal to negotiate a trade agreement. Amidst the entourage of dignitaries is the sheltered Princess Ghayda, who Asim vows to protect with his life.
Although Portugal’s King Alfonso and Queen Isabella extend warm hospitality to Ghayda and her ladies, angry Christians protest their arrival and the possibility of any trade agreement. King Alfonso remains committed to “ushering in a new era of trade, peace and prosperity,” but negotiations are nearly aborted when Princess Ghayda is murdered. Asim’s role then shifts to that of a detective seeking Ghayda’s murderer among Christians, Jews and hard-line Ottomans.
The novel then assumes a picaresque character as Asim encounters a series of adventures worthy of Ulysses, as he follows the assassin’s trail back to Istanbul. Everyone is a potential suspect in the murder, even some of his own countrymen.
Unfortunately, things rapidly deteriorate from portraying believable encounters with real and perceived villains to depicting the exploits of a fantastic superhero, conquering all obstacles. At one point, Asim’s leg is amputated below the knee, but several pages later he is “calmly dancing on his feet nimbly.”
Smith’s military work in Iraq and Afghanistan has given him prodigious knowledge of the history, language and culture of the region formerly known as the Ottoman Empire, and it is readily apparent here in his depictions. Unfortunately, a potentially absorbing historical novel becomes little more than a series of constantly shifting short scenes, fantastic adventures and unrelated contrived incidents that persist until the end, when the assassin is finally revealed in an anticlimax.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.