This is the first novel from Amie O’Brien, but she would tell you her characters are constantly nagging her for their future installments. Madly in love with her husband and children, she hopes to spend more time petting horses, reading books, and pursuing her addiction with world travel.
Leo Tolstoy once said, "The best stories don't come from good vs. bad, but good vs. good."
I think that's one of the really special things about The Merchant's Pearl. The character that you are most inclined to pen as the villain is, in all actually, quite the victim himself.
It is in this scene that Leila is starting to become aware of Emre's entrapment. For years, she has esteemed him as someone very powerful, yet now she is realizing that he may understand the subject of powerlessness better than most.
The Merchant’s Pearl
“Be still, ladies,” one of the chaperoning eunuchs hissed. “You will capsize the boat with all of your constant fluttering about.”
Dariya turned to the outside of the boat, letting out a little giggle. At the same time, I looked forward at the stern of the boat. There sat Aster, trying to ignore us, but failing. Her eyes were cold even from that distance, her lacey parasol twirling impatiently in her right hand.
“What has her all in an uproar?” I muttered.
“Oh, don’t worry about her. She kept huffing and puffing last night every time she thought she heard a noise and the door didn’t open for you to walk in. It took me a while to finally phase her out.”
“Oh,” I said, not wishing to add to the rivalry. “Which boat is carrying the princes?”
“None of them. They don’t attend such gatherings. At least, I don’t believe so. Not our prince and certainly not his cousins. Maybe those half-brothers who have not yet reached puberty can.”
“Because they cannot look upon the Sultan’s harem? It would be a sin for them?”
“Namely because they are a risk to the sultan and because they would be putting themselves at risk, being out in the open as such.”
“But they’re his sons,” I breathed. “And his nephews.”
“Yes, but they are heirs to the throne too, aren’t they?”
“I scarcely believe they would harm him.”
“I doubt he is even here,” she said, lowering her voice. She narrowed her eyes to study the boats ahead of us.
“You are speaking of His Majesty?”
“Yes, Leila,” she hushed me quickly. “Listen, I don’t know what business of ours you think this is, but, I don’t have the answers you’re seeking. I only know that the princes seldom leave their quarters. When they do, it’s only for official occasions—mourning and weddings, spiritual gatherings, and the like.”
I soldered my lips; sorry I had said anything. I was partially amazed at her rebuke. She was getting bolder. She reproved me much more freely than she ever did Aster.
She tilted her head as if she didn’t understand my reaction. In a quieter tone she added, “Look, in my one year of service to him, I have never seen Emre on a carriage ride, never known him to not be at his palace apartment. Yusuf? Yes. But not Emre. In fact, the only night one of us was not called upon was when he was too sick to receive company.”
“But that’s ridiculous,” I whispered back. I wished I could let it go. “How are they supposed to be prepared to rule a kingdom if all they know is what they can see from their windows and a few stuffy ceremonies?”
She shrugged in reply.
“It’s irresponsible to keep them away from everything. They should be sitting in—all of them—learning to interact with the ulema and the governors. They should know their subjects.”
“Yusuf probably does,” she restated.
I looked down.
“Like I said before, I try not to think too heavily about the inner workings of the palace. I do what they expect me to do and leave the rest for everyone else.”
I started to mouth another question, but clamped my mouth shut. Perhaps it was not the proper time or the place. The attentive ears of the eunuchs and kalfas surrounded me, not to mention at least one boatman who had slowed his pace.
“It’s beautiful out here.” I sighed, dropping my hand to trail through the water that swept against our sleek, honey-colored boat.
“It’s breathtaking,” Dariya agreed. “I hope Sultan ‘Aziz will stay here the entire summer. I can’t imagine anything more lovely than the Dolmabahce. I’ve never seen Topkapi palace, only Beylerbeyi and Ciragan, but, I can’t imagine that anything could beat this majesty, can you?”
“No. This is definitely better.”
“The others just seemed like truncated copycats. Certainly not as divine a sight as this.”
“It certainly looks more regal from the front side than the back. Do you suppose the queen of England would envy the splendor of this view?” I asked, smiling.
Her eyes lit up at the sight—the magnificent structure all in one great succession. It was floating in the distance now.
“I think God himself could be envious of this view.”