Title: The Oracle of Stamboul
Author: Michael David Lukas
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Eleanora Cohen is an eight year old girl living in the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s. She is a prodigy with amazing intellect and gift of perception. Stifled at home by her overbearing aunt, Eleanora stows away in a trunk on her father’s journey to Stamboul. This decision will have lasting repercussions and sets of a chain of events that leads to Eleanora meeting the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
Michael David Lukas’ The Oracle of Stamboul is a work of historical fiction, rich in detail. Lukas clearly knows this world well and creates a beautiful backdrop for Eleanora’s story. He makes the late nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire come alive for readers. Readers will be able to picture the lush and dramatic setting in their minds because of Lukas’ impeccable detail.
Eleanora is an impressive, precocious character that is clearly gifted. Her intellect would be unusual for someone three or four times her age, so for an eight year old, her level of intelligence is simply unheard of. It’s clear she’s some sort of savant, and as a result, at times it’s easy to forget she’s just a child.
I’m not sure whether The Oracle of Stamboul is supposed to be the first in a series, but it had an unfinished quality to it. It seemed like the first 200 pages or so were simply setting the stage, so when it was over, it seemed like the book had barely begun. That’s not to say it’s slow – it moves quickly and keeps the reader’s attention, for the most part. But the ending comes abruptly, and the reader is left feeling like the story hadn’t really been told.
The characters in The Oracle of Stamboul aren’t the easiest to sympathize with. To me, the most three-dimensional character was Eleanora’s father, who is intelligent and kind and wants to give his daughter the best of everything. I had trouble with Eleanora herself, though it is understandable why. It is difficult to write children, even moreso to write a child with the brain of the most intelligent of adults. As a result, Eleanora comes across as wooden and a bit flat, and I wasn’t very involved in her story as a reader.
The Oracle of Stamboul is a novel with a lot of promise, and though it didn’t work for me as well as I’d hoped, I still enjoyed the atmosphere and wonderful historical setting. Historical fiction readers who are very interested in the details would enjoy this book, but if your primary concern is character development, I’d choose another read.