In The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman, graduate student Elizabeth Staveley is researching captivity stories from the late 16th century when she comes across a four hundred year old manuscript tucked inside of a book in the Oriental Library Reading Room at Oxford University. Knowing the treasured, never before told story she is about to uncover, she transcribes the manuscript before turning it over to the library staff.
While tied up in a frustrating relationship with a suspected womanizer, Elizabeth takes off from Oxford and flies to Istanbul to further research the story of Celia Lamprey, the daughter of an English sea captain who dies at sea leaving her to eventually be sold into the harem of the Sultan of Constantinople. While a controversial member of the Sultans harem, she discovers that her fiancee, Paul Pindar, whom she was supposed to marry prior to being sold into captivity, is in fact in Constantinople as the secretary to the English ambassador to deliver a gift to the Sultan thus opening English trading opportunities.
The story is woven between the present day and the year 1599 in Constantinople (now present day Istanbul). The story of the secret life inside the harem has been well-researched and very intriguing, although the present day story of Elizabeth lacked a little intrigue. Other notable, fascinating characters in this book are the Valide Sultan (Sultan’s mother), the black eunuch guards, and Jamal al-Andalus, an outstanding astronomer. Overall, this was a very rich, exotic, and interesting read, especially since I enjoy historical fiction.