A Gift for the Sultan: revised synopsis
(This is the latest version of the synopsis of my novel that I am circulating to literary agents. Comments welcome. Click on "contact" to the left.)
A Gift for the Sultan: Synopsis
In the summer of 1402, a young princess vows to save Constantinople from the Islamic horde at its gates, while other nobles, merchants, clergy, aristocrats, juvenile street fighters and foreign mercenaries prepare to profit, yield, fight or die in its defense. But the regent has secretly agreed to surrender the greatest city in the Christian world to the Ottoman sultan, and his tribute will include the princess and scores of slaves. The Turkish war chief who is to deliver this gift must hurry, to forestall a clash between the sultan and another Muslim challenger from the East.
On their journey, Christian Greco-Roman urbanity confronts the traditions of honor, magic and power of the horsepeople of the Central Asian steppes. Within the miscommunication, human bonds form across the gulf, between the Ottoman women traveling with their warriors and the Orthodox princess, within the consciousness of a Christian-Muslim janissary, or in the shaming of an English mercenary about to murder a Turkish babe. Unknowingly, all are headed toward a cataclysm that will turn their world upside down: the confrontation of Timur of Samarkand (�Tamerlane�) and �Thunderbolt� Bayezid, sultan of the Ottomans. A comedy of greed will have catastrophic consequences, and a romance will dissolve into ambiguous myth.
The novel is not merely about an East-West clash that redrew national boundaries from the Balkans to the whole of the Middle East and North Africa, stimulated the voyages of discovery of America and spun into countless wars that continue even today.
It is about all that, but it is also about a larger issue: City v. Anti-City. A dominant urban civilization � here, Constantinople � with all its culture, resources and vulnerabilities confronts the rage of those scorned by a civilization they don�t understand and that makes no serious effort to understand them. For me, the novel is a meditation on the siege of Sarajevo, and New York�s 9/11, and Baghdad�s rubble and resistance, and many other conflicts. The novel imagines both sides and the complex forces that drive them, for there are love and loyalty, treachery and greed on both.
In this telling the City wins, not a definitive victory but a respite. To achieve it, the City has sacrificed its children, from street waifs to a princess, and still survived only thanks to a war that has divided its enemies. Constantinople will fall to another Ottoman sultan 51 years later, but even then the wily city will thrive by captivating its captors � and will tell lies, many and contradictory lies for its many contradictory constituencies, so that each may claim the City as its own. This real, historical sequel is hinted at in the prologue, called �The Fountain.�