A beautiful young girl captured by pirates plays her cards right and becomes Empress of the Ottoman Empire--an entertaining bodice-ripper with literary pretentions from the author of Sally Hemmings (1979). In 1781, a lovely French-American girl from the island of Martinique is traveling to France to complete her education at a convent when her ship is seized by Algerian pirates. Taken by her feistiness and flaming red hair, the Bey of Algiers sends her to Abdulhamid I, the all-powerful Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul; Abdulhamid gives her the name Naksh-i-dil and puts her in his harem. With the help of the Black Eunuch, who guards all the Sultan's women, she learns how to survive the sometimes murderous politics of the pleasure palace, and rises quickly in the ranks, becoming Abdulhamid's favorite. She also displays an unusual talent for scheming and conniving on an international scale, as she begins to try her hand at understanding the Ottoman Empire's shifting alliances with other countries, and its long-held hatred of Russia (although Catherine the Great becomes a kind of role model for Naksh-idil). She finally comes fully to power after a bloody civil war leaves her weak son Mahmud on the throne. As Mother of the Sultan she forces an alliance with Russia that changes the face of history when Napoleon invades in 1812 (it's the Russian troops, freed from guarding the Ottoman border, that help stop his advance on Moscow). But by the time she dies in 1814, the Empire is nearly at an end--her son shortly after goes murderously mad, is known as Mahmud the Bloody, and dies the last of the Ottoman Sultans. Chase-Riboud's novel is based on a historical reality that is stretched a little thin and padded with appearances (sometimes gratuitous) by famous figures like John Paul Jones, Catherine the Great, and Horatio Nelson, and there are far too many poetic asides and pauses for what is essentially a woman's adventure novel--but still, Valide is well-researched and harmless entertainment.