Vivid details, graphic sex, and violence in yet another novel about a woman who takes on the world—in this case, an 18th-century Emperor of Morocco.
British newcomer Taylor has done her research, and the story, which has some historical basis, is loaded with appropriate lingo—lots of Scottish expressions and period minutiae. Heroine Helen Gloag, however, is bonnie but not appealing. The narrative alternates between Helen and a Scottish dwarf, Microphilus, an adviser to the Emperor who believes him to be a eunuch like all the other men who have dealings with his harem. When Helen, unmarried but pregnant, flees Scotland and heads for the Colonies, she naturally hopes to make a better life for herself. But pirates attack the ship and Helen finds herself in the harem of the Emperor of Morocco. There are currently three Queens, and the harem women are competing to become the fourth. Except for Thursdays, when the Emperor selects his women for the week, the days pass in grooming, gossiping, and eating—the Emperor likes fat women, and Helen is force-fed like a goose. Her first encounter with the Emperor is a failure, but, helped by Queen Batoom, Microphilus’ lover and confidante, Helen, more a notion than a credible character, becomes an accomplished—and buxom—mistress of the sexual arts. Smitten, the Emperor makes her his fourth Queen and rewards her with sumptuous presents. As Microphilus records Helen’s progress and his own love for her, a young woman escapes, then is captured and brutally tortured, and Helen becomes violently ill. Witchcraft is suspected, but the anxious Microphilus has other suspicions. While he searches for the culprit, he tends to Helen, who has been abandoned by the Emperor since her illness. More deaths follow, and Helen, finally deciding that life as a Queen isn’t all that appealing, makes other plans.
Sometimes it’s not all in the details.