Her work is like glorious, trashy fanfiction of historical characters, set in an AU of special specialness, where all "good people" are beautiful, unless they're female and not the heroine in which case they are "evil, conniving you-know-whats," and all ugly/fat people are slovenly villains. I also liked how the focus of this story was on the friendship of the women - I've never encountered a Bertrice Small book with that theme before; she's usually all about that girl-on-girl hate. It's a unconventional love story, as any story would be where the heroines share one man, but I actually thought it was pretty well done (although, of course, Cyra/Janet has to be the favorite). The Catty Witch character is played out by three different women in this book, and Besma was the best. Bertie!" in a live-stage audience for a special taping of "My Sister-in-Law Thinks I'm Too Sexy for Sixty!" (seriously, was it really necessary to say - repeatedly - how even fifty-year-old Janet/Cyra looked like a teenager?) The book falls apart in the last act, when Janet/Cyra returns to Scotland and encounters Anne of Green-with-Envy-Gables and the odious Colin Hay, love interest #2, who is such a CREEP. For example, Selim I was known for killing many of his viziers, to the point that a popular curse at the time was allegedly "May you be a vizier to Sultan Selim" - something this book does mention. Based on my superficial research, I suspect that the character of Cyra/Janet was loosely based on an actual person: Hafsa Sultan. It makes sense, because Janet/Cyra is referred to as Hafise Sultan in the book. I guess maybe it was more "special" to have someone with unusual coloring as the heroine, as opposed to what Hafsa Sultan actually looked like. But that eye-glazing ending was so bad that I deducted a star and a half, and can't really give this book anything more than a 3.5. There was more WTFery in the storyline, and more of the bad sex scenes that she was known for, but it was also marred by slow spots that had me skimming to the "good stuff." Like Stephen King, Bertrice Small appeared to have had difficulty knowing when to let her characters go and how to wrap things up with a nice and tidy bow and not, say, a tangle of shoelaces.
I've read most of Small's early romances, but never The Kadin. For a debut novel, Small seemed determined to never let the reader go without description of setting and decor. Since I've read quite a few Small books in my time, things like endless descriptions of food, clothes, etc. If you've read any number of Small's stuff, you know that her sex scenes are florid with fireworks and body part euphemisms aplenty. Had Small given Janet Leslie more than one flaw, I'd have given this the full 5 stars. Janet, only 13 years old, faces her captivity in a sultan's harem with the wisdom of an experienced 40 year old, her logic and good sense is remarked upon by many many people, she is generous and fair and beautiful and gathers admirers not only within the harem, but back in the final act in Scotland. Enough already.) By the end of the book, I believe I knew where the sun shines from, and it wasn't in the west (unless Janet is facing it). The introduction of her nasty sister-in-law and Lord Greyhaven went into cliché territory, although they were character types that I recognize from Small's other books.
A Classic Saga: Love with a Turkish Sultan First published in 1978, this was Smalls debut novel and by her own words, she spent five years researching it. Taken to the Sultans harem, Janets name is changed to Cyra (meaning flame for her vivid red gold hair) and there she is taught all she needs to serve the Sultan (which conjured images of Esther and Daniel from the Old Testament). Salim chooses Janet (Cyra) and her two companions, to be among the six, as he was encouraged to do by Hadji Bey. A wonderful cast of secondary characters surrounds Cyra as she takes up her role as Salims favorite. And Smalls research is evident in the many details of harem life and the eastern culture that pervades the story. Cyra takes her place among the Kadins (the women of the harem who give Salim children) and becomes the bas Kadin, the mother of Salims heir, Suleiman (a real historic figure and the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire).
Love her or hate her, Small's imagination and vision put The Kadin way above your usual silly bodice-ripper romance. Her personal character's development suffers as a result of trying to bring the entire saga to conclusion and so it is difficult for the reader to comprehend or relate how she could turn from a Christian, Scottish, naive but feisty teen-ager, daughter to a less than important Earl, to a wise-beyond-her-years, cunning and admirable Turkish Kadin, wife to the most powerful leader East of Italy. This is definitely a novel where the historical fiction overwhelms the personal story of the characters.
Remember that time Tova said she was going to read it even though she said she wasn't. I actually wish my library had this book in its system, because I kind of want to read it, and then roast it - because I already know that I'm going to hate it.
God how was this was rape-fuelled, atrociously written and bizarrely plotted book with laughable and unbelievable characters and nonsensical situations actually published? The Kadin is the story of the super special snowflake Lady Janet Leslie and her uncanny ability to be fucking perfect and brilliant no matter what land, culture or situation she should find herself in because God/Allah forbid that Lady Janet Mary-Sue Leslie should ever be so unlucky or actually have to face the trials/hardships of everyday life. Basically Janet is kidnapped aged 14 by Mediterranean Pirates, bought by the Chief Head Eunuch of the Imperial Ottoman Harem for OMG the greatest amount of money ever (!!!), renamed Cyra, forms a pact with two other slave girls, falls madly in love with Sultan Selim, becomes his favourite, gives birth to Suleiman the Magnificent all the while becoming the perfect concubine, mother, housewife, relations, political dissembler, expert info gatherer and all around angel of ever lasting mercy whose wisdom, kindness, beauty and managerial abilities are praised beyond the heavens themselves. The crux of the matter is that Janet Leslie (who either has access to modern day anti-ageing creams/plastic surgery or has inexhaustible supply of Harry Potters Philosophers Stone i.e she never gets old or ugly ever! Such blatant hero-worship is nauseating to the extreme and several times I wondered whether Bertrice Small had replaced the real manuscript of the Kadin as a sadistic joke for her readers. So all consuming was Ms Small's undying devotion to Janet Leslie that none of her other characters came alive or at least were not memorable enough for me to remember (Well maybe the Kadin Zuleika and her sick revenge of casting an old foe into sex slavery to a deformed evil man). History wise, Ms Bertrice gets so many things, people, cultural aspects and dates wrong that its almost to hard to know where to start. One of the ways where Ms Bertrice messes up so badly is with the Kadins having more than one son. Like all Bertrice Small novels the Kadin has a very commending attitude towards rape. It isn't rape when a old guy you just met gets into your bath and then drags you to bed to do the deed because you find it oh so wonderful and releasing. How the fuck did no one find out that Janet had actually not died in the harem?
Leave it to ole Bertrice to shake things up, delivering a most chaste harem saga.
Published since 1947, Bertrice Small was the author of over 50 romance novels. She was the recipient of numerous awards including Career Achievement for Historical Romance; Best Historical Romance; Outstanding Historical Romance Series; Career Achievement for Historical Fantasy; a Golden Leaf from the New Jersey Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America; an Author of the Year (2006) and Big Apple Award from the New York City Romance Writers chapter of RWA, and several Reviewers Choice awards from Romantic Times. Bertrice Small was a member of The Authors Guild, Romance Writers of America, PAN, and PASIC.