By: Anne Burnside
Publication Date: April 2009
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: December 1, 2009
There is a popular trend within many genres to write a continuation, or new story, using characters from an existing television show, movie, play, or book. Romance is one of the genres where this movement is prevalent, and within this genre, the story of Erik, the hero (or is it villain?) of The Phantom of the Opera is a well-liked topic. Author Anne Burnside, in her debut novel, tackles the life of Erik beyond the Paris Opera House in the compelling story of The Sultanís Favorite.
In Burnsideís version of the tale, after freeing Christine so she can marry Raoul, Erik leaves France to work for the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as the sultanís personal architect. The story begins with Erik working furiously to build the sultanís new palace. He is in a bad mood (a recurrent theme in the book) because he doesnít have enough slaves to get the palace built within the short time that the sultan demands.
The sultan is the all-powerful ruler of his empire and nobody argues with him with the exception of Erik. The two have worked out a unique relationship where Erik is allowed to speak his mind, up to a point. All appears well until the sultan takes a third wife, Alexandria. The beautiful Christian widow to the ruler of Constantinople is given to the sultan to keep peace between the two lands. She quickly becomes the sultanís favorite wife and it isnít long before Erik begins to notice the lovely woman too.
Following the sultanís wishes, Erik and Alexandria spend time together planning her lavish living quarters. Erik, convinced that his one true love is back in Paris, refuses to acknowledge his growing attraction to Alexandria. When Erik accompanies the sultan, Alexandria, and their entourage to Constantinople to get design ideas for the palace, his passion for the sultanís wife rises to the surface. But soon the beautiful woman is kidnapped by Titus, the ruler of nearby Phocaea. Erik, with his many talents at getting into difficult places unseen, is the one who comes to her rescue. During the rescue, the intensity of the pairís love rushes to the surface and soon the two are trying to hide their love from the sultan, knowing it will lead to certain death.
The Sultanís Favorite is a hot and steamy novel that involves three passionate people, each desiring nothing more than love. At the onset, the sultan is actually the more likeable of the two men as Erik has a vicious temper and appears to have little or no redeemable characteristics. The sultan, although brutal in his punishments, truly cares about his wives, particularly Alexandria. When he realizes he is falling in love with her, he lavishes his favored wife with gifts. Although women are forbidden from expressing their opinions in his world, the sultan relishes his talks with Alexandria behind closed doors. However, in public, the sultan is unable to show weakness of any kind, even to his favorite wife.
Burnside does a convincing job of slowly bringing Erik around to a more sympathetic character. At first he is devoid of any semblance of affection, unable to do anything other than show his brilliance with his designs and yell at those around him. It takes a while for the masked man to acknowledge his attachment to Alexandria and the reader is likely to at first be rooting for the sultan. But as the sultan shows more and more of his cruel side, Erik begins to demonstrate (or perhaps experience for the first time) a loving, caring side. Being forced to care for two young children (read the book to find out why!), may certainly have contributed to his transformation.
The Sultanís Favorite contains plenty of sexual tension as well as passionate love scenes. It is not a story, however, for the faint of heart as there are numerous rape scenes, as well as violent killings and torture episodes. To her credit, the author doesnít dwell on these passages and avoids giving the reader a detailed description of the unpleasant, and oftentimes brutal events. She does, however, point out the despicable treatment of women under Ottoman rule.
The novel does strain credibility in various places as Erik again and again is able to fight his way out of dangerous situations where he is repeatedly outnumbered. But that is not why one would read this book. Rather, it is the type of novel that is perfect for a rainy day, curled up on a sofa, with dreams of a sexy Phantom coming to your rescue.
Quill says: The Sultanís Favorite is a juicy romance novel that will tantalize the reader with an adventure to a far-off land.