"What was the difference between atrocity and vengeance?"
Jan 10, 2009
In 1453, Christians and Muslims clash in an age old struggle for a land that has been inhabited over the years by both. The Melisites, a secret sect, are forced to protect sacred artifacts, hiding a reliquary, a "container that holds the uncontainable", the Proof of God. Just before an assault by warring forces that will retake the Byzantine prize, the Proof is secreted in the antiquities-rich Sunken Village in the Ottoman Empire. The reliquary is to be passed from one set of guardians and priestesses to another, through the generations, linking all in common purpose. Years later, in 1887, a returning character, Kamil Pasha (The Sultan's Seal), magistrate in the new secular courts who investigates and prosecutes crimes in Istanbul, is troubled by the theft of precious artifacts from the area. More comfortable when dealing with science and rational fact, Kamil walks a delicate balance, adjudicating fairly in a place where emotions run high.
Kamil Pasha is a reasonable man who understands "the British want a strong Ottoman Empire to stand between themselves and the Russians". But the increasing demand for precious artifacts by European collectors has stimulated a black market trade that is leaving a trail of dead men in its wake. Thirty-one and unmarried, Kamil's personal life is devoted to work and his hothouse orchids, a dedicated civil servant determined to stop the thefts and find the killers of innocents. At the heart of the problem are a ruthless businessman and the current priestess of the sect, Balkis, whose brother, Malik, is one of Kamil's valued friends. Her son and daughter, Amida and Saba are in line to become the next guardian and priestess; but when Malik is brutally murdered, the crimes take on a more ominous cast in a case that reaches from the Sunken Village to England and the resources of Scotland Yard.
The author depicts a fascinating Istanbul, the Sunken Village with its Byzantine tunnels and enormous treasure, jewel-encrusted chalices and priceless antiquities, the unprepossessing reliquary most fought over for the secret it holds. Science and police procedure clash with barbaric rituals and ancient customs, Kamil torn between a profound respect for men's differences and the necessity of stopping the killings. In the midst of chaos, Kamil is tempted by the charms of the exotic Saba and a recent refugee who resides in his sister's house, Elia. An artist trained in Paris, Elia has suffered a terrible loss, unprepared to face Kamil's interest, yet not unaware of the man's charm. Perhaps at another time. Forced to deal with the violence around him, Kamil faces love, danger and a painful betrayal, a man of science in a place of fervent beliefs, where the Proof of God promises an end to mankind's quest.
The author meticulously recreates time and place in the 19th century Ottoman Empire, the sights and sounds of the Sunken Village, repository of history, the twisted tunnels of sacred relics and treasures eerily echoing centuries of civilization where men die for precious secrets, committing blind acts of faith and violence in service to their God. Yet, the Proof remains hidden: "It won't settle and reveal itself until humanity is ready to hear its message." Luan Gaines/2008.
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