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The Steel Seraglio

4.15  ·  Rating Details  ·  450 Ratings  ·  118 Reviews
The sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari of Bessa has 365 concubines—until a violent coup puts the city in the hands of the religious zealot Hakkim Mehdad. Hakkim has no use for the pleasures of the flesh: he condemns the women first to exile and then to death. Cast into the desert, the concubines must rely on themselves and each other to escape from the new sultan’s fanatical pursui ...more
ebook, 439 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by ChiZine (first published January 1st 2012)
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(showing 1-30 of 1,527)
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A fast-moving epic full of spicy humor and Arabian magic. This book is not like other fantasy. It's something different, and for that, I loved it.

The story unfolds through a variety of viewpoint characters. The constant switching of viewpoints could have been annoying, but it worked in the end. After all, we're talking about 365 concubines and their children, a prince, their camel-handlers, servants and other hangers-on etc. That's a lot of people. A city in itself (as the book tells it), and th
Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin
Apr 03, 2012 Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Cat Valente and Gregory Frost
NOTE: This review first appeared on April 3rd, 2012 at The King of Elfland's 2nd Cousin . If you enjoy it, please stop by!

Several years ago, I discovered N.M. Penzer's The Harem: Inside the Grand Seraglio of the Turkish Sultans , which opened my eyes to the fascinating history of the Ottoman sultan's harem. What could be more fertile soil for an awesome story than a group of educated women from diverse backgrounds, locked away by a patriarchal society yet with intimate access to the heart of p
Apr 16, 2012 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
Rather than be massacred by a fanatic usurper, a deposed sultan's seraglio takes matters into its own hands and fights for its collective survival. The major characters---a librarian who weeps ink and sees the future, a smooth talking bandit (neither original members of the seraglio--and the bandit is a man), a trained assassin who slipped into the seraglio on a mission but liked the society so much that she stayed, and a peace loving but strong minded senior matron---won me over right away, and ...more
Geeky Book Snob (Annette)
The very first line grabbed my attention and never let go: "Once there was a city of women." This book is filled with amazing female characters. Strong, brave, frightened, noble, logical, emotional, seductive, violent and vengeful. It is a rainbow of female attributes that are rarely depicted in a book all at once. I found this story, refreshing and empowering. The story focuses on an army of women who take back their beloved city, aided by a few good men. I loved all the characters in this stor ...more
Well, this is a tough one to review. On the one hand, I greatly appreciate the effort. The story is wonderful: a group of concubines takes life into their own hands when forced to it, and decides they like it. They build a new life for themselves, a life in which women rule and are allowed to do something with their lives. They conquer a religious fanatic, they change their lives for the better. A wonderful story! Passes the Bechdel test easily! Great female characters, and a lot of them, includ ...more
Sep 13, 2013 Ambrosia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ambrosia by: Raven
Shelves: favorites
I love stories with well-developed female characters who exercise their own agency. I love stories with fantastical elements, stories that feel like a fairy tale that nonetheless might have once had some basis in reality. I love stories with scamps and trickster archetypes. I love stories about people struggling to be better people in the midst of a world that only wants to drag them down. I love stories about the importance of stories to our species.

Needless to say, I loved this book.

The Careys
Lorina Stephens
Apr 16, 2012 Lorina Stephens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have to preface this review by stating The Steel Seraglio, by Carey, Carey and Carey, is an ambitious work, a literary etude or variation on the legendary collection of Islamic tales we’ve come to know as One Thousand and One Nights. Like its historical counterpart, it is a tale within many tales, complete with unreliable narrator, and with an oblique homage to some of the original characters (al-Rashid and Jafar among them).

The overarching story, that of a discarded seraglio of some 365
David Gullen
Sep 02, 2012 David Gullen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sentenced to death in the desert, the concubines of a fallen sultan instead free themselves and evade the pursuit of the fanatical new ruler of their city, Hakkim Mehdad. Out of nothing, they and their allies – robbers and storytellers, a librarian, a female assassin – found a new city in the desert, the fabled City of Women.

The three Careys – Mike, Linda, and Loiuse, have written a vibrant, colourful, page-turner of an adventure with passion and care. Filled with drama, romance, and humour, it
Apr 08, 2013 Ela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Ela by: Anna
"No one said it would be easy, and it wasn't. We did it anyway"

When the city of Bessa is seized by a religious zealot he casts out the former Sultan's harem of 365 women. Wandering alone in the desert, the women are forced out of their life of pampering, silks and perfumes into a vicious battle for survival. However when these dancing girls, assasins and artists join forces with with bandits, camel drivers and librarians, they start to understand the bliss of freedom and their dream to return ho
Selina Lock
Apr 01, 2012 Selina Lock rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiftyfiftyme, novel
When a zealot decides to take over the city of Bessa he orders the death of the sultan, and all the sultan's wives and children. However, being a pragmatist he decides to send the sultan's concubines as a gift to a neighbouring nation. This is how over three hundred women and children comes to be in the middle of the desert, when the conqueror realises that they harbour the last remaining heir to the throne and orders them all to be executed.

What happens next is the tale of how the women survive
Kate O'Hanlon
Apr 19, 2012 Kate O'Hanlon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
My god, this was just so wonderful and true and beautiful.

The 365 concubines of Bessa are exiled from the city after a religious revolution. What follows is the story first of survival in the harsh desert and then of the birth and flourishing of the fabled City of Women.
The sweep of the story manages to balance the broad and epic with the intimate and the personal. The main plot is interrupted frequently for brief character studies, tall tales, and 'elsewheres', which is wonderful, both for brea
Apr 25, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
These were told in more of what I would call a storyteller fashion. That approach was very nice and consistent throughout the book. I also liked how not all the women turned out to be testosterone-like heroines. Overall a very interesting book that I'm glad to have picked up.
Kelley Ceccato
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 23, 2012 Gef rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
Living in the desert sounds like an especially unpleasant way to spend my days, but I'm Canadian with a body acclimated to wintry conditions. Even if I had a huge palatial estate in which to luxuriate with my harem of hundreds, I'd still spend most of my time sweltering. So, I can only imagine how many seconds it would take for me to drop dead if exiled to the sandy desert like the 365 concubines that comprise an ousted sultan's seraglio.

Sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari is the kind of ruler who has a t
Christina Vasilevski
Review originally posted on

About the book: The sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari, ruler of the desert city of Bessa, has been deposed by the zealot Hakkim Mehdad. Mehdad, disdainful of the pleasures of the flesh, at first sentences the sultan's 365 concubines to exile. However, when he learns that the seraglio harbours the sultan's only remaining heir, he orders them to be executed instead. Now, these women must use their wits and the talents of their greatest members and al
Mar 07, 2013 Anna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Mike Carey
Shelves: other-adult
This wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was prepared to read a series of tales told by different characters in the seraglio along the lines of 1001 nights. Whilst we do hear some fantastical tales, they are interwoven with the lives and experiences of the women of the seraglio and the people of Bessa. I was surprised by the humour, intrigued by echoes of other stories (eg Midas), occasionally thrown by the voices, and engaged by both the richly drawn characters and the timeless quality of the ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Garryvivianne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a most awesome book! So beautifully written & the story is amazing! 365 concubines are turned out into the desert, along with the bastard children after a coup. After being out in the desert, they find out that they too are to be killed. Zuleika, a trained asassin & Gursoon, the sultan's advisor lead the group of women into hiding. They are smart & outwit thieves & murderers. They learn to live out of caves & learn trades. The asassin trains them all in how to fight if n ...more
Oct 31, 2013 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Has a very mythic quality like the best adventure stories from history, a tale Scheherazade might have told the king Shahryar in the epic One Thousand and One Nights. Well developed sense of Middle Eastern time and place; wonderful and diverse characters. I found the feminism angle fascinating. Not preachy or pointed like some feminist literature. Rather the authors simply asked what would happen if a city were run by women whose goal was not power and authority, but rather co-e ...more
W. G. Saraband
Jun 30, 2014 W. G. Saraband rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
"The Steel Seraglio" is a little gem of a book. Very well written, it grasps with incomparable skill the feeling of the One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, filled with Djinn, sex, magic and politics.

We are taken through the journey of a harem of 365 women, who want only to have peace in a city of their own. Of course, there are plenty of obstacles to such utopia, and their struggle for this dream is reflected in the individual struggles for each of the characters.

I give it 4.5/5 stars, only bec
Jul 12, 2012 Shelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fav
The way in which this book was written had me hooked from the start. The story of the city of Bessa and what happened there is remarkable. The tale of 365 concubines, their children, somebandits, camel thieves, and the challenges they overcame to reclaim the city that was stolen from them is astounding. You can't turn the pages fast enough. The bookd the first and book the second made the story complete. There was no huge sense of wait, what else? what more? the story ended, but it makes you thi ...more
Aug 11, 2012 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book based on the gorgeous cover and the blurb on the back - a story of women who band together in the face of adversity. I wasn't expecting to come to love each character, no matter whether they were villain, victim, hero or citizen. The Careys weave a tale so well that it's easy to get lost in the book, to surface hours later and wish desperately that it never ended. I must also point out that the occasional illustrations in the book are gorgeously done, and I wish I could hav ...more
Amanda (awesome)
This was an odd one. Some sections I adored and tore through, but others were incredibly slow-paced and as a whole, the book went on long after I stopped being interested. There were too many characters for me to form a bond with more than one or two. Deaths came flying fast at the end, and I didn't really find any affecting.

On the other hand, every time a story within a story is told, the book shines. And the illustrations are lovely. I read somewhere this was initially conceived of as a comic,
Mar 20, 2016 Soronia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I bought this book on a whim, and I am so, so glad I did. What a fascinating and well-written story! And what a departure from traditional fantasy, thank goodness.

The Steel Seraglio is about many things--the nature of recorded history, the importance of community, and never underestimating the power of stories--but mostly it's about a harem. This harem, made up of women bought or stolen from their ordinary lives, are disrupted from the lives they have made with each other by the rebellion of a r
Apr 02, 2014 htanzil marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buntelan
Suatu kala, di suatu kota yang dikenal dengan nama Bessa, ada sultan bernama Bukhari al-Bukhari, yang kekuasaannya direbut oleh pengikut fanatic seorang asketis, Hakkim Mehdad. Sang Sultan, istri-istri, dan anak-anaknya dihukum mati, sementara ratusan selirnya diserahkan sebagai upeti kepada khalifah negeri sebelah. Tetapi, sehari usai kafilah itu meninggalkan Bessa, Hakkim mendapat kabar tak menyenangkan: sejumlah selir yang bersembunyi tak tertangkap olehnya. Ia lalu memerintahkan pengikutnya ...more
Melissa Yuan-Innes
I read the first sentence, “Once there was a city of women,” and was quickly swept away to another world, a world of Arabian fairy tales brought to life in an ancient Middle East. Like all fairy tales, it contains violence and darkness at its heart: a religious fanatic executes the sultan and his family and casts his 365 concubines and their children into the desert. The concubines not only survive, but ultimately form an army to take back the city of Bessa and transform it into a democracy, onl ...more
Dec 29, 2012 Megan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What could have been an Arabian Nights pastiche ended up being an utterly immersive tale told in linked stories about a harem of women who escape certain death and become warriors to take back their desert city. This should be read by far more people than will probably discover it, but give this feminine fable a chance. It reminded me weirdly of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories by Fritz Leiber that I devoured in my youth, but with kick-ass women.
Aug 03, 2015 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This felt a bit disjointed, which was not a surprise to me because there are three authors. I liked some aspects of the story, but not enough to make it more than a "meh, that was ok" sort of book. I really wanted it to be as good as The Girl With All the Gifts, but it is not that book.
Jun 08, 2014 Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Victoria by: Siri Paulson
Enchanting, intricate, clever, and AAAAAHHH SO GOOD. READ IT.
Jul 29, 2012 Hilary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 1/2 stars. The narrative was slow, in both plot and language, but it worked somehow. It was a bit like sitting around a campfire while listening to lost tales of a bygone era--and I think that was the point.

If you are willing to immerse yourself in the deliberate pacing and rich language, it'll probably work for you. Definitely not for everyone.
Dec 15, 2015 Esinam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a completely fantastic book. From start to finish it was beautifully written, the characters were smart, funny, flawed and very very human. In parts it reminded me of Mad Max. Probably one of the best books I've ever read. I'll probably re-read this again within the year. Highly highly recommend!
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Goodreads Librari...: Combining editions? 5 31 Jan 15, 2014 12:02PM  
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.
Mike Carey was born in Liverpool in 1959. He worked as a teacher for fifteen years, before starting to write comics. When he started to receive regular commissions from DC Comics, he gave up the day job.

Since then, he has worked for both DC and Marvel Comics, writing storyli
More about Mike Carey...

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“Sooner or later our souls find their centre of gravity in a hot, salt-tasting kiss and a trembling touch. Trembling is a good sign: it means you're open to a world that knows you're coming.” 9 likes
“Once there was a city of women.” 6 likes
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