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The Drowning Guard: A Novel of the Ottoman Empire

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  1,406 ratings  ·  133 reviews
Each morning in the hour before dawn, a silent boat launches on the Bosphorous, moving swiftly into the deepest part of the waters halfway between Europe and Asia, where a man will die...

The Drowning Guard is the tale of the Ottoman princess, Esma Sultan—one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history and unlike any other woman in the Islamic world. In a gender reversal
Paperback, 414 pages
Published September 3rd 2013 by Lake Union Publishing
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9th out of 16 books — 14 voters
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1st out of 25 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

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"Not all is as simple as Good and Evil."

That line speaks volumes about this story and the characters within it. This book is enthralling, profound, enraging, uplifting, beautiful, hideous, elevated, common…I could go on and on. Many of these words contradict each other but that’s kind of the point. You see, this story is full of contradictions, in the best way. These characters are so layered, so intricately woven and complicated that you find yourself forever questioning their motivations.

Allison Coffin
Dear God, did anyone even bother to edit the last third of this novel???

I love historical fiction. And strong women. Go Harem Ladies! Yay! This book start out okay, not that anyone would confuse it for Pride and Prejudice in the desert, but at least it was readable. Then it's like the author gave up. The last third felt like the author was just trying to get it over with already, and pretty soon I was with her on that. Poorly written, the ending felt like a barely-flushed-out summary rather than
Linda Lafferty has quite clearly never been taught to show, not tell. The plot of the first three quarters of the book is interesting, but the actual writing is amateur at best and the final quarter of the novel was just all around weak. There was no tension between Ivan and Esma - it just went from him hating her guts one minute to wanting to shag her the next - and I found the whole relationship between them to be forced and unbelievable. Despite the fact that Esma's "confession" was supposed ...more
The Drowning Guard is a beautifully written book, rich with descriptive details. I could see it, smell it, hear it, taste it. The author takes a piece of history from Constantinople and brings it alive, fleshing it out with her own imagination and characters. I was fascinated, brought into another world in another time.

I have trouble finding the words. I start thinking in fragments. The Sultan, the Sultan’s sister, the harem, the Sultan’s guard, the politics, the spying, the multi-cultures, mult
After absolutely adoring Lafferty’s debut novel, The Bloodletter's Daughter, I have been keeping an eye out for the opportunity to read any more of her work. Here, Lafferty moves away from the Hapsburgs of 17th century Bohemia to the Ottoman Empire in 19th century Constantinople. Whereas her previous novel borders on the historical mystery, this one leans more in the direction of a historical romance - though a bodice-ripper this most certainly is not. Lafferty skillfully brings not only her cha ...more

Great narration

This is a dark and twisty book with really great characters. It's historical fiction about the Ottoman Empire - spoiled, twisted, freaky "royalty", but that's how they roll, I guess.

Main characters you hate and love all in the same breath. What I loved about the book is that I could never guess what was going to happen next. So unpredictable, so good.

It's really a complex story that is so much more than the book description.

Now, who will like this book? Well, it's not y
Tara Chevrestt
Extremely pleased with this book. It's 1001 Nights but with a woman responsible for the deaths of her lovers--a white Christian male nearly every night. As the Sultan's favorite sister, any man who beds her is forbidden to live. Her drowning guard takes care of the dirty deed...and because of his knowledge, when struck with illness, he becomes her confessor.

It's a twisted and fascinating tale with dashes of feminism and female empowerment in an otherwise oppressed world. It's rich in history, of
If you recall last week I was Gushing over a book by Linda Lafferty called the Bloodletters Daughter. This week I availed myself of another story she has published called the Drowning Guard (a Novel of the Ottoman Empire.)

It was a little different but almost as enjoyable. Which in this case is super duper awesome. It takes place in the late 1500’s early 1600’s. The beloved sister of a ruling Sultan, with her own kingdom, has sex with non Muslim men, then has her drowning Guard, a Serbian Merce
An Unlikely Romance Amid the Luxury and Depravity of the Ottoman Empire

Each night Ahmed Kadir starnds guard outside the palace of the sultan's favorite sister, the Sultanes Esma, waiting for her discarded Christian lover who he must drown in the Bosphorous. Ahmed, a Janissary, hates his enforced idleness. He wants to return to his Kapikulu calavary regiment, but his prowess has earned the envy of the sultan, so he is banished and sent to guard the sultan's sister.

Esma falls ill. No one can help
Please don’t be misled by the terrible cover. It is the only bad thing about The Drowning Guard. This is actually a terrific book marred only by that atrocity on its face, rather like how I am a terrific person, marred only by the atrocity that is my face.

At first I was pretty lukewarm about the story and the characters. Yes, the prose was lush and vibrant (adjectives that are so commonly used in stories about the Ottoman empire that now I feel like I cheated a little) -- when Lafferty describes
Night Goddess
This is the second book I have read from Linda Lafferty and she is easily becoming a favorite of mine. The Drowning Guard is a historical fiction novel about the Ottoman Empire in 19th century Istanbul. It tells the tale of the Ottoman Princess, Esma Sultan and her drowning guard Ivan Postivich, who has the grim job of executing the sultaness's Christian lovers each night once they have fell victim to her seduction. Ivan loathes Esma for the atrocities he is forced to commit but he soon finds th ...more

Hands down this is the best Audible narration to which it has ever been my pleasure to listen. Suzanne Cypress transported me to another time and place so foreign as to be another world. Never have I experienced such lush beauty interwoven with implacable cruelty. These are the stories of a princess and a slave girl, of a kidnapped boy thrown to the stables in a foreign land - of the deep unfairness of having to grow up hard and fast. This was a good book but I'm never reading again.
The idea of taking less well-known figures from history and building a story around them is an interesting one, but this book doesn't really deliver in the end. The author suffers from trying to take on too many issues, and the story ends up being unclear. The conclusion,in partcular , feels rushed .
Jo Butler
When you are an officer in the Ottoman army, you do as you are told by the Sultan and his family. If Esma Sultana, favored sister of Mahmud II commands you to drown her Christian lover in Constantinople’s Bosphoros Strait, you do it. However, performing this gruesome task night after night after night, then delivering the desperate man’s final words to the Sultana’s eunuch, is tearing Ivan Postivich apart.

Then Postivich is taken to the Sultana’s palace. It seems that Esma is tormented by horrifi
Kitten Kisser
Esma Sultan is an Ottoman princess favored by her father, given her own harem & also favored by her brother who later becomes Sultan. Despite the lavish accommodations & seeming to have her every wish granted, Esma has her own demons to battle. The knowledge that her lovers will be killed starts to drive her mad. She decides to unburden herself to her drowning guard, a huge Christian born soldier named Ivan Postivich who was removed from the Janissary by the Sultan to serve as the murder ...more
An Ottoman captain loses favor with the Sultan and is demoted to a guard at the palace of a favorite princess, whom he serves first as a drowning guard and later as a confessor.

2.5 stars. Much of what I disliked in this book wasn't the idea itself but the way it was executed. The novel jumps between perspectives, but despite this none of the characters are particularly likable. Even the titular drowning guard, who I wanted to cheer on, had a relatively sudden and unexplained change of mind about
In the mid-1830s people from all over the world lived in relative harmony in the great Ottoman city of Constantinople. The Sultan Mahmud II doted on his favorite sister, Esma, and allowed her the privilege of keeping her own harem of women. Her women, technically slaves, were her adopted daughters, and were free to make their own decisions and play happily about the palace.

Mahmud feared, rightly or not, the Janissary troupes who had led many campaigns to expand the Ottoman empire, but had also d
I liked this book much more than I expected to. It kept subverting my expectations.

The title character, Ahmed Kadir, is a classic strong-and-silent type military man who lives for his duty and hides his pain. Everyone else, however, has complexities that slowly emerge over the course of the story.

The other thing I enjoyed was the importance of religion to the novel and to the characters themselves. Very passionate and very pragmatic people abstain from certain actions because of their beliefs.
Augustine Kobayashi
The story is set in the late 1820s, when the Ottoman Empire was called the sick man of Europe. Behind the closed doors of the Sublime Porte, power struggle was being played out, which was made worse because of the general decline of the Empire. The Greeks were fighting their war of independence, with the help of the inspired British poet, Lord Byron. Lafferty bravely tears down the wall and tells a story of an Ottoman princess and a European janissary. This is, however, essentially a modern femi ...more
This book takes place in the turbulent Ottoman Empire in the 1820's. Esma Sultan, beloved sister of the Sultan Mahmud II sits comfortably in her own palace with her own harem of women that she has saved from the Constantinople slave trade. However, any of her lovers are cursed to be drowned in the Bosphorus by morning. The enslaved Janissary, Ivan Postivich, who carries out this dreadful dead for Esma begins to build a hatred for the woman who forces him to kill; he is known as her drowning guar ...more
It's a little difficult to say how I felt about this book. It had a great premise and

When it came to the writing I felt like there were places that had beautiful descriptions, but the rest seemed either forced flowery or a bit juvenile. In the end I think it was the writing that made the book feel disjointed for me.

Next, the characters. Man. I don't think I liked a single character in this book. I know that not all characters in books are meant to be likable, sometimes that's just not the point
An interesting historical novel, until the point it veers off into heavy-breathing soap opera. The underlying plot is still good but in the last third or so of the novel certain plot points, actions of the main characters, and motivations are definitely eye-roll-worthy. It's too bad since Eastern cultures are only just beginning to be addressed by historical fiction writers (probably over-full on Tudors and Borgias), and this could have been one of the great early works in addressing that part o ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Kate added it
I thought it was bodice ripping claptrap. The author has taken some alleged and shocking historical facts about the Ottoman empire and tried to weave a romantic story around them. It felt like she was making it up as she went along. Poorly written and with horrible feminist pretensions. Ghastly book, suprised it ever got published. Every time the Sultaness "arched one eyebrow" I thought I was going to scream. Absolute trash. Only finished it because I took it on holiday and was stuck with it alt ...more
Vanessa Jahns
I recently read The Bloodletter's Daughter by Lafferty, and I must say I enjoyed this book much more. Strangely, I find this book more believable even though the main character is entirely fictitious. This concept is much more interesting as well. I read some other reviews where the reader thinks the book is too graphic or violent, but I feel the violence level is appropriate to the realism of the plot. Plus, if you've read another book by Lafferty already, you know what to expect. Overall, an e ...more
I love historical fiction but usually confine myself to reading books set in western European and colonial to antebellum United States. Call me the ugly American if you will, but I have a hard time getting invested in the political aspect of historical fiction set in the Middle East, eastern Europe & Asia. But I really liked this book. It was well written and I really liked the hero. After reading this book I am definitely borrowing The Bloodletter's Daughter from the library.
Hit the right notes with me. I found the author did a good job of balancing history and fiction while not getting bogged down in expounding, which could have turned this into a 1k+ novel/brick. That could be attributed to a good editor but either way, it worked.

Remember - this is a fiction novel with historical elements, the time and place was brutal, although I'm not sure I see much of a difference in some of today's "modern" countries.
Violence, corruption, murder, sexual innuendo, mashing of
Matt Kruse
This book was very much a mixed bag. At its best, it was very, very good, drawing you into the stories of the two main characters and giving you a good understanding of time and place. At its worst, it lost it's way and either felt forced (really hammering home Esma's views on women's rights in ways that didn't flow naturally) or rushed (the battle between the janissaries and the sultan had a lot of build-up, but the actual coverage was extremely short). Overall the good outweighed the bad makin ...more
This book popped up in my kindle and I was intrigued by the description. Set in the Ottoman Empire in the early 1800's the author takes the live of the real life sultan Mahmud II and his sister Esma Sultan and creates a fictional story.
The book however turned out to be fairly tawdry and not very well written. Lafferty lacks any kind of subtlety and doesn't seem to have learned the old adage of "show don't tell." It is not entirely un-enjoyable however, the subject matter is very interesting, it
Neil MacDonald
For the first half of this novel I was engrossed. Ottoman Constantinople is sumptuously rendered with all its exotic spice and decay, straddling Europe and Asia. I’m always a sucker for plots that echo and change known stories. In this case, the plot stands Scheherazade and the 1001 Arabian nights on its head. Esma Sultan, beloved and indulged sister of the Sultan, takes a new Christian lover every night and has him drowned in the Bosporus before dawn. The task of drowning her lovers falls to th ...more
Read it all in one sitting on the plane from HTX to SFO. Could not put it down for love or money. The characters were compelling, the plot was riveting. Upon reflection I realized there were a lot of holes, and that some of it was ridiculous... but while I was reading those thoughts were furthest from my mind. Which made me realize, sometimes it's okay if the book doesn't add up or story is a bit fantastic for Historical Fiction. If I wanted straight facts or neat ducks in a row, then I'd just r ...more
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The daughter of a naval commander, Linda Lafferty attended fourteen different schools growing up, ultimately graduating from the University of Colorado with a master's degree and a PhD in education. Her peripatetic childhood nourished a lifelong love of travel, and she studied abroad in England, France, Mexico, and Spain. Her uncle introduced her to the sport of polo when she was just ten years ol ...more
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“It is the face of rebellion and determination. It does not show age, terror, or ennui. It is frozen in time, in a moment when you took a stand against a man who abused you. It is a mark of rebellion against man’s dominion, even an Ottoman Sultan. What face could be more beautiful, Kucuk?” 1 likes
“The pressure of politics can change the course of history, and even the word of God.” 0 likes
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