Sarah Mac's Reviews > A Distant Shore

A Distant Shore by Susannah James
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Holy crazy-ass rollercoaster, Batman! What a read. :D

Based upon the legend of Aimee du Buc de Rivery, the overall effect of A Distant Shore is a strange blend of historical fic & fairy tale. Aimee's disappearance is confirmed, though nobody can accurately pin the remainder of her life. But considering the clouded nature of harem identity & history known vs history supposed, I have no qualms embracing the author's take on Aimee's life...or rather, what her life could have been.

The novel opens with 21-year-old Aimee departing the French convent she's lived inside for 10+ years. Traveling with Aimee is her life-long slave/companion Philomena, a superstitious Caribbean native who's watched over her since she was a baby. Their voyage begins innocently enough...until the ship is nearly sunk by a terrible storm. The doomed passengers & crew are rescued by a Spanish trading vessel, & everyone counts their blessings...until that ship is attacked by fiendish Middle-Eastern pirates. Zounds! Fortunately for Aimee, one of the pirates notices her unusual looks (very pale blonde hair & bright blue peepers) & decides to sell her to a local Turkish aristocrat, throwing Philomena into the deal. This Turkish aristocrat also recognizes Aimee's worth as unspoiled harem fodder -- so she (and Philomena) are shipped to the Sultan's palace & pushed through the harem gate, never to see the outside world again.

As Aimee slowly adjusts (her chief coping mechanism being flashbacks to the convent or Martinique Island), she begins to make friends within the isolation of her new life -- Eb, the chief Eunach of the harem (who has his own tragic story); Ali, her loyal but garbled interpreter; Mihrisah, the mother of the Sultan's heir; Selim, the heir himself. Through them she learns to be content, if not thrilled with her glorified slavery -- but eventually she catches the old Sultan's eye & he takes her to bed. She comes to like the fragile man's intellectual company (though the sex is lacking :P); meanwhile he showers her with gifts & harem influence in exchange for rolling around in her beautiful blonde hair, & eventually she gives birth to a son. Her place in the harem's future is assured, but that creates new problems -- especially after she meets Alexander, a Janissary captain. Aimee carries lusty island blood & she can't quite reconcile her conflicted feelings for Alexander & Selim.

Oh noes. ;)

The blurb & artwork imply a romantic plot, but I wouldn't call it such. Though I classify it as a bodice ripper (tons of violence, lusty behavior, & OTT moments) & there are some sex scenes, the story has very little 'romance' in the modern sense. But the writing is simply divine, & I love the dream-like quality of the flashback tidbits that imagine a young Aimee & her cousin Josephine. Aimee's memories of the convent are equally fascinating, with things said & things unsaid (the old nun's rant about cloistered life is awesome), & there's a strange erotic quality to her struggles with faith. It was all beautifully written, from the vivid, stunning scenery to the elegant, gross, & grotesque flow of life within a harem. Furthermore, every.single.character is unique & alive on the page -- from an abused boy to the Chief Eunach, or loyal Philomena to shrewish Jalima. History or fantasy? Whatever. It's an exercise in Good Writing.

...But it's not for the faint at heart. Here's a list of bloody, graphic, old-school, or otherwise WTF moments in A Distant Shore. If these things bother you, don't read it. Seriously. It's not a book for people with sensitive stomachs, as the author doesn't shy from brutality of the era & locale.

- A Distant Shore: The Squicky List -

-pirate rape (including graphic rape/murder of a nun & a girl)
-general bloodspray
-underage (vaguely) consensual sex
-ped0bear rape of both genders
-unapologetic slavery
-unapologetic incest
-murdered babies
-murder in general
-whipping/rape of a nearly-dead slave girl
-suicide by knife

Also, someone has their heart cut out. Which is then eaten by the murderer. Blech.

So, yeah -- definitely not a book for the squeamish. But I loved it. :D
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Reading Progress

06/16/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by Kerrie (new)

Kerrie You did it! *high five* Avg. rating goes up from 1 to 3!

message 2: by Willow (new) - added it

Willow Wow, I didn't know you were reading this! That's awesome!

I had a feeling this book was going to be kind of dull, but your fantastic review has changed my mind. Thank you bunches!

message 3: by Willow (new) - added it

Willow I've got another book on the legend of Aimée du Buc de Rivéry that I've been wanting to read. It's Sultana by Michael Prince of Greece

message 4: by Nona (new) - added it

Nona ok I've had this for years and it just got bumped up to the top of my tbr shelf. thanx for a great review

message 5: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla I liked your review even though I only glanced at it. Don't want to spoil myself. :D

Sounds like the 1 star rating might have been one of those squeamish types. :P

Sarah Mac @Kerrie - Whee! *high fives* I forgot to paste the Bodice Rippers Review tag, though. Guess that's what happens when you review at 5 a.m. Heh.

@Willow - It was supposed to be a Buddy Read with Karla, but there was a snafu with her copy's arrival time, so I started reading on the sly. (Thankfully she forgave my impatience. :D)

@Nona - No problem. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. :) Now I feel the nerves o' recommendation. Heheh.

@Karla - Yeah, I can make a good guess at that reviewer's taste. :P

message 7: by Willow (new) - added it

Willow That's excellent! I love it when you and Karla do buddy reads because I love to read your reviews. :)

message 8: by Sarah Mac (last edited Aug 02, 2012 01:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah Mac Willowfaerie wrote: "That's excellent! I love it when you and Karla do buddy reads because I love to read your reviews. :)"

I know she's started it (since the post office finally coughed up her order), but I'm not sure where she is. No doubt we'll hear her reactions afterward. :D

message 9: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla I'm only on page 55 and it's been slow going, but that's cuz I've been dog tired with barely any time to read lately. Now that I've finished shuffling books around, maybe I can actually focus on READING one. :-P

Sarah Mac Usually our Buddy Reads have me rating the book lower than you, but perhaps this will be the exception? Only focused reading time will tell. ;P

message 11: by Karla (last edited Aug 03, 2012 04:11AM) (new) - added it

Karla I think it will end up being lower if the constant head-hopping and flashbacks don't stop. They're pissing me off. (on page 105)

Sarah Mac I loved the flashbacks because they made the whole story seem very dream-like & ethereal. The head-hopping was a little jarring at first; I ended up imagining it like a musical, where one character says something & the others take turns contradicting it while they look at the camera. Heh.

message 13: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla It was the scene where she first comes to the Bey in Algiers and the POVs change every paragraph. I had no idea who was thinkin what because my mind was wandering anyway. I'm not worrying if I don't read every single word or if I pick it up and miss half a page. Not much has happened so far anyway.

Sarah Mac Yeah, James is a little free with the quotation marks on occasion.

Now I'm worried that the dreaded Troubled Acquisition Curse has come upon you -- that the book was so hard to get that your expectations will be dashed. :(

message 15: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla I simply haven't had any reading time beyond 15 minutes at a time and this book doesn't take too kindly to it. F'rinstance, I was just about to sit down and read some, but noticed that storm clouds were coming up and the lawn needed to be mowed. Also had to do some garden stuff and critter chores as well. Eventually I'll get some time with this damn book tonight. >:(

Sarah Mac I will keep my fingers crossed that your enjoyment goes up several notches. :P

Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~* Great review's alot packed into one book!

message 18: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla Sarah wrote: "I will keep my fingers crossed that your enjoyment goes up several notches. :P"

I think the best I can hope for at this point is 4 stars. Probably being optimistic. It isn't helping that I feel nothing for Aimee. Mena is the only one remotely interesting, but she's sort of a Mammy stereotype so it's mainly just a lol factor there. :-(

Sarah Mac I liked Mena's Mammy-ness for that familiar GWTW redux. But if you don't like it, you don't like it - no sense forcing yourself to plow through. I always knew there'd be another disparity between our library keepers besides Jane Eyre. :D

message 20: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla Hey we're up to 2 bones of literary contention! :-D

message 21: by Kerrie (new)

Kerrie Agh! Jane Eyre! Never want to read that book again. Ever. Did my English teachers not know of any other 19th century novel? Three times that book was assigned. THREE. Sorry, rant over. Just the title is enough to get me all ragey. :(

message 22: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla Ugh, I'd forgotten you had to read it MULTIPLE times. I only remember junior high school English class. *insert GIF of traumatized Stewie*

message 23: by Sarah Mac (last edited Aug 05, 2012 02:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sarah Mac Kerrie wrote: "Agh! Jane Eyre! Never want to read that book again. Ever. Did my English teachers not know of any other 19th century novel? Three times that book was assigned. THREE. Sorry, rant over. Just the tit..."

I'd have killed to read Jane for school. :( Instead I had to read The Awakening and/or Things Fall Apart multiple times. *gag* Dear god, the echoes even today.

Then again, if I'd have had to over-analyze poor Jane & Rochester & that preacher-dude, I'd probably not have enjoyed it nearly so much. Stupid papers.

Sarah Mac Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Hey we're up to 2 bones of literary contention! :-D"

I wonder what #3 will be? :D (The Pagan doesn't count. I trust your opinion of it -- I just don't want to read the madness for myself. Hahaha.)

message 25: by Karla (new) - added it

Karla Oh come on, I'm sure you'd be swept up in Vesuvio's adventures. :D

message 26: by Kerrie (new)

Kerrie Karla (Mossy Love Grotto) wrote: "Oh come on, I'm sure you'd be swept up in Vesuvio's adventures. :D"

Exactly, how can you not? I don't think I've read a book before where my brain is saying "OMG, this is CRAP!" and "OMG, this is AWESOME!" at the same time. :D

It's a MST3K experience for sure!

Sarah Mac I dunno if my squicky shields are strong enough for THAT experience, though. A girl's gotta know her limits. :D

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