part time writer. part time photographer. full time rambler history & book lover full of wanderlust. half filipino-half saudi arabian nerd. future rn.

A-/B+ | A sequel that continues to enchant with its worldbuilding and the characters were much more compelling here and in the previous book. However, the book is bogged down by unnecessary romance.

Like its predecessor, A House of Rage and Sorrow is a solid fantasy/science fiction novel. Sangu Mandanna has a way with worldbuilding and I admire and adore this so much. Her world here is as vibrant, lush, and alive as the ocean. In terms of worldbuilding, this is one of the best I’ve read.

Storywise, I think it’s on par with the previous book – well written and moves through the events at a good and steady pace. I definitely enjoyed reading this book and it has made me interested in perhaps one day reading Mahabharata when I’m not so busy with nursing school. I honestly consumed this book because I needed to know how it would end.

I loved that little twist – well, I thought it was a twist – about Max.

I also adored having Titania as a POV character. I enjoyed reading her chapters and quite frankly, I forgot that she was a warship and not a human/humanoid being. Remember in Star Wars where whenever they communicate there’s this hologram of the person they’re talking to? Yeah, that’s what I imagine with Titania.

And I will say this: the characters this time around were far more compelling. Sybilla, in particular, was the most interesting character aside from Titania.

But Esmae’s POV chapters were far more enjoyable to read because she is far more interesting here than she was before. Oh! And also much more tolerable. Rama’s fate removed the rose-tinted glasses Esmae insisted on wearing as she clung onto the belief that she could be a family with the people who abandoned her/never knew of her existence until recently. I much prefer Esmae who sees that the people around her are her family rather than the Esmae who insisted that her only family was her mother who abandoned her and brothers who used her longing for a family for their own use.

The scene with her mother truly made me scream but in a good way because Esmae needed to see the truth for herself.

And that ending? Wow, that ending. I loved it and I’m so excited for the next book.

So why is this not getting a perfect grade?

Anyone who has read my previous review about the first book knows how I feel about the romance here and unfortunately, this feeling wasn’t changed. The romance tossed here between Max and Esmae was completely unnecessary.

I love romance, okay? I do. I truly adore reading romance and getting all giddy every time characters kiss and profess their adoration for each other.

I didn’t feel that with Max and Esmae’s relationship. Their relationship was already unsteady for me in the first place and it was difficult for me to find any sort of connection or even emotion in general for them as a couple. This book truly could have done without their relationship.

Is it kinda mean that of all things, this is what brings down the book for me?

Sure. However, I believe that if an author includes romance (something that’s put down a lot in novels), it should be well-written romance. I’m sort of tired of seeing romance just tossed around willy nilly as almost a last minute edition which is what I felt like was happening here with Max and Esmae’s relationship. Sure, I have to give props to Sangu for not having the romance overtake the story as a whole, but I feel like this relationship could have been better written.

Of course, people are free to disagree with me because this is just my opinion. But if you’re looking for a great romance in this book, you won’t find it here.

If you’re someone who can ignore something like this and are looking for an otherwise fantastic, stunning, well-written sci-fi/fantasy novel, then A House of Rage and Sorrow is the book for you.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the eARC via Edelweiss+. All opinions are my own.

#bookreview #ya

B | A solid science fiction/fantasy. The worldbuilding was far more compelling than the characters themselves. The romance was unnecessary and just felt forced. Worldbuilding and the ending are what saved this book for me.

So I was browsing through Edelweiss+ to see which books to add to my “to read” list and I stumbled upon A House of Rage and Sorrow which is the yet to be released sequel. After reading the synopsis, I thought it was super interesting so I wanted to give this series a shot. How could I not? A science fiction novel with fantasy elements mixed in? I had to get my hands on the books.

Let me talk about the things I adored first before I go anywhere else.

I am a sucker for good worldbuilding. I admire authors who are able to craft universes with paragraphs because it’s only those kinds of books that I’m really able to escape into. If a book’s worldbuilding is lacking, it means it’s harder for me to be consumed by a book, especially if the characters don’t really compel me.

The worldbuilding in this novel is stunning. It’s beautifully crafted. It was easier to visualize this world – this universe of gods and technology. It was easy to fall into this world and I enjoyed the book for this worldbuilding.

However, I wish I could say the same for the characters. I couldn’t connect with any of them. Although the characters felt like they had weight to them and were well written, I just could not find that click. Yeah, sure, I felt stuff because of the character’s actions, but connect? Not so much.

Still, I can’t deny that I loved how morally grey everything felt. At first, you think it’s an easy black and white story, but as you progress, the lines blur. What is the truth and what is the lie? Are Esmae’s brothers working with her or are they just using her because they see a willing pawn?

Admittedly, I spent 90% of the book annoyed with Esmae. Quite frankly, I dislike characters whose entire existence is about returning to their REAL family. I get it. It’s human to long for family, but if a person’s entire motive is driven by the idea of reuniting with their real family while simultaneously ignoring the people around them who do treat them like family, then I just can’t stand by that.

Esmae wants to help her twin – a twin who doesn’t even know of her existence – win back “his crown”. Help him win back the crown and then she’ll have a family and a home.

Maybe it’s because I couldn’t make a good connection with her, but it just made my eyes roll up skyward that she was so determined to help this stranger – her twin sure, but a stranger nonetheless – win this crown. What has he done that deserves this loyalty?

And what about the family she has with Rama? Is he not family? Or was he just something to pass time and loneliness? From the way she was acting for the majority of the book, it felt like the latter rather than the former and that made me weep.

What saved her for me was the ending. That ending wrecked me in a good way, but I was glad it happened because Esmae needed a wake-up call. She needed to have those rose-tinted glasses of hers ripped from her face.

But don’t take my annoyance with Esmae as me thinking she’s a bad character. No. In fact? I thought she was a fantastic character. I might not have been able to make a connection with her and spent 90% of the book annoyed with her, but she was a well-written character.

I would have given this book a higher rating if it wasn’t for the fact that the romance was just so bad.

It was totally unnecessary and felt forced. It was almost as if it was inserted last minute. I didn’t like it and honestly, this book would have been better without it.

#bookreview #ya

A+ | A spectacular and solid fantasy novel that has everything I love: magic, a protagonist I can connect with, side characters that feel human, a romance that is actually believable and developed rather than shoved down my throat, an actual journey.

Where do I begin?

This book is marketed as Mulan meets Project Runway. However, it’s so much more than that. Yes, it has elements of both with the whole taking her father’s place after an imperial summons and the competition to design clothes. However, about 30% of the way in, it shifts to another direction – our protagonist, Maia, is sent on this impossible journey to craft three mythological dresses that had once been made for a goddess. She’s joined by the endearing Edan, the Emperor’s Enchanter. It has elements of The One Thousand and One Nights/The Arabian Nights and imperial China mixed into the fray.

I adored Maia. I adored Edan. I adored Lady Sarnai.

Each one of these characters felt human with real feelings, especially Lady Sarnai. I focus on her because she could have easily become this one-dimensional character that I could care less about, but she didn’t. Instead, I want to know more about this young woman – what are her motives? Why does she act the way she does? Believe in the things she believes in? What was her childhood like? Look, I know I’m focusing on Lady Sarnai here, but I can’t help it. She’s interesting. She reminds me of Empress Tanashiri/Danashiri from Empress Ki who was a character I honestly enjoyed more than Seung Nyang.

I love complex characters and it was so refreshing to see here.

As for Maia? God, where do I begin aside from reiterating how much I adored her?

I do. I adore Maia because she feels so real. She actually has a personality! It isn’t just filial piety that drives her to impersonate her brother, but her own desire to shatter the glass ceiling. Both are equally important to her. She never forgets either reason while she’s there in the imperial palace. Also, the fact that she makes mistakes is just an entire chef kiss moods. She’s funny and passionate and a hard worker. She could have easily won the competition if she used the magic she had at her disposal, but she didn’t once she knew what she had in her grasp. I have to admire her for it because she believed in herself and in her abilities so much.

Still, did I find myself shaking my head at her? Did I get annoyed with her? Oh absolutely. There were those moments when I rolled my eyes, to be honest. But still, the fact that I didn’t spend the majority of this book rolling my eyes is a good thing.

And by God, Edan? I loved him. He is enchanting and humorous and oh so imperfect. He is respectful, protective, and sweet, but also loves to tease Maia. When we first meet him, I honestly thought he was an ass – an arrogant ass who definitely needed to be smacked with a slipper. However, as the pages went on and we got to spend more time with him through Maia’s eyes, he turned out to be a good cookie. His story honestly pulled at my slightly blackened heart and

The relationship in this novel is a not a slow-burn, but it’s not all-consuming wildfire love that gets shoved down our throats, either. It’s a realistic relationship because it was built on friendship and trust and banter. It’s been a long time since I watched Empress Ki, but the relationship here sort of reminded me of Seung Nyang and Wang Yu’s relationship – at least before shit went down and she had to become Toghon Temur's concubine. It’s one of those relationships that I can cheer on, rather than roll my eyes at every time they confess their feelings for each other.

And we can’t forget about the worldbuilding.

One of the most essential things in fantasy is to have good worldbuilding – a universe that has weight to it. Any piece of fantasy media that has good worldbuilding gets a gold star in my book and it gets another if that fantasy is inspired by Asia – be it East Asia, South East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, or the Middle East.

Spin the Dawn gets both of these gold stars. It’s definitely influenced by China which is just so refreshing to see. It felt like I was reading a novelization of a really, really, REALLY good Chinese historical drama with fantasy lovingly placed into it.

If you’re looking for a well-written fantasy with compelling characters, this is the book for you.

Thank you to Random House Children’s, Knopf Books for Young Readers, and NetGalley for providing me with an ebook version of ARC. I received this in exchange for a review. My opinions are my own.

#bookreview #ya

So I read this book a while back in December 2018 (it's June 2019 now) and while I was updating my, I realized that I never finished writing the review. However, my opinion still stands. Still, since it has been a while and I only got so far in my original review, I'm going to try to keep this nice and short.

A/A- | This book is solid. It maintains that Fatal Frame-esque feel that I love but also brings more meat that I had been looking for from the first book.

I tend to read books I love really fast because I just engulf them. I can't help it. I would stay up all night to finish a good book. The Suffering is that book. I could not put this book down. Rin's writing has a way of gripping onto you and never letting you go.

With the first book, I kept wanting to shake my phone. I wasn't totally satisfied. Rin had set up this setting that felt so much like one of my favorite game series that I couldn't help but want more and more. This time, however, I was far more satisfied with how things worked out.

The characters felt much more compelling. The story progressed in a much better pace. And? And! I was actually a little more scared this time around. Of course, I was reading this at night while I was alone, but the point still stands.

The series might have started a little slow, but I thought the conclusion was worth the slow start to this journey.

#bookreview #ya

B+/B | Japanese ghosts and folklore? Fatal Frame-esque atmosphere? I'M SOLD SIGN ME UP.

I adored the Fatal Frame games. I never had the chance to actually play the main games myself (I did play the spin-off Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir for the 3DS which was eh but oh well), but I did watch a ton of YouTubers play it. I always have looked for other media – but especially books – that capture that very same feel and atmosphere: Japanese ghosts and rituals gone wrong.

This Rin Chupeco sort of did that with this book. It sort of captured the atmosphere of the Fatal Frame games, except without the soul or the weight or the scares of the games. Fatal Frame is the AAA game while this is more of a mobile game.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is a good book. A decent and good one, in fact. It passed the time and distracted me and let me escape a little like a good mobile game. Good enough that I definitely will be reading the next book in the series.

However, I’m not going to pretend like this was magnificent because it’s not. The jumps between narration, from third person to first all of a sudden – while it sounds cool – made things a bit too much like watching a ping pong game. A bit much for a scatterbrain like me. (Okay, jk, I’m not that much of a scatterbrain).

It’s not scary. Yeah, sure there’s the attempts to have the scares, but it’s like my baby cousin trying to scare me when she should be napping instead. You can get me once or twice if I’m not expecting it, but other than that it’s meh.

Okiku is interesting and so Tark. However, I honestly wished that there was MORE. I needed more meat. I would have rather had a 300+ page book that had MORE than a book that sometimes felt like I was reading summaries.

Do I recommend? Honestly, yes. I think you should give this a shot.

#bookreview #ya

F | I still can't believe I wasted my time on this crap.

Allison Pataki's Sisi books are atrocities. Her portrayal of Sisi and company is horrendous. I get it. It's historical fiction and creative license is a thing. But Pataki essentially ran over history, pooped over the corpse, and then burned it before running over the ashes. You don't get points for tossing in sprinkles of research while making a mess of the story. Listing your sources doesn't suddenly make the book better, nor does it mean the information suddenly and magically translate into the writing. I had this problem back with the first one and Pataki never bothered to improve.

I mean, what can I expect from the writer who had Sisi who was repulsed by sex and thought sex was a waste of time, have sex with Gyula Andrassy aka one of her best friends. You know? It's possible for men and women to love each other without sex.

Was this book any better than the first? Sure, but only by a little.

Sisi is still reduced to this THING. She's not respected at all. Hell, no one is treated with respect, but ESPECIALLY Sisi. Sisi wasn't perfect. She had her flaws — and oh boy they were PLENTY. However, Pataki's Sisi continues to be a laughing stock, a desperate, pathetic housewife whose entire existence was shattered because her husband didn't pay enough attention to her. Again, Sisi wasn't perfect, but she also wasn't this one dimensional, pathetic housewife pouting because no man would pay attention to her.

This book (and it's prequel) are poorly written and just terrible. This book deserves zero stars.

#digitaljournalpost #bookreview

F | Don't even bother.

Alright, full disclosure. I read this book back in 2015 & I actually reviewed it on Amazon, so this is pretty much a copy & paste of that old review that I wrote back then. However, my opinion still stands. This book it an atrocity. It is horrifically terrible. I am ashamed that I actually spent a few days reading this book.

For the love of God, don't waste money on this book. If you love to read books where intriguing, complicated women are turned into simpletons whose worth are tied into whether or not they are loved by their husbands or another man, then by all means, read it. However, if you want a book that respects Empress Elisabeth, look elsewhere because this is not the book you are looking for.

Pataki's Sisi is reduced to a weepy woman who suffered only because her husband didn't pay attention to her. This author reduced the freedom loving, introverted Elisabeth who wrote poems yearning for freedom and who had a fear of strangers into a woman whose deep depression was caused solely by the fact that her husband paid more attention to her mother-in-law and the empire. This author did not give Elisabeth the respect that she deserved.

Let us not forget that she also reduced Archduchess Sophie into an evil mother-in-law who sought to destroy her niece rather than write her as someone who could not see past her own opinions and traditionalist values blinded her to everything but her own thinking.

Do yourself a favour and avoid this book. Historical fiction or not, the treatment that Pataki gave to all of these people was horrendous. Read The Reluctant Empress or The Lonely Empress instead. They might be biographies, but you will enjoy reading those at least and the people are given the respect they deserve.

#digitaljournalpost #bookreview

(this is a longer version than the one on GR because of character limits)

C-/D+ | A waste of time.

Haseki Hürrem Sultan (or Roxelana, as Peirce annoyingly refers to her throughout the book) was catapulted into the history books after she became Sultan Süleyman’s concubine. Her true name is lost to history; however, she was renamed Hürrem — a name that she used to refer to herself for the rest of her life. Captured and enslaved as a young woman, Hürrem was ultimately brought to the imperial harem, an institution Peirce thoroughly examined in her 1993 book of the same name. In this previous scholarly work, Peirce explains that “the term “harem” did not connote a space defined exclusively by sexuality […] A harem is by definition a sanctuary or a sacred precinct. By implication, it is a space to which general access is forbidden or controlled and in which the presence of certain individuals or certain modes of behaviour are forbidden.” The harem was a political institution in which reproduction was strictly controlled. For women of the harem, political power and wealth came in the postsexual years: after they had given birth to a son, left the sultan’s bed, and established their own households.

What made Hürrem different was that after giving birth to her first son, she never left Süleyman’s bed. Rather than follow tradition, which dictated that the birth of a son would end her time as Süleyman’s sexual partner, she continued to have a sexual relationship with him and remained by his side. This relationship eventually led to the birth of six children, five of them sons. She remained, for the rest of her life, Süleyman’s favourite, eventually becoming his chief consort — his Haseki, a title created for her position as chief consort, but unequal to that of the sultan — and marrying him. One of her sons, Selim, would become sultan upon Süleyman’s death.

Despite its interesting subject matter, Peirce’s Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire is a terribly written and biased piece that lacks structure, neglecting to include important information at logical junctures. More alarmingly, Peirce distorts and exaggerates historical fact to embellish her subject’s power and influence, caters to fans of the ruthless second wave feminism trope, and ultimately tries to spin history into a fairytale rags-to-riches story. In the attempt to exonerate Hürrem and frame her as a heroine worth rooting for, Empress presents her as far too brilliant, far too powerful, and far too perfect. Peirce’s Hürrem can do no wrong; she is intelligent, politically aware, and a keen manipulator of circumstance, but at the same time indisputably innocent of charges levelled against her — not even to ensure one of her sons would take the throne. Conversely, those who stood against Hürrem’s success like Mahidevran, Ibrahim, and Mustafa are consistently painted in a far more negative light. Their importance is watered down, their merits are downplayed, and their figures presented dismissively order to serve the narrative and make Hürrem look better.

When compared to her academic work, Empress falls flat on itself. While the prose is easy to read, Peirce’s writing falters as she attempts to write for a general audience. Rather than providing a scholarly analysis backed up by historical evidence, she favours a biased narrative that relies heavily on speculative “imagining”, value judgments, and tenuous yet sweeping claims. Her use of romantic and idyllic language drags down her writing rather than lift it up, and uncritically attempts to frame Hürrem and Süleyman’s relationship as a love story. The concluding statement of Empress’ introduction provides no better example of Peirce’s modus operandi, in which she asserts the Ottoman Sultanate’s survival was largely “bolstered by the reforms she introduced”, a process “generated along with the Ottoman empire’s greatest love story.”

This language is typical of Empress. Peirce forces the reader to see the Ottoman world through her lens and adopt her wishful imagings, instead of allowing them to form their own views and imagine independently. Her “speculation” includes comparisons that make little sense, all the while implying that Hürrem “must have thought” of such things herself! Peirce notes that women forced into sexual servitude may not have viewed their status positively, yet at one point abhorrently tries to justify it because of the “compensations” — that these women “must” have known they probably wouldn’t have had easy lives or happy marriages in their homelands, and would be comforted that, even as palace slaves, they could at least live in the lap of luxury: “An emotionally and sexually fulfilling marriage had not necessarily been in store for them in their hometowns and villages. The common practice of arranged marriage could saddle them with husbands who were unattractive, considerably older, or even brutal. Mostly peasants, they were more likely than not destined for a life of daily toil and perhaps poverty and early death. The dynastic family to which they now belonged at least kept them in luxurious comfort and good health.”

Of course, no one knows what Hürrem thought during certain events; suggestions that she would have connected herself to other women in history, or compare the converted Ayasofya to her own experience, do not belong in a biography. Peirce can speculate and draw conclusions based on the facts that she has. However, she can’t lead readers to imagine that Hürrem ever thought of what architectural endeavours she might take on should she succeed with Süleyman, sympathized with Anne Boleyn, or compared herself to Gürcü Hatun (a Christian-born consort beloved by a Muslim ruler) and Byzantine royals like Eirene; that Süleyman instructed her in the art of war, tutored her as a diplomat, or gave her a say in how the design of the new palace harem, especially whilst Süleyman’s mother Hafsa was alive. There’s no evidence for any of these things. Such fanciful scenarios are better suited for a work of historical fiction — and considering how Peirce omits pertinent information she herself described in The Imperial Harem to suit the narrative, she might as well have written a novel!

Empress gives the impression that it was by marrying Süleyman that Hürrem became a “queen” and obtained the stature that she had. However, this is not the case. Although Peirce mentions that noblewomen married Ottoman sultans in prior centuries, she neglects to inform the reader that because royal wives were barred from having children, they were not as powerful as their slave counterparts who did. “Women without sons were women without households and therefore women of no status,” summarizes Peirce in The Imperial Harem. Because the Ottomans granted greater prestige to women who bore a son over a childless one, limiting reproduction limited access to political power: “Royal wives were deprived of this most public mark of status [the patronage of public buildings], presumably because they lacked the qualification that appears to have entitled royal concubines to this privilege: motherhood. The suppression of the capacity of royal wives to bear children is an example of the Ottoman policy of manipulating sexuality and reproduction as a means of controlling power. To deny these women access to motherhood, the source of female power within the dynastic family, was to diminish the status of the royal houses from which they came.”

Peirce gives the example of Sittişah (Sitti) Hatun, who married Mehmed II, the Conqueror of Constantinople. She describes Sittişah’s wedding to Mehmed, an event surrounded by great pomp and circumstance. However, she neglects to inform the reader that Sittişah’s marriage to Mehmed bore no children. According to Franz Babinger, although she had wed to the great conqueror himself, the childless Sittişah was ultimately powerless and died lonely and forsaken. As Peirce explained in The Imperial Harem, unions such as that of Sittişah and Mehmed were largely symbolic and strictly political in nature: “Although their careers as consorts of the sultans often began with the ceremonial of elaborate weddings, royal brides were ciphers in these events. What counted was the ceremony itself and what it symbolized: less the union of male and female than a statement of the relationship between two states. The function of the bride, particularly in view of the non-role that awaited her as the sultan’s wife, was to symbolize the subordinate status of the weaker state.”

There is no question that Hürrem and Süleyman’s marriage rattled Ottoman society. Nevertheless, it is alarming that Peirce, who once authored a seminal work on the structure and politics of the harem, omits the fact that it was motherhood and not marriage that empowered a woman in the dynastic family. Such gaps in knowledge might lead those previously unfamiliar with the Ottoman harem to believe that marriage made Hürrem a “queen” and gave her political power, going so far to describe her and Süleyman as a “reigning couple” at one point. (Bizarrely, she does discuss abortion in Empress, yet avoids writing about dynastic family politics beyond mentioning “political planning”.)

Far more perturbing is Peirce’s insistence that Hürrem did more than she actually did for the empire. She claims that it was Hürrem who played a pivotal role in “moving the Ottoman Empire into modern times” and allowed the sultanate to survive through reforms she introduced. While she certainly paved the way in some regards for the women who followed her, Peirce overestimates Hürrem’s impact on the history of the Ottoman empire. There are other influential figures who helped preserve the sultanate, other forces that allowed it to flourish. Furthermore, Peirce downplays external factors that allowed for Hürrem’s ascent in the first place — namely the absence of a valide after 1534, not to mention Süleyman’s lasting infatuation for her — in favour of emphasizing her purportedly “unique” qualities of endurance, intelligence, and being a survivor.

Peirce goes on to anachronistically frame Hürrem as a feminist figure. In one passage, she describes her as a “forward-thinking equal opportunity employer” who “challenged women’s etiquette” because she wanted a female scribe for her foundation. Peirce’s language suggests that it was Hürrem alone who bolstered women’s opportunities, yet she does not present any evidence that Hürrem introduced or influenced any social or political reforms for women of the time. Yet perhaps most erroneous is Peirce’s claim that credits Hürrem with the start of “a more peaceable system of identifying the next sultan”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Following their Hürrem’s death, her sons Selim and Bayezid became entangled in a civil war that ultimately ended with the deaths of Bayezid and his children. Even in the absence of prolonged violence, subsequent secession crises of the sixteenth century were resolved through the execution of the new sultan’s brothers, including infants. It was only with the ascent of thirteen-year-old Ahmed in 1603 that this tradition was set aside for dynastic concerns, although the practice of fratricide did not cease entirely.

When Peirce isn’t falling over to frame Hürrem as a wonder woman, she dismisses those who stood in opposition to her ascent, such as Mahidevran, Süleyman’s previous consort and mother of his firstborn son, Mustafa. Peirce takes a dim view of Mahidevran, presenting her as a jealous woman who needed to be reminded of her duties as mother of a prince. She is depicted a woman worried about losing a man’s favour, rather than a woman who, by all historical accounts, was deeply concerned for her son’s future. Early in Süleyman’s reign, the ambassador Pietro Bragadin reported that Mustafa was his mother’s “whole joy” at their residence in Istanbul. Later, the crucial role Mahidevran played in supporting her son at his provincial governorships was detailed by visiting diplomats. In 1540, Bassano noted her guidance in “[making] himself loved by the people” at his court in Diyarbakır. Mahidevran’s efforts to protect Mustafa, as well as the bond between mother and son, were observed by Bernardo Navagero in 1553: “[Mustafa] has with him his mother, who exercises great diligence to guard him from poisoning and reminds him every day that he has nothing else but this to avoid, and it is said that he had boundless respect and reverence for her.”

Ibrahim Pasha is another figure disparaged by Peirce’s negative bias. A friend from Süleyman’s youth who quickly ascended to the rank Grand Vizier, Ibrahim was not only a skilled and cultured diplomat admired by his counterparts in Europe but a talented administrator and commander: “During this time, by all accounts, Ibrahim ruled the day-to-day affairs of the empire effectively. Süleyman seems to have been content to give Ibrahim nearly unlimited power and autonomy in running the Ottoman state, and all matters of any significance passed directly through his hands. [...] If Ibrahim's initial ascent was due to his personal ties to Süleyman, in his years as grand vizier, he proved himself a capable diplomat and an effective political and military leader. In 1524, Süleyman sent Ibrahim to Egypt to restore order following an uprising led by a rebellious Ottoman official sent to rule the earlier conquered province. Ibrahim reorganized legal and fiscal institutions, punished mutinous officials and subjects with severity, established schools, restored mosques, and, by all accounts, restored peace and order to the region.” (Eric R. Dursteler, “Ibrahim Pasha”, Great Lives From History).

Conversely, Peirce describes Ibrahim as “dispensable”, implies that he was holding Süleyman back from achieving his greatest accomplishments, and states “other minds were better suited” to administer the empire as Grand Vizier. When comparing her portrayal of Ibrahim to that of Rüstem Pasha, Mihrimah Sultan’s husband — and therefore Hürrem’s son-in-law — Peirce’s bias becomes clear. She practically fawns over Rüstem while being completely dismissive of Ibrahim.

Finally, there is Mustafa: the son of Hürrem’s rival Mahidevran and Süleyman’s oldest living son. Empress of the East paints Mustafa as a brat, calling him “a proud child whose sense of entitlement was apparently both acute and insecure”. Peirce recounts an ambassadorial report describing the young prince’s jealousy over his father’s relationship with Ibrahim — a story she previously featured in The Imperial Harem: ‘The sultan sent İbrahim the gift of a beautiful saddle for his horse with jewels and all; and Mustafa, aware of this, sent word to İbrahim to have one like it made for him ; [İbrahim] understood this and sent him the said saddle, and said to him, ‘now listen, if the sultan learns of this, he will make you send it back.”

Peirce’s two treatments of the same story is telling. In Harem, the account illustrates “İbrahim’s kindly patience in soothing the child Mustafa’s jealousy of his father’s affection for his favourite”, with Peirce noting that the relationship “seems to have consolidated” over time — particularly with the emergence of his half-brothers as a greater threat. In Empress, on the other hand, Peirce only concludes that such incidents “may simply reflect a jealousy on Mustafa’s part of anyone close to his father” without mention of the relationship improving, nor of Mustafa recognizing his true rivals to survival.

Whenever Peirce describes Mustafa’s intelligence and his worthiness, she emphasizes that these are the opinions of his contemporaries. It’s as though she wants to disagree, but can’t because historical evidence only points to Mustafa being how he is remembered to be: an intelligent and a worthy heir to the throne. Mustafa was the clear favourite among the people and the army. In Harem, Peirce herself notes that “Mustafa was universally desired to follow his father to the throne” according to Venetian reports in 1550 and again in 1552. He was more popular than Selim or Bayezid, Hürrem’s living sons who were contenders to the throne. Mehmed, Hürrem’s firstborn, could have been a match for Mustafa had he lived longer, but in the absence of evidence, this is mere speculation.

Mustafa’s execution did indeed stain Hürrem’s name. Along with her son-in-law Rüstem Pasha, she was blamed by contemporaries for orchestrating the downfall of the beloved heir apparent. Peirce predictably sets out to clear Hürrem’s name and exonerate her of involvement in the tragedy, but instead of focusing on a lack of hard evidence, she illogically places blame on Mustafa for his own demise. Writing that previous historians studying the topic “largely failed to consider Mustafa’s part in the affair”, Peirce points out the prince’s popularity and that people were already hailing him as “sultan” — something Süleyman would undoubtedly find threatening. Perhaps Mustafa was the victim of his own success, but it would be deeply unfair to blame him for meriting praise and adoration from others, which could only be earned through excelling in his princely duties.

Had Mustafa won the throne after Süleyman died, tradition would dictate the deaths of Hürrem’s sons — even Cihangir, said to be fond of his eldest half-brother. According to Navagero, Süleyman reminded Cihangir of this reality, warning his son that “Mustafa will become the sultan and will deprive [you and your brothers] of your lives.” Per the Ottoman practice of institutionalized fratricide, someone would have to die.

Beyond the fact that her sons would face near-certain death had he ascended the throne, a victory for Mustafa would deprive Hürrem of power, leaving her to face the fate that had befallen Mahidevran after her son’s death: destitute and cast aside. As Lucienne Thys-Senocak explained in Ottoman Women Builders: “Unlike her European counterparts, the prestige and political legitimacy that an Ottoman valide (queen mother) possessed was derived from her position as the mother of the reigning sultan, rather than through her position as the widow of the deceased sultan [...] Once the father of her son was dead, the valide’s sole source of power and legitimation was through her son, the reigning sultan.” If Mustafa took the throne after Süleyman’s death, Hürrem would have lost not only her sons, but also her status.

The fate of a mother was thus closely bound to the survival of her son. It was not only a mother’s duty to ensure that her son was a contender to the throne, but through his mother’s influence that he survived. A prince’s mother was his mediator, his guardian, his most steadfast ally; it was she who sought to safeguard him from potentially hostile forces, including his own father. While imperial lalas (tutors) ensured that a prince was prepared to take the throne, it was the mother who acted as “an effective agent for her son through her connections with the imperial court, her wealth, and her status as a royal consort and as the most honored person at the provincial court after her son.” (Peirce, The Imperial Harem)

Hürrem, however, did not accompany her sons to their provincial governorships to fulfil the principal role of a prince’s mother. Once again bucking established practice, she remained in Istanbul with Süleyman during this time save for the occasional visit.

Herein lies the irony of Leslie Peirce’s Hürrem Sultan. Only remotely involved with her sons’ provincial careers, painting Hürrem as an innocent flower who never intrigued at court would mean she did nothing to protect, promote, or prepare them at one of the most crucial points of their lives. If she did not have a hand in anything, whether at sanjak or in Istanbul — not even to eliminate their biggest competition — what did Peirce’s Hürrem do to ensure her sons’ success and survival? It is only in the epilogue of Empress that she briefly notes Hürrem’s involvement in ensuring one of her sons received aid he might need. Nevertheless, in the quest to exonerate her subject, Peirce inadvertently makes it seem Hürrem neglected her chief responsibility as mother of the sultanate’s heirs. Even with multiple sons and no precedent to follow, one would think she would’ve done anything to help or protect them — and by extension, herself. Yet Peirce provides no evidence or examples of Hürrem’s involvement in educating or preparing her sons for rulership.

Ultimately, Empress of the East only does Hürrem a disservice by presenting her as a proto-feminist, empowered heroine rather than a complex, controversial historical figure. Peirce embellishes and exaggerates when it suits her narrative, just as she painstakingly aims to clear her subject of alleged wrongdoings. But this approach backfires when one considers the book as a whole: rather than a mother and a politician who understood the importance of protecting her sons and readied them for the throne, Peirce gives the impression Hürrem did little to advance their interests — despite the allegedly large clout she had as “empress”.

#digitaljournalpost #bookreview #historybooks

Hollywood remakes of Asian movies and tv shows are the absolute worst and actually help drive xenophobia and impede Westerners from being able to understand the various Asian cultures and people. Westerners end up only ever seeing Asians as anime caricatures or dragon people as a result. Why? Well, any movie or tv show that make Asians look like normal everyday people with everyday problems are always changed to meet Western standards and are changed for Western views.

Rather than encourage Westerners to simply watch the original movies or tv shows, Hollywood remakes them and turns them into something that often 1) completely bastardizes the original and 2) turns people off from watching the original because the remake was so trashy.

I know I shit on dubs of animes a lot. I have always preferred listening to the original Japanese voices and reading the subtitles. Not everyone feels the same and thus prefer the dubs so they don't have to deal with reading. However, it brings up the question of why don't we have dubbed versions of the movies and tv shows instead of the remakes? Western movies get dubbed! So why can't Asian movies and tv shows be dubbed as well? Why do we need remakes?

Take the Philippines for example. Okay, there have been Filipino remakes of Korean dramas. However!! Before they even make an attempt to remake it for Filipino audiences, the Korean dramas are always dubbed in Tagalog first from start to end. Additionally, the show is aired a few times. Example, Temptation of Wife was originally a Korean drama that was remade in the Philippines. Episodes of the original version aired twice. Empress Ki (which doesn't have a remake but was dubbed) also aired twice and is available on Iflix.

Why can't Westerns do the same? I do think though that it speaks volumes about Westerners who are able-bodied and have no impediments with vision or reading that too many absolutely refuse to watch anything with subs. If Asian movies/tv show being dubbed will get these people to watch these shows, then so be it. But seriously, maybe if people listened to different languages that aren't Western ones, people wouldn't be so threatened when they hear someone speaking another language.

Thankfully, with the advent of Netflix and Hulu (as well as other streaming services), Asian movies and tv shows are becoming more wildly available with subs. I wish people would give these shows and movies a chance, rather than rushing to remake them.

You won't suddenly burst into flames if you watch and listen to the original Asian movie/tv show with subs. If anything, you might learn a few new words or be better able to pronounce things.

Part of the reason why I feel like so many people struggle to see Asians as more than dragon people or anime characters is because they aren't exposed to anything else but these kinds of movies/tv shows.

The discourse for Asian Americans and other Asians in the diaspora is another matter, but there is a tie between them. Just as Westerners need to see Asians in the diaspora be in more Western media, Westerners also need to be exposed to Asian media from the homelands. By doing remakes, Hollywood is essentially encouraging this view that Western media is more superior and that it must remake any Asian media that they want their hands on. Hollywood is encouraging this view that Asian media is lesser and thus, Asian stories aren't worth telling or watching.

We don't need Hollywood remakes of Asian movies or tv shows. We don't need Asian movies or tv shows to be retold for Western audiences. It's about time that Westerners start watching Asian movies and tv shows in their original forms so that they can actually see Asians as people.


Well, after months of on and off watching this kdrama, I finally finished Queen for Seven Days. To be honest, I had to force myself to finish the series. Every time I would think about starting another series, I'd feel a bit gross because I didn't want to leave this show unfinished and start another.

While the show was decent and I certainly enjoyed the acting, after episode 13 (or so), the episodes were dragging on. I got bored and annoyed with the drama which is sad because I honestly thoroughly enjoyed Lee Dong-Gun as Lee Yoong and Yeon Woo-Jin as Lee Yeok. They were both exceptional, especially Dong-Gun as Yoong.

He was particularly able to capture Yoong's madness, paranoia, yearning, loneliness, cruelty, and softness. He ensured that Yoong felt human with hopes and dreams, but a human who also did cruel and evil things because of his madness and paranoia. They humanized Yoong, but never once tried to woobify him and turn him into this sinnamon roll as people on a certain website or two love to call evil characters. Yoong was human who wanted love, but never once did they excuse his actions. Yoong was human, but a cruel human being whose actions should not be excused because he has daddy and mommy issues. I also adored Min-Young's acting and thought she, too, did a great job with Chae-Kyung.

However, the writing was just off at times. To be quite honest, while I did cry with the ending, I found it so hard to believe that Chae-Kyung and Yeok were in love the majority of the time. It was easier for me to believe Yoong's love for Chae-Kyung than it was for me to believe that Chae-Kyung and Yeok were in love. I believed it only towards the end, but honestly, most of the way, I had to suspend my disbelief.

Still, I enjoyed the fact that Chae-Kyung wasn't this epic and perfect slay queen who could do no wrong and who could beat up 10 men with one hand. I think my favorite part of this entire series was how human every character felt like, but especially Chae-Kyung. No one was perfect. No one was superhuman.

I loved that about this show.

#digitaljournalpost #kdramareview