"Equal of the Sun" (Scribner), by Anita Amirrezvani
Iranians love to revel in their history. Tales of the Persian empire -- its glorious conquests! its noble heroes! its brilliant dynasties! -- are never too far from the lips of modern-day Iranians, especially those who aren't too thrilled with the way things are going now for their country.
Writer Anita Amirrezvani has managed to carve out a niche for herself in the world of fiction thanks to that gilded heritage, much the same way Philippa Gregory and others have mined English history for their novels.
Amirrezvani's new book, "Equal of the Sun," takes place in 16th-century Iran, and is told through the eyes of a eunuch who serves one of the most famous women of that era, Princess Pari Khan Khanum. Since a royal court is involved, court intrigue must follow, and it does.
Pari's father, the shah, dies, and a power struggle erupts over who is to succeed him. Because Pari is a woman, she cannot technically take the throne. But as many an Iranian woman will posit, Iranian men are fools if they think they are actually in charge of anything.
It doesn't help that the man Pari decides to back for the throne turns out to be paranoid, murderous and dismissive of her many talents. It also doesn't help that the princess herself is not immune to the pitfalls of power.
The more interesting character, however, is the eunuch who tells the story, and who has his own reasons for wanting to stay in Pari's good graces. The eunuch is known as Javaher (jewel or treasure), and he voluntarily gave up his manhood to prove his loyalty to the shah after his father was executed for treason.
Javaher is convinced his father was an innocent man, and desperately wants to take revenge on those who plotted to bring him down.
Amirrezvani is a very capable writer, though this book is not as well-crafted as her previous novel, "The Blood of Flowers," another work of Iranian historical fiction. The inclusion of common Iranian expressions -- "May your hands never ache!" -- is a nice touch in some places, but at other times it is a bit distracting.
Overall, however, "Equal of the Sun" is a page turner, with plenty of gripping moments. Here's hoping Amirrezvani will write many more tales illuminating the incredible history of the Iranians.