The Oracle of Stamboul is a charming fairytale about nine year old Eleonora Cohen, who is precociously intelligent. She can memorise anything she is given to read and converse in seven different languages. When her carpet-seller father leaves for Stamboul (Istanbul) on business, Eleonora secretly follows him. But her intelligence and gifts can not stay secret for long, and she soon finds herself wrapped up in the Sultan's court.
I have to admit that I chose this book purely because it is set in Istanbul during Ottoman times. The Ottoman Empire is one of my favourite parts of history and I'm always looking out for new books about this period. Where I think Lukas definitely succeeded with this novel was in the way he described the city and the Sultan; he really captured the exotic, other-worldliness that we as Westerners often think of when we imagine Istanbul at that time. I wouldn't have been surprised if at some point a flying carpet or a genie appeared. There were spice markets and mosques and tiled mosiacs and the call to prayer and at some points I wanted to climb right in through the pages.
The setting was so wonderfully described that at times the story was secondary to it. The basic story line of a gifted child and a worried Sultan was a good one, but it is Stamboul itself I will remember from this book. The story was told in the way you would a fairytale, which I am not usually a fan of, but it did work well in this case. Because of this method of storytelling, the magical elements did not seem out of place and they didn't bother me at all. In much the same way the secondary characters were slightly underdeveloped, but again it didn't matter as the whole novel was like a fairytale.
The Oracle of Stamboul is a quick, charming read which I liked but didn't love. It's perfect for a cosy Sunday afternoon in front of the fire but it's not one I will reread or remember for years to come.
First Published: 2011
Score: 3.5 out of 5