16 January 2017

Meet My Protagonist: Aurelia Mitela - woman and warrior

Older Aurelia
Fifteen hundred years after the end of the Roman Empire, one last (imaginary) part still survives in the 20th century – Roma Nova. Its people are tough, uncompromising in defending their country and guard their Roman cultural values tightly. However, due to the grim times of their early history, women had to take up gladius and scutum (shield) and fight by the side of their menfolk. And they never lost the status this struggle gave them. In the late 1960s in this egalitarian yet still Roman society, Aurelia Mitela is the archetypal Roma Novan... 

Aurelia came to life when I was writing the first Roma Nova thriller, INCEPTIO. Then, she was the clever experienced grandmother of Carina, the book’s heroine. Let Carina tell you in her own words of her first impression of Aurelia:
She’d been so concerned for me, but not in a soppy way. Direct and ‘no-nonsense’ fitted her perfectly, but her smile had been warm. I couldn’t help speculating how it would have been to grow up with her instead of the Browns.

 I started tapping the keys, surfing for 'Roma Nova' while I was drinking and thinking. I couldn’t leave it alone. My grandmother’s name shot out at me. Fascinated, I loaded the English translation. The screen displayed a list of her business interests. Sketchy on detail, it gave some personal stuff at the end: head of the influential Mitela family, senator and government advisor, cousin to the current imperatrix. She really was a big hitter.”

In PERFIDITAS, we see Aurelia, the cool ex-Praetorian, holding the family together after they’d been falsely arrested:
“[Aurelia to Carina] ‘I’ve been through a great deal worse. I’m not a little old lady out of some genteel novel.’ 

 No, she truly wasn’t. She’d been Praetorian Guard Special Forces in her time, even led the attack to retake the city during the civil war. Although now in her mid-seventies, she definitely belonged to the“tough gals” league. She gave me a close description of the arresting party. What a difference it made when the victim was a trained professional and could give you precise, detailed information. She’d printed off her statement and signed it already.

Throughout the first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, set in the present we catch references to Aurelia’s early life, but more intriguingly, a whole range of questions are thrown up. What did she do in the Great Rebellion nearly twenty-three years before the time of INCEPTIO? Why is she so anxious when she compares the villain in SUCCESSIO to Caius Tellus, the brutal ‘First Consul’ who instigated the rebellion all those years ago? Who was the great love of Aurelia’s life that Carina only learns about in SUCCESSIO?

1960s Berlin
In AURELIA, the fourth book which takes us back to the late 1960s, we watch Aurelia as a young woman. She's 28 years old and is accused of murder during a mission to Berlin.While on remand in a Prussian prison, she has to undergo a hostile psychological assessment. Here’s the report on her:

Subject is highly rational, quick-minded and a natural leader. She sees nothing is impossible given enough time and resources. Subject has the confident personality and willpower to pursue and implement her goals, easily bringing others with her. A dominant personality.

Strategic thinker, curious, innovative, able to grasp and deal with problems with determination and precision. Energetic and excellent communication skills, happy to confront and negotiate with others. Intelligent enough to recognise other people’s talents, and work with them. Requires challenges and even failures, or her self-confidence could easily turn into arrogance and condescension.

Personalities of this type cannot tolerate inefficiency or those whom they perceive as lazy or incompetent. They can be chillingly cold and ruthless when the situation arises, operating purely on logic and rationality. 

They interact very well with others, often charming them to their cause, and paying attention to other people’s feelings – or at least pretending that they do. Most mature and successful personalities of this type are genuine in this aspect to some extent, even though their sensitivity may hide a cold and calculating mind.

This is a slant on the classic ENTJ personality  profile from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric test system popular in business to indicate psychological preferences about how people perceive the world and make decisions. I needed to make the report negative for the story, but positive aspects of this type of personality are that they are conceptual and global thinkers, able to see connections where others don’t, and to think ahead. Couple this with the intuition and sense of fair play many ENTJs possess, it  can make life frustrating for this personality when people around them don’t  grasp things the way they do. Of course, this conflict is a gift for a writer…

In essence, Aurelia is a blood-and-bone Roma Novan whose values are based on traditional ancient Roman ones; tough, loyal with a strong sense of duty and fully aware of her responsibilities as head of a great family. But her desire to keep all the balls juggling in the air with precise timing leads to her being riven by guilt if she doesn’t perform a hundred percent.

Aurelia has one vulnerability, her love for her frail daughter, Marina. But along with her determination to serve her country, Aurelia's willingness to sacrifice everything for Marina is also her greatest strength. It motivates her even when she's experiencing her darkest moments.

Is she sympathetic? Yes, because under all that resolution and toughness, she is still a human being who experiences fear, love, despair and grief. She bitterly misses the strong comradeship of her earlier military career and is exhilarated when going back into action. And then there is her devotion to her life-long love, elusive though he sometimes proves to be...


Discover more about AURELIA

Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles. She pursues him back home to Roma Nova desperate now he has struck at her most vulnerable point – her young daughter.

Available as
- eBook from Amazon,  iBooks,  Kobo,  B&N Nook
- audiobook from Audible
- paperback, author signed paperback and from other retailers

HNS indie Editor’s Choice Autumn 2015 
Shortlisted for the 2016 HNS Indie prize, then Finalist (one of four)
B.R.A.G. Medallion, October 2015 
Discovered Diamond January 2016


Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and the latest, INSURRECTIO

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

11 January 2017

Meet My Protagonist: Thaddeus Dombrowski in The Gate of Dawn

By M.J. Neary

I am very thankful for this opportunity to share some obscure insights into the gender dynamic in the Polish-Lithuanian community as explored in my novel The Gate of Dawn. In light of the recent political developments, "patriarchy" and "male privilege" have been frequent buzz words. Any time we talk about any sort of privilege or -archy, it's implied that there is a flip side, an alternative. One particular group is presumed to be in a position of advantage, but there is a possibility that the roles will flip. My readers will find it refreshing that in today's post I will talk about an essentially matriarchal society and the awkward place men held in it. 

As an insider - my biological father being a Pole - I can ponder how Poland's history and geographic location affected the distribution of power and responsibilities between the genders. Sandwiched between two strong and menacing neighbors, Germany and Russia, Poland had been run over, occupied and partitioned. It went on and off the map, though the sense of Polish ethnic identity remained. Over the course of the centuries, certain gender-specific expectations developed. Boys grew up with the idea of being "little soldiers". They were either trying to stage a liberating rebellion, or they were being drafted to serve in the army of one of the occupiers. Either way, they were not expected to have long lives. And the women who loved and married them were assumed to keep it in the back of their collective mind. The odds of them becoming widows with small children were rather high, so they had to be equipped to carry on. Women who were not ready to embrace those risks were better off becoming nuns. Because there was such pressure on boys to be "brave little soldiers", they were to some extent excused from the burden of making decisions in times of relative peace. Men were not expected to become level-headed, practical, disciplined or good with money. Those responsibilities usually fell on women. Boys fight - girls do everything else. It is my personal belief, shared by many other people, that Poland as a nation owes its survival to the tenacity, resilience, and adaptability of its women. 

Here are some images depicting Polish manhood:


Thaddeus Dombrowski is one of the main characters in The Gate of Dawn. He is the demure, impractical, guilt-ridden husband of the female protagonist, a German heiress named Renate Lichtner. Their marriage is arranged by Renate's dying father and at first appears to benefit both sides, but as with many hasty arrangements, things go horribly awry. Aged thirty in the beginning of the novel, Thaddeus is exactly twice as old as his child bride. Those thirty years had been filled with sorrow and bereavement - he had buried his wife and four children. Despite the sorrow, he retains some juvenile naivete. Having spent his whole life on a remote rural estate called Raven's Bog, he is not a very worldly man. The novel takes place in the 1880s, twenty some years after the abolition of serfdom in Eastern Europe. Thaddeus, born into landed gentry, feels guilty about all the atrocities his peasants had suffered in the hands of his tyrannical father and believes it is his mission is to atone for the sins of his ancestors. He rejects social hierarchy and treats his servants as family members. His fifteen-year-old bride, on another hand, is very cosmopolitan and erudite. She is a German who was born and raised in the dynamic and diverse Vilnius. She is keenly aware of the socioeconomic and ethnic pyramid. The sight of her aristocratic Polish fiance eating and drinking with his Lithuanian servants appalls her. Renate certainly does not believe that all people are equal and deserve to sit at the same table and eat the same food. She endorses the notion of Russian and German supremacy over Poles and Lithuanians. All the more appalling she finds his impracticality and lack of business skills. After a string of crop failures, Raven's Bog is in danger of being confiscated by the Russians for failure to pay taxes. Russian imperialist agents kept a close eye on struggling properties. If the original owner proved to be incompetent, they would confiscate the land. And that's just the kind of mess young Renate walks into. The inheritance she brings into the marriage provides temporary relief but does not solve the underlying issue of her husband having no clue on how to cultivate the land and negotiate profitable prices. 

Thaddeus Dombrowski is a quintessential Polish man. The archetype is still relevant. He is deeply religious and exuberantly sexual, though his sexuality, as one can imagine, is confined to marriage and directed at procreation. He does not shy away from hard physical work or pain. He is quick to embraces self-sacrifice and martyrdom. In addition to impracticality, his flaws include a propensity for self-destruction and alcoholism. Polish men are known for being accident prone. It's an unflattering and darkly humorous stereotype, but it's rooted in reality. Because Polish men are taught that being able to withstand physical pain and grin through injuries is an attribute of masculinity, they often neglect safety measures. Throughout the novel, Thaddeus suffers several freak accidents that could have been easily prevented. His male servants are guilty of the same.  

This is how I envisioned my protagonist. This is a still from a film based on Adam Bernard Mickiewicz's novel that also has a protagonist named Thaddeus. 


In social situations, women clearly take the lead. When a woman speaks, her man must remain silent. Unless a man is talking about war or religion, he should sit quietly with his eyes downcast. Arguing with a woman is both disrespectful and demeaning. A real man must not engage in conversations of philistine nature. He must preserve his strength for a potential military engagement. He must be seen but not heard. 


08 January 2017

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Anna Lowenstein on THE STONE CITY - A CAPTIVE'S LIFE IN ROME

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ANNA LOWENSTEIN with her latest release,  THE STONE CITY. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win a FREE copy of the novel - this giveaway is open internationally, available in electronic or paperback format. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Snatched from her peaceful homestead in Celtic Britain, Bivana is transported to the legendary city of Rome. Struggling to come to terms with the loss of everyone and everything she has ever known, but determined to survive, she slowly adapts to a life of slavery and to the alien culture which surrounds her. Her relationship with another slave brings her into contact with the Nazarenes, activists in a fanatical new religious movement. She had hopes of making a fresh start, but what are her chances of surviving a clash with the authorities?

Since its first publication in 1999, The Stone City has become well known and loved in its Esperanto translation, and has been translated by fans into French and Hungarian. The revised 2016 edition includes several additional scenes.

**Q&A with Anna Lowenstein**

What made you want to write your first novel The Stone City?

Rome in the 1st century was the New York of the ancient world, a gleaming city with temples, shops, bathhouses and bars, multi-storey buildings, paved streets and public fountains. It is thought to have had a million inhabitants from all over the empire, rivalling present-day cities like Birmingham (UK) or Rotterdam. What impression would this astonishing place have made on a barbarian newly arrived from the wilds of Britain or some equally remote part of the Roman empire? That was the question I wanted to explore when I started work on The Stone City. The novel tells the story of Bivana, who is captured during the conquest of Britain in AD 43 and brought to Rome as a slave.

So what impression does Rome make on Bivana when she arrives?

Bivana has come from the chalk downs and woodlands of southern Britain, where the largest buildings were wattle-and-daub thatched huts. She has rarely encountered a face that she did not recognize. But now she finds herself in a city surrounded by not only by countless strangers but by huge stone buildings, including apartment blocks several storeys high. She has never seen windows or stairs before, and the first time she is taken inside one of those gigantic buildings, she is confused to find herself in a small room instead of the vast hall she was expecting.
   Before I could understand how Bivana might have reacted to her new life in Rome, I needed to know where she was coming from. The first part of the book describes her life in a homestead in southern Britain. Although there is always a risk of raids by neighbouring tribes, her life is happy and relatively stable, and at the time of the Roman invasion she is looking forward to her marriage. To her, Rome is a mythical place, inconceivably distant. It seems impossible that the Roman army should ever cross the sea and attack her village.

Once she arrives in Rome, Bivana spends many years as a slave on a country estate. Slavery can’t be an easy thing to write about.

My aim in this novel was not to write about misery and suffering. I wanted Bivana to be able to look about her and to compare her new life and surroundings with those she knew before. She would not be able to do that if she was in fear and depression from constant mistreatment. For this reason I gave her to a family who treat their slaves reasonably well, and at least avoid deliberate cruelty. Even so, it is not easy for Bivana to adjust to this totally new setting and culture, the loss of her freedom, and the loss of everyone she knew and loved. The uglier face of slavery is shown indirectly through her occasional encounters with people who have been far less fortunate than she has.
Anna at the remains of the temple
in the ancient town of Palestrina,
which appears in her novel
under its Latin name Praeneste.

Through her relationship with one of the other slaves, Bivana comes into contact with the members of a new religious sect, the Nazarenes. Is this a religious book?

Bivana’s ideas are the ones she grew up with, and I can add that some aspects of ancient British religious life will be startling to modern readers! When she is transported to Rome, she finds it natural to seek help from the gods who reign in her new country. Like any good Roman, she is suspicious of the Nazarene’s rejection of all gods but their own.
   The Nazarenes are members of a young, idealistic sect, but as in all new movements people have different ideas about how to achieve their aims. This leads to disagreements and quarrels; this is a normal phase that every idealistic movement goes through at some point, whether its aims are religious, political or social. The Nazarenes are not saints but ordinary people, and that is how Bivana sees them.

Immediately after writing The Stone City you began to translate it into Esperanto – in fact the first editions of the book in English and Esperanto came out in the same year, 1999. What on earth gave you the idea of translating the book into Esperanto?

I learnt the international language Esperanto at the age of 13 from a book I borrowed from the library – it was far easier than French and Latin, which I was learning at school! Since then I have been active in the Esperanto movement and it is also the language I speak at home with my husband. So although I wrote my novel in English, it was a natural decision to translate it into Esperanto. The Esperanto version of the novel has been very successful, and has been translated into French and Hungarian. Bivana’s struggle to adapt to life in a different culture is just the sort of topic which appeals to Esperanto speakers – and of course, I hope it will also interest readers of Unusual Historicals!

About the author

Anna Lowenstein became interested in the Romans when she visited Italy over thirty years ago, and was awestruck by her first view of the Pantheon. She wondered what impression it must have made on a barbarian who had never seen a stone building before, let alone architecture as magnificent as the houses and temples of Rome. That was the moment when she had the idea for her first novel The Stone City. Not long afterwards she moved to Italy and came to live in the Roman countryside close to the ancient town of Palestrina, which appears in the novel under its Latin name Praeneste. Since then she has written a second novel, Death of an Artist, also set in Ancient Rome, and is now working on a third. Since 2015 she has been living in the UK.

Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_L%C3%B6wenstein

05 January 2017

Excerpt Thursday: THE STONE CITY - A CAPTIVE'S LIFE IN ROME by Anna Lowenstein

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ANNA LOWENSTEIN with her latest release,  THE STONE CITY. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the storyBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win a FREE copy of the novel - this giveaway is open internationally, available in electronic or paperback format. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Snatched from her peaceful homestead in Celtic Britain, Bivana is transported to the legendary city of Rome. Struggling to come to terms with the loss of everyone and everything she has ever known, but determined to survive, she slowly adapts to a life of slavery and to the alien culture which surrounds her. Her relationship with another slave brings her into contact with the Nazarenes, activists in a fanatical new religious movement. She had hopes of making a fresh start, but what are her chances of surviving a clash with the authorities?

Since its first publication in 1999, The Stone City has become well known and loved in its Esperanto translation, and has been translated by fans into French and Hungarian. The revised 2016 edition includes several additional scenes.

**An Excerpt from The Stone City**

Morimanos was the best storyteller in the four villages. He didn’t often visit our homestead, but when he did, our hut was always packed. All my uncle’s family would crowd in to listen, and even some of my aunt’s people from the neighbouring homestead on the other side of the hill.
   I remember Morimanos coming to see us on one occasion when I was a small girl. It was a cold, dreary evening. It had been raining steadily for the past few days, and the two huts in our compound were hunched miserably beneath their round roofs of sodden thatch. We children were afraid that Morimanos would not turn up, but the rain eased off towards nightfall, and to our joy he arrived, picking his way across the muddy compound, which days of rain had churned into waterlogged ruts and holes.
   The air inside the hut was stuffy and smoky, apart from the biting draught from the door, which had been left open to let in what little moonlight there was. The cold air was cutting a swathe through the throng of people, who were huddled together in the warmer patches of the room, all except for my father who was sitting alone directly in the draught with his cloak tightly drawn around him. He never cared about the cold as long as he could breathe in good, fresh air. A moonbeam was shining onto the side of his face, and every movement of his head lit up a different feature: his bony nose at one moment, and next the long dangling end of his moustache.
   A hairy dog-skin had been spread out for Morimanos in the best spot, near the fire but out of the smoke, where everyone would be able to see him by the flickering light of the flames. Near him was my mother, outlined in black against the red glow of the fire. Most people were seated cross-legged on the ground, but she had chosen to sit on a low tree-stump so that she could get on with her spinning by firelight while she listened to the story. She was twirling the spindle and drawing out the thread with regular movements, pausing only to pull one of her long plaits back from her face or to attach my baby brother Tasgios more securely to the breast.
   I was lying on a pile of straw next to my favourite cousin Calliacos. We always chose one of the darker spots, well away from the open door, where we could play and whisper together under the low roof. Tonight, though, we were intent on Morimanos’s story. He was talking about Rome.
   The houses, he said, were as many and as numerous as the fish in the rivers, or the pebbles on the shore, or the waves of the sea, or the stars in the sky. They were taller than the treetops and so close together that if you were to see a pit full of grain, that grain would not be more tightly packed than those houses that were in Rome. The city stretched so far in every direction that if you took the whole of our people’s territory, it would not cover more than a single corner of the territory of Rome. And these houses had one great peculiarity: they had been built not only side by side but also one above the other, three or four deep in some places, so that the people in them were walking around over the heads of their neighbours.
   ‘And the fields, are they up in the air as well?’ asked my little sister Vinda. She was too young to know she shouldn’t interrupt the storyteller. Morimanos paused in his story. ‘There are no fields,’ he said. ‘The houses are pressed tighter together than the skin over your ribs, and not a single tree, not a twig, not a blade of grass can push its way up between them. There’s not a speck of green to be seen in all that city, even if it was only as big as your little fingernail. For in that city, everything is made of stone.’
   ‘But what do all the people eat?’ my sister persisted. My mother started to hush her, but Morimanos replied, ‘There are no fields in that city, and yet the Romans never go short of food. For they have buildings there so large that each one of them could cover the whole of this hillside from roots to hair. And every one of those buildings is filled with things to eat. The first contains nothing but grain, the second is full of meat, the third is stacked with pitchers of wine and ale. And there are other buildings as well, filled with all the things they might need. There is one full of buckets and pots and drinking vessels, another for all the precious jewels: rings and bracelets and golden treasures. But there are no torcs in that building, for no Roman, not even the king of all the Romans himself, wears a torc round his neck. Another building contains cloth, not just in short lengths, but in great rolls a hundred ells long. It comes in all colours: yellow, scarlet, bright green, purple, checked and striped and speckled. There are some types of cloth which are finer than a cobweb and shimmer when they catch the light, like the sun glinting on the tips of the waves. Then there is another type so thick and soft that the wearer of it will never feel the cold, even on days when the birds sit frozen to the branches, and the raindrops turn to ice before they touch the ground.’

About the author

Anna Lowenstein became interested in the Romans when she visited Italy over thirty years ago, and was awestruck by her first view of the Pantheon. She wondered what impression it must have made on a barbarian who had never seen a stone building before, let alone architecture as magnificent as the houses and temples of Rome. That was the moment when she had the idea for her first novel The Stone City. Not long afterwards she moved to Italy and came to live in the Roman countryside close to the ancient town of Palestrina, which appears in the novel under its Latin name Praeneste. Since then she has written a second novel, Death of an Artist, also set in Ancient Rome, and is now working on a third. Since 2015 she has been living in the UK.

Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_L%C3%B6wenstein

03 January 2017

Meet My Protagonists - The Love Story of Moraima and Muhammad in Sultana: The White Mountains

Sultana: The White Mountains, set in late fifteenth-century, is the story of the protagonists Moraima and Muhammad, based on historical figures of the same name. The hero Sultan Muhammad XI (more commonly known as Boabdil in Spanish history) is aged 24 at his introduction. He faces a struggle that will determine his family’s fate and the future of Islamic rule in Spain. He is the eldest son of the Moorish Sultan Abu’l-Hasan Ali (Muley Hacén) of Granada and his wife Sultana Aisha. Born a prince in 1458, Muhammad ascends the throne as a Sultan in 1482. Born in 1465, Sultana Moraima is the youngest daughter of Ali ibn Ibrahim ibn al-Attar, governor of Loja and his late wife Mahjuna. Aged 17 at the novel’s opening, she is also the sole wife and mother of the only children of Sultan Muhammad XI, whom she married in when she was 15. How can Moraima protect her small family from their enemies within and outside the kingdom of Granada?

Granada's Alhambra Palace, where the real Muhammad and Moraima lived
Sultana: The White Mountains, the final novel of the six-part Sultana series, begins at a tumultuous time in history, the last period of Muslim rule in Spain. Spanish chroniclers of the era recorded several details about the real Moraima and Muhammad as the one-time ruler of Moorish Granada and his young wife. Both have also been portrayed onscreen, most recently in the Spanish dramatic series, Isabel, about the unification of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. There are even brief depictions of the turbulent life of Muhammad and Ahmad, his eldest son with Moraima, in the 2016 fantasy film, Assassin’s Creed.

Muhammad XI, as depicted by Alex Martinez
in the Spanish series, Isabel
History has deemed Muhammad XI as a hapless pitiful pawn, caught up in the machinations of his mother Aisha, who reviled his father Abu’l-Hasan Ali and rebelled against him so their son could take the throne. A famous legendary saying of his mother upbraided him with, “Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man” – a ridiculous fable considering the woman who presumably spoke those words, but for some reason, the association has remained. Moraima comes down through the ages as a wilting wallflower, the sweet but pretty daughter of an aged provincial governor, overwhelmed by marriage into the Nasrid royal family and the ambitions of its powerful members. On her wedding day with Muhammad, she described by the historian Lafuente Alcantara as having “… borrowed dresses and jewelry. A chronicler invited to the wedding feast indicated that the bride wore a cloth skirt and black shawl and a white veil that almost covered her face…’pity because her features are pleasing and seductive.’ And a Muslim poet added Moraima had large expressive eyes in an admirable face, and conjectured, ‘through thick clothes one could guess the shoulders, arms, hips and waist contours as classic and opulent.”

Moraima, as depicted by Alba Garcia in
the Spanish series, Isabel
But just because Moraima and Muhammad’s past is already etched in the annals of history doesn’t mean their full story has been revealed. They enjoy a love match, rare among those of the Nasrid rulers. Muhammad is a poet at heart and often expresses his feelings in verses for his wife. While no actual record of poetry by the historical figure exists, the inspiration for the behavior of the fictional character comes from another Sultan who lived in the next century, the Ottoman Suleiman the Magnificent who wrote verses for his greatest love, Hurrem Sultan. While Moraima and Muhammad's union occurred after a chance meeting in the previous novel, their mutual regard endures across the pages of Sultana: The White Mountains, as Muhammad comes to the throne during a coup against his father. In the quest to ensure the viability of his reign, and ultimately, the survival of their family, Moraima seeks out his erstwhile allies and sometimes his rivals. Even in defiance of her husband’s wishes. More than twenty years of study has revealed the power of the Nasrid queens, many of whom were anything unlike the stereotypical view of Muslim wives, veiled and secreted behind harem walls. If Muhammad’s mother could successfully plot against a reigning monarch, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Moraima played her part in dynastic intrigue as well.

What else can readers expect of the protagonists in the novel? In keeping with the theme of the series, Moraima and Muhammad not only share a deepened respect for each other, but they want the same goal – the consolidation of their familial interests in the survival of Moorish Spain. Readers can anticipate there will be dangerous enemies attempting to thwart their plans, who pose threats inside the Moorish kingdom and outside its borders. The novel features its most powerful nemeses in Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragón, whose marriage for Spanish hegemony over the Iberian Peninsula has direct consequences in Moraima and Muhammad’s lives. There are rival court ministers and incompetent generals, dutiful bodyguards and faithful servants. Muhammad’s mother, an inherent schemer, also impacts several events. An intimate connection for Moraima also occurs with a wily former courtesan to Sultans, called The Thousander – readers will be entertained by her antics, including how she got that strange name!

Now, meet Moraima and Muhammad in the first chapter of Sultana: The White Mountains.

The House of God
Sultana Moraima

Gharnatah, Al-Andalus or Granada, Andalusia
29 Jumada al-Thani 887 AH / August 15, AD 1482

Moraima stirred just as Muhammad nuzzled her cheek. His husky voice whispered in her ear, “The ornament of the world, my precious jewel. The center of my thoughts. My immortal garden, my fragrant rose. The fulfillment of the heart. My music, my song….”
She rolled beneath the damask coverlet and reached for his hand on her shoulder. His thumb skimmed her flesh. “My guide, the brilliance of a thousand suns. My sweet waters, the solace of my soul.”
How many mornings in the past two years had they awoken like this in the bedchamber they shared? Each subsequent day had seemed the happiest of her life, though always surmounted by the arrival of the next dawn.
She sighed as he bent his head and kissed her closed eyelids. “The abode of bliss. My opulence formed in purest gold. My elegance arrayed in finery. You, who have bound me in your spell. Do not relinquish the heart, which never ceases to love.”
Her eyelids flickered and she smiled up at him. Beyond the bed, faintest morning light seeped through the lattice-covered window. She caught his bearded face between her hands and silenced him with soft pecks on his lips. Cinnamon mingled with sugar, from the dafair loaves shared at dinner, lingered on his breath.
Then Muhammad laughed against her mouth. “Were this morning’s verses so poorly composed, so unworthy of the one who inspires them?”

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also completed a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, and Sultana: The White Mountains, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.