Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 496 pages; 2004.
Debbie Taylor’s The Fourth Queen is a sanguine, sexy tale set in a harem in Morocco.
It’s based on the true story of Helen Gloag, who, fleeing the poverty of Scotland, finds herself on a ship bound for America. When the ship is captured by pirates, the young, inexperienced and prudish teenager is kidnapped and sold into slavery.
In the harem run by the cruel and charismatic Emperor Sidi Mohammed, Helen’s world is turned completely upside down. From a naive waif with little sexual experience she becomes the emperor’s fourth wife (hence the book’s title) and lives a life that must have been totally unimaginable for a western woman in the 18th century.
Taylor’s writing is accomplished and confident, if overly descriptive at times. She manages to convey the “richness” of Helen’s surrounds using lush and evocative language.
But the plot, which is a kind of murder-mystery revolving around the poisoning of several of the queens, is lacklustre and doesn’t justify devoting 496 pages to it.
All in all, it was a pleasant enough read but nothing too earth shattering.
If you have read M. R. Lovric’s Carnivale and enjoyed it, you will probably like The Fourth Queen, too.