I recently read Lucille Turner’s previous book, LA GIOCONDA, about Leonardo da Vinci, and loved it, so I was thrilled when she offered me a copy of her new book: The Sultan, the Vampyr, and the Soothsayer. This is a fascinating account of the historical character behind Dracula.
Here’s the overview:
1442: When Vlad Dracula arrives at the court of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, his life is turned upside down. His father Dracul cannot protect him; he must battle his demons alone. And when the Sultan calls for the services of a soothsayer, even the shrewd teller of fortunes is unprepared for what he learns.
Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks are advancing through the Balkans with Vienna in their sights and Constantinople, the Orthodox Greek capital, within their grasp. As Eastern Europe struggles against the tide of a Muslim advance it cannot counter, Western Christendom needs only one prize to overthrow its enemies.
Ms. Turner is an excellent writer and also an excellent historian. I had to think that this book took hours of research as it was so incredibly detailed. I will admit to knowing next to nothing about life in eastern Europe in the 1400’s, and I found the story fascinating. I was particularly impressed with the level of visual detail included and how I could easily imagine the scenes.
I had some questions for Lucille regarding her novel and she kindly agreed to guest post with me today!
–How much of this story is true?
True to the genre of historical fiction, the historical facts about the life of Vlad Dracula, his family and that of the Ottoman dynasty have been preserved in so far as they are known. Vlad Dracula and his younger brother, Radu, spent a number of years at the palace of the Ottoman Sultan Murad II, where they encountered the Sultan’s notorious son Mehmet. The unsustainable politics that forced the Dracul family into such a corner were certainly responsible for the tragedies the family as a whole was forced to endure. As for the parts of the book that touch upon the myth of the vampire, or strigoi, in Romania, these are based on documented evidence from the region itself, which has a cult of the dead on a par with Ancient Egypt. I drew on this folklore when I wrote the book, as well as on the stories of the Goths, and their close cousins the Getae, of Gets, who populated the Black Sea regions in ancient times. There I found a link to the vampire myth in the legend of the wolf-men of the Goths and the ‘twice-born’ of the Gets. It was these legends and myths, together with the local customs and traditions based around the undisputed existence of the Romanian strigoi that helped me re-imagine the connection between the Dracul family and their ‘vampire’ future.
— How did you research your novel?
The initial inspiration for The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer came after I visited Istanbul in 2012. One of the sultanate’s most famous hostages was Vlad Dracula, whose family played a major role in defending Christendom from the Turks, although I didn’t know that at the time. What fascinated me about the remains of the Topkapı palace at Istanbul was the harem, which was a real labyrinth of courtyards and rooms. It struck me as a prison, which is effectively what it was, even though many historians stress the power that certain women had at one point in the seraglio of the Ottoman court. Nevertheless, it was a kind of female prison, and the female characters in my book, on the Ottoman side, are forced to battle against not only their keepers, the men, but also against their fellow inmates, the women — none of which makes for an easy life.
The second element of the book, the Romanian, or Rumani one, was suggested by a book on Romanian folklore, which I discovered in a French library. The book is out of print now; if that book was not the last copy in circulation, it was certainly one of the last. It was a documented exploration of the myth of the Romanian vampire, complete with bibliography. It gave me nightmares for weeks.
–How does your story differ from “Dracula” by Bram Stoker?
Bram Stoker’s novel was not really historical fiction. It was a novel inspired by a real historical character, Dracula. It took the myth of the vampire, which already existed and has existed since practically the dawn of civilisation, and made it into a sensation by adding a good dose of sex, fangs and blood. Certainly, there is a connection between all
of these elements and the vampire, or strigoi of myth (although I would seriously argue against the fangs), in that the strigoi was often said to revisit its relatives or loved ones first, during what is called its ‘second life’ — and if you substitute family ties for ‘blood’ ties, the connection makes even more sense. But The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer is really historical fiction with an element of myth running through it. Because it is historical fiction, it delivers the bigger picture around the lives of the Dracul family, including their intriguing involvement with the Ottomans of Turkey and the Greeks of Constantinople. The novel’s principal themes emerge from this historical perspective.
THANK YOU, LUCILLE TURNER, FOR SHARING YOUR TIME AND YOUR TALENT WITH US TODAY!