From the palace cloisters of Istanbul to the blood-soaked fields of central Europe to the sun-scorched coast of north Africa, The Lion House uses eyewitness history to tell the true story of Suleyman the Magnificent, whose sixteenth-century reign over the Ottoman Empire saw power at its most glittering, personal, and deadly.
... ambitious and original ... This is history, but not as we know it. It is non-fiction posing as a novel, rich in incident and cinematic detail, not so much fly on the wall as prowling vizier in the hall — almost exclusively in the present tense. It’s tremendous ... From this vivid, elaborately illustrated set piece, de Bellaigue whisks his readers masterfully across the continents, from the Doge’s Palace in Venice to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul, via bloody battlefields in the Balkans and north Africa, piratical manoeuvres in the Mediterranean, courtly intrigues and life-and-death struggles in the royal harem ... Readers used to de Bellaigue’s elegant prose will find much to admire in these pages. His command of his main characters and his grip of the wider history in which they wage their wars and plot their rivals’ demise is never less than sure-footed. A new departure is a conversational style that revels in the vernacular ... It’s a sign of how thoroughly gripping this book is that I found myself wanting a second volume as soon as possible.
The finest historical fiction renders the strange grippingly familiar; so too do those rare historians whose novelistic understanding of their subject brings it to life. Christopher de Bellaigue, an acclaimed historian of the Middle East, has done just this in The Lion House, a vivid, cinematic account of the rise of Suleyman the Magnificent that is written almost entirely in the present tense ... De Bellaigue follows with exhilarating clarity and suspense the era’s broader battles across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and the individual trajectories—grand ambitions, rivalries, betrayals—of these outsiders in Suleyman’s court, a place rife with intrigue and back-stabbing, rich with colorful characters, each pressing their advantage.
It is all written in the present tense. This creates the obvious sense of liveliness and urgency as well as dissipating a little the slightly dead feeling the reader can experience with historical narratives, that you already know the end before you begin and there is nothing to play for. That urgency can come at a cost to your trust in the historicity of the writing and would be tricky to sustain, but shorn of index and notes, The Lion House is less than 250 pages long and Bellaigue, whose previous books include The Islamic Enlightenment, sets about the task with such confidence and skill that it works ... It’s an apt title for a dazzling and dark work. Witty and often wise, it speaks to the frailties and the precarity of power. It offers advice that is timelessly appropriate.