In fourteenth-century Moorish Spain, a marriage of convenience for the sake of peace leads to disaster in the medieval kingdom of Granada. The young queen Jazirah, caught up in a dynastic struggle between warring brothers, fights for her survival. Wed to a husband who looks at her with more suspicion than lust in his eyes, she must escape reminders of a brutal past in a quest to find forgiveness, hope, and love.
What might readers find most intriguing about Sultana: The Bride Price?
The drama of the historical figures' lives and the political dynamics. This is a story of the real-life 14th century ruler Sultan Muhammad V of Granada and his wife, of whom history has provided important details except one - her name. It is also a tale of how Muhammad fought so desperately to hold his throne against prevailing forces within his own family.
When Muhammad ascended the throne at sixteen as the eldest son, he not only faced dangers at court, but he had to immediately sue for peace and promise an exchange of captives with the Christian kingdom of Castile. During the first twelve years of his reign, he made significant strides towards bolstering a once precarious position against his enemies, quite the task for a monarch who began his reign as a teenager. But Muhammad was also no ordinary teenager; before an untimely death, his father had secured Granada's borders and established alliances with other Muslim kingdoms, which would hugely benefit his son. The ministers of the court who guided the young sovereign were among the finest, most learned men in Spain's history. Still, such aid did not guarantee happiness for Muhammad.
Within his harem, his mother warred with his father's second wife, a woman who had produced two sons to rival Muhammad. Western Islam during the Moorish period did not adopt the conventions of Christian Europe and follow the practice of primogeniture, where the first son inherited. With two other likely candidates for the throne, malcontents bided their time at court, waiting for the moment to strike out against Muhammad. In his marital life, he also faced some challenges. In earlier years, his father had thrown his own younger brother into jail for treason; Muhammad chose to wed the daughter of this traitor to seal the breach in their family, but the union didn't quite bring about the peace he intended.
What would life have been like for a young couple, united by marriage and the blood they shared as close cousins, but also divided by the bitter past? Especially when both had little reason to trust each other or hope for a bright future. Sultana: The Bride Price offers one possible exploration of the turbulent life they shared.
This is the fourth in a series about the last Muslim rulers of Spain - must a reader know the events of the previous books to read this one?
Of course, everyone should buy the earlier books! Just kidding (maybe). It's helpful, but not required. The line of descent from the characters of the first book in the series continues in Sultana: The Bride Price; the main characters of the new novel are the great-grandchildren of the original heroine and hero. Readers of the preceding novel, Sultana: Two Sisters will have an easier time because they will know how the enmity between Muhammad's mother and stepmother developed. Since that clash has huge consequences for Muhammad's reign, I'd recommend at least a reading of Two Sisters before The Bride Price.
What feedback have you received about the series?
Largely positive. I love hearing from readers, who have shared their admiration for the characters and the setting within Granada's Alhambra palace. Some have even spoken about how the books improved their previously held opinions of Islamic society or introduced the concept of Islam as a powerful force for shaping Spain's history. Publication of the series also led to a foreign rights deal; I'm admittedly eager to obtain more of those opportunities. Of any negative feedback, I'm pleased that there haven't been any questions about Moorish culture, including the harem, slavery, etc. I'm unapologetic in my depiction of the times and my characters who would have been born into that society don't question its rules.
Does writing a series present significant challenges compared to a standalone novel?
Definitely. A writer can go batty just keeping track of family traits like hair color or the shape of the nose. Even trickier is avoiding repetition; the same old story told over the course of a series, where characters mirror each other across generations. I've written about wise and pragmatic rulers or their crazed and drunken counterparts, queens who maneuver the politics of the court behind the scenes or those who overtly interfere, as well as scheming concubines versus others who are quite happy just to be the pampered lovers of the powerful men in their lives. Faithful slaves who accept their lot in life contrasted with those who rail against a state-sponsored system of collars and chains. From book to book, it's too easy to fall into the trap of portraying certain people in the 'usual' ways. So I have to challenge myself with each new novel to forget the characters who have lived for over a year in my head and start fresh.
What's next for you?
I'm bidding a fond farewell to this period in Moorish Spain when I wrap up the series next year with the last two novels, Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree and Sultana: The White Mountains. The next novel takes a huge leap over several decades into the events after Sultana: The Bride Price, exploring the end of the dynasty, and the role of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain.
This series has been the love of my writing life. Even if I were to never write another word after its completion, I'm glad to have brought Moorish Spain's past to readers who had never heard of it or had one perception. Such an amazing era; I don't know why its history isn't explored more in fiction. Still, there are other areas in which I want to immerse myself and readers; in 2016, I'll be collaborating with a fellow author on a novel about the 11th century Byzantine empresses, Zoe and Theodora, who were sisters and rivals. I also have a trilogy about Dracula's father and two of his brothers in mind.
What will you miss the most about working on this latest novel?
The complex relationship between Muhammad and Jazirah. As much as the schemes and rivalries fascinated me, interactions between historical figures are rarely recorded so a writer has to rely on imagination. Unfortunately for my characters, I usually imagine lots of bad things interspersed with the good, aided by historical events, of course.
My mind blossomed with all sorts of possibilities for how this particular couple could have tried to make it work, either having failed or given up along the way. Since they are first cousins, I ascribed common traits, the most cumbersome being excessive pride. Following the adage that two captains will sink a ship, the mutual pride definitely made for a rocky relationship over the course of the novel. Love in a marriage of convenience can't have been easy, certainly not when the bride's father was once imprisoned by the groom's father.
I tend to make my couples in historical fiction really work for their happily-ever-after; sometimes, even just before the novel's end, the future isn't guaranteed. But life is like that; it's complicated and an easy resolution is rare without dedicated action. Shouldn't historical fiction mirror life?
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 written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price 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.