The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie, 2008
A very white blond European adventurer finds his way to the Mughal court of Emperor Akbar bearing a letter from Queen Elizabeth I (which he has stolen). Unimpressed by the letter Akbar orders the adventurer to tell him the truth about himself. Terrified, the young man blurts out that he is a blood relative of Akbar and then realizes he will have to come up with a story to explain this wild claim. The longer the story, the longer he may be able to escape whatever punishment Akbar may have in mind.
The remainder of the book is this tale, involving three young Italian boys from Florence in the time of the Medicis where even the pope (Leo X) is a Medici. One of the boys, seeking adventure, becomes a cabin boy on the flagship of captain general Andrea Doria. When the Ottoman fleet surrounds Doria, the captain sets the boy adrift in a small boat in a deep fog to blow the captain’s horn and confuse the Ottoman’s about the Italian fleet. When the fog clears the boy is alone with the entire Ottoman fleet surrounding him. He is taken captive, given a Muslim name, and raised as a Turk. He becomes a talented fighter and is given his own small army of Janissaries, including four giant albinos Swiss guards named Otho, Botho, Clotho, and D”Artagnan. When the Shah turns on the young warrior, he kills the shah and takes his favorite concubine who claims to be descended from Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. The enchantress, who bewitches men wherever she goes is accompanied by her look alike maid Mirror. They escape to Italy and Florence where the ruling decadent Medici hires him and his mercenary army.
The tale continues until it is revealed that the blond boy is the grandson of the Italian Janissary and the enchantress. Akbar’s favorite wife is a mythical woman who is therefore perfect and the source of great jealousy in Akbar’s court. Akbar is so impress by the tale that the mythical wife suddenly vanishes to be replaced by the equally mythical enchantress who also knows the secret of eternal youth. An entertaining read. Rushdie is not lacking in imagination.