In the Palace of Flowers

Victoria Princewill | British

In the Palace Of Flowers the court of the shah of Tehran is a vindictive place and consequently a dangerous place to be a slave. You are indispensable, ignored, a pariah. A person not seen as a person and who can be abused at the will of others. But there are some who dream of more than servitude, those who know their dignity and desires are worthy of being fulfilled. They also recognized that they lack the agency to control their lives.

So, it is through Jamīla (a slave of one of the shah’s junior wives and the concubine of his 4th son) and Abimelech (an eunuch slave assigned to the shah’s 4th son as his tutor) that Victoria Princewill navigates us through this quandary that these two friends try to solve individually. The precariousness of the court means that at any point a simple meeting can lead to such a drastic change in one’s fate that it can drown you. The trajectory of Jamīla’s and Abimelech’s stories, as much as they try to propel it, is ultimately controlled by those wielding more power than them.

This is the way historical fiction needs to be written: extremely well researched; nuanced characters who occupy a complex societal construct; beautiful details that paints rooms, personalities, and events with precision; all wrapped up with historical intrigue that sent me to Google looking for further explanation. I was very interested in the cultural dynamics that pit Iranians against African slaves, who were so discriminated against that I wanted to learn more.

Jamīla Habashi was actually an Ethiopian woman who served in the court of Nasser al Din during the turn of the 20th century. She was sold many times during her lifetime, a fate that slaves feared in the book. Princewill’s writing feels honest and powerful, with characters who are deserving of an attempt of restored dignity that is lost in the conniving of the court. As a reader you empathize with their lives and their desires, making this a debut novel well worth reading.

Everyone gets a funeral. Everybody gets their honour, their stories told. Who will tell of people like us? Will you.”

-Victoria Princewill

First published: 2021
Instagram: @victoria_princewill

Twitter: @vpofrances

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