Confessions of a Janissary

An Epic Tale of Military Historical Fiction and Medieval Action Adventure

Christian - Historical Fiction
246 Pages
Reviewed on 10/10/2021
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Nicholas Jonathon Downing is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy (Bachelor of Science, Military History), Regis University (Master of Business Administration), and Cornell University (Certificate in Executive Leadership). A combat veteran, Nick served with the 13th ASOS (USAF Special Warfare), commanded the 101st Airborne Division’s Joint MRT in Afghanistan, and deployed with CENTCOM to the Persian Gulf before completing his military service as a reservist assigned to NORAD/NORTHCOM. In late 2021, after a 4-year stint with Lockheed Martin as a senior division manager for space operations, Nick felt called to join the global ministry of Compassion International as senior director of enterprise execution. Happily married and a proud father of four beautiful children, Nick calls Colorado home and enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, rafting, martial arts, and biblical studies. In his own mind, he is considered one of the world's leading experts in the art of telling really bad dad jokes.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

Confessions of a Janissary by Nicholas Downing is an absorbing, compelling work of Christian historical fiction. This engrossing story is set in the early Ottoman Empire, in the latter part of the 14th century. Christian boys are taken from their families by the Sultan and used as slave soldiers, converted to Islam against their will, and their future is serving in the military for the Empire for the rest of their lives. This sprawling tale centers on one boy named Mirko who grows to manhood--one of the slaves destined to be a hero. He's a celibate looking for his one true love and a stray sheep needing guidance. Besides the faith aspect, you have many different themes streaming through the narrative, from friendship to adventure to epic battles and more. With a plot like this, you never know what will happen next, and the story is told in fine detail and thorough description, which holds you in the long-ago time and place. If you're looking to get lost in a unique, heart-quickening story, this one has it all.

Downing respects his audience by providing plenty of researched information that adds so much believability to the narrative. You'll learn about history, culture, customs, and faiths. Couple that with a strong plot and convincing characters and situations and you have a hit novel on your hands. You can enjoy this book even if you aren't of a certain faith. The author doesn't tell you how to believe, he just presents his fascinating story. The first thing I noticed about the book is the authoritative voice of the author. He confidently explains what is going on all the way through. It's books like Downing's that bring history to life. I like the emotionality of the plot points and characters, but the author balances the darkness and hard times with hope and light. They say adversity can strengthen a person. Well, it does in Mirko's case. He is a strong character with traits that readers will connect with, admire, and root for. He's looking to discover who he really is, but it doesn't come easily. Maps are included in the text and some definitions. If you are looking for a work of Christian historical fiction that will captivate you until the end, Confessions of a Janissary by Nicholas Downing should be on your reading list this year.

K.C. Finn

Confessions of a Janissary is a work of historical fiction penned by author Nicholas Downing. Written for the adult reading audience, the work contains Christian themes and is set in the late fourteenth century. Against the backdrop of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, we see the life’s journey of Mirko: a young Christian boy captured and enslaved to become a Janissary soldier for the Sultan’s army. As Mirko develops in a land of multiple faiths, dangerous carnage, politics, and adventure, he comes to understand himself and what his own path to contentedness will entail, provided he can pursue it.

Author Nicholas Downing presents a stimulating and immersive look at fourteenth-century life under the most brutal circumstances, but Confessions of a Janissary is far from hopeless or gloomy. I appreciated the immense amount of research that was evident in Downing’s presentation of the era and the circumstances Mirko lives in, from the tiny details of daily life to the more nuanced political and religious overtones of the work. While the work is also told from the Christian perspective, it is a balanced and considerate view of all races and delivers a sharp, complex picture of the different tensions caused by faith. It is an intense read, but the prose flows well to help readers cope with such complexities, and the pace always keeps the plot interesting and lively. Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend Confessions of a Janissary to any reader seeking immersive historical fiction and those with an interest in this intriguing multi-faith medieval period in general.

Pikasho Deka

Confessions of a Janissary by Nicholas Downing is a historical fiction novel set amidst the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century. Thirteen-year-old Mirko Popovic's life turns upside down when Miroslav Cobaci, leader of the Ottoman contingent, arrives in his village and forcefully recruits him to serve as a Janissary under Sultan Murad. After arriving in Edirne, Mirko soon starts to distinguish himself amongst his peers alongside his best friends Spiridon and Dragan, catching the eyes of his superiors. As Mirko continues his rise amongst the ranks of Ottoman soldiers under the mentorship of Miroslav, he begins to question his loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. Events escalate further after the assassination of Sultan Murad as Mirko finds himself working toward reclaiming the lost glory of the Serbian Empire.

Author Nicholas Downing tells an enthralling tale of rebellion filled with action, betrayal, romance, and political intrigue that will thoroughly engage lovers of historical fiction. Confessions of a Janissary is immersive and utterly riveting to read as it seamlessly incorporates actual historical events and personages to convey a sense of authenticity to the narrative that is difficult to resist. The plot is intricately crafted and moves at a blistering pace with enough twists and turns to make you turn the pages with eager anticipation of what's to come. You find yourself rooting for Mirko all the way through, and his scenes with Spiridon and Dragan were some of my favorite moments from the book. Anyone looking for a well-written war story should check out Confessions of a Janissary.

Grant Leishman

Confessions of a Janissary is a deep dive where author Nicholas Downing takes us back to fourteenth-century Eastern Europe, to the rise and rise of the Ottoman Empire. Driven by Islam, the Ottoman Emperor was determined to rule over most of Europe and subdue and convert the infidels. Mirko Popovic is a young Serbian boy whose father, a Serbian knight, had died fighting the Ottomans in the battle of Maritsa. When the Ottoman recruiter Miroslav arrived in their village to recruit Christian boys for the Sultan’s elite force, known as Janissaries, Mirko and all other eligible boys were forced to participate in selection trials. Shocked and surprised at his selection as one of three boys to join the Janissary training squad, he begins the long journey back to the Ottoman capital of Edirne. Along the way, he will form a lifelong friendship with two other Janissary recruits, Dragan and Spiridon. Deep in Mirko’s mind is the unlikely desire that, somehow, he will use this opportunity to fulfill what he believes to be his destiny – to kill the man he believes is responsible for his father’s death at Maritsa; the Ottoman Emperor.

Confessions of a Janissary is a wonderfully complex and exciting story that explores this hitherto unknown period and context for me as a reader. Author Nicholas Downing absolutely brings this story to life with dramatic action arcs and fascinating detail about the training and operations of these fabled Janissary soldiers. Mirko Popovic was superbly drawn and full of contradictions and complexities that just made the story un-put-downable. I particularly enjoyed the great moral struggles Mirko had with his actions and his overall success as a Janissary, as much as I appreciated the battle he had in his heart with the various religious ideals and practices exposed in the story. The camaraderie of the soldiers was extraordinary, and their commitment to each other, despite all the political intrigues and factional groups within the Empire, was a highlight of the story for me. Personally, I reveled in the Red Apple (Constantinople) exploration and the fascination it has held for thousands of years, especially for the many armies that have tried to breach its formidable defenses. This is an unbelievably good read, and I will be seeking out more of this talented author’s works. I can highly recommend this book.

Vincent Dublado

An intelligent marriage between history and imagination, Confessions of a Janissary by Nicholas Downing is the story of a boy named Mirko. Orphaned by his father’s death in battle against the Turks, Mirko’s life is about to undergo a turbulent change when Miroslav Corbaci, unit commander of the Ottoman army, declares that they have been sent to Mirko’s village to collect a special tax called Devshirme. This special tax is child levy or blood tax: the Ottoman practice of forcibly recruiting soldiers and bureaucrats from among the children of their Balkan Christian subjects. Mirko is among the chosen to train as a Janissary, a member of the elite infantry units that demand unwavering loyalty to Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr, the man responsible for the death of Mirko’s father and his people. As a Janissary, Mirko will come to many realizations and must choose for himself what to believe in and why.

Readers will easily see why this novel is so compelling. Confessions of a Janissary is not simple historical or adventure fiction, even if it contains both elements. It is a story that uses an important episode in history as a stage to dissect the anatomy of a young boy who evolves from slave to legend. Mirko Nikola Popovich must be the most morally driven character to ever emerge at the center of an epic. Nicholas Downing didn’t simply write Mirko as a cookie-cutter historical action hero. He uses Mirko’s crisis of conscience as an instrument. He has created a protagonist that combines fortitude and charisma that leveraged him to become an indefatigable leader in the victory at Grad Bela. The work is rich in plot details and has an uncluttered storyline. There is never a moment that you will doubt the authenticity of settings because it feels as if you are transported to the very spot where everything is taking place. This novel is a must-read, and it will appeal even to those who are not into historical fiction.