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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.