the observer Sun 25 January 2009
In the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar, the sunshine is said to blur the border "between what was fanciful and what was real". But when a fair-haired Florentine turns up claiming to be the son of a long-lost Mughal princess, the response is still sceptical. The Florentine attempts to convince the court through storytelling: his tales bring the missing princess to life, but whether he can persuade the world that she was his mother is another matter. As the princess's story unfolds, Rushdie weaves a second strand into the novel - the visitor's youth in the Florence of Lorenzo de Medici. A less playful writer would get bogged down in this rich mix of history, fable and fantasy, but it is effervescent and bewitching in Rushdie's hands.
the guardian Sat 10 January 2009
Mystic confrontations between east and west have always been Rushdie's forte, and this exuberant epic catapults the flower of Medici-era Florence to the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. The action centres on the peregrinations of "Lady Black Eyes" Qara Koz, an alluring but unfeeling Mughal princess bandied as diplomatic luggage between sultans, mercenaries and silver-tongued courtiers, and at one point slyly ravished by Machiavelli himself. Rushdie summons all his powers as a fabulist for a new take on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which also dealt with the havoc caused by a fickle Indian princess; and there are echoes of the Arabian Nights as the narrator relies on storytelling skills to avoid losing his head. There are moments when the emperor seems in danger of losing his patience, but it's a brilliant tease, not unlike Qara's legendary accomplishments in the erotic arts: "She was adept at the seven types of unguiculation, which is to say the art of using the nails to enhance the act of love."