As the 139 episodes of the television series The Magnificent Century prove, the reign of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman I (1520–66) remains popular today. In his new book The Lion House: The Coming of a King, Christopher de Bellaigue serves up the intrigue, brutality, and opulence of the first fifteen years of Suleiman’s reign in a format that is not quite history but not quite fiction. The narrative, like the historical sources on which it relies, moves rapidly between scenes. Yet de Bellaigue artfully decorates those scenes with his impressive knowledge of the cultures and customs of the time. The result is a fascinating study that transports the reader to the age of this magnificent sultan.

Although Suleiman is the book’s touchstone, he is not really its...


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