What is the truth? It’s a familiar refrain on historical fiction chat groups.

Occasionally I get reviews like this one:




It’s for HAREM, my novel about Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife, Hurrem.

There is nothing in this short review about the story, the writing style or the readability. I caused offence, in the reviewer’s eyes, for not telling ‘the truth’. Or, at least, the truth as ‘other books and history’ told it.

But what is the truth?

Anyone who has ever been through a separation, or watched friends go through one, knows that in any relationship there are two sides to every story. Everyone thinks they’re right. Friends take sides. Who is the villain and who is the wronged depends on which side of the fence you’re on.

History’s a little like that. History is just a series of events.  The truth behind it is someone’s opinion.

Let’s look at an event from recent history: the storming of the Capitol in Washington DC, on 6 January 2021. This happened. It’s a fact. 

But how it is portrayed in history fifty years from now will depend on who writes the story. The Republicans have called the event ‘legitimate political discourse’. The Democrats have said it was an attack on democracy itself. What was it? Your view will depend on whether you lean to the right or left.

So, back to HAREM. The things that happened during Suleiman the Magnificent’s reign were shocking, odd and irrational. Suleiman murdered his best friend, banished his entire harem and killed his two most talented sons. This meant he left the throne to the remaining son, who was a drunkard and a lecher. No historian has ever provided me with a credible explanation, and I’ve read more than fifty books on the subject.

Did Hurrem play any part in her husband’s decisions? Some historians claim Hurrem was a paragon of virtue. She certainly made a lot of charitable donations. But so did Jimmy Saville.

Perhaps she loved him. Perhaps she didn’t. My point is, even if you were there you couldn’t possibly be sure.  

Historical fiction is not pure history; it is also entertainment. Dramatic licence is essential. By definition, fiction allows a writer to speculate on why people did what they did. 

Facts are facts. What happened and when is largely indisputable. But what people really thought and felt remains ultimately unknowable. 

That’s the truth.


HAREM has been translated into 15 languages, and on release sold 150,000 copies in Germany.

Available on AMAZON: Kindle e-book, paperback and Kindle Unlimited. Click here to go to the purchase page.

Updated and revised 2022 edition.

“A spectacular, haunting tale of malice, obsession, and zeal set in the magnificent Harem of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent.” Historical Novel Review.

“Martina has just finished Harem by Colin Falconer and highly recommends it saying it’s a great read.” Martina Cole Recommends.

“A page-turner. . . This peek behind the walls of the seraglio will seduce lovers of large-scale historical fiction.” Booklist.


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