One of the most interesting aspects of Jewel of Persia is the fact that my heroine is a member of a harem. She’s the favorite wife, and in many respects that makes her relationship with her husband much like any monogamous marriage.
But in other ways—wow. A lot different.
I have no firsthand experience with this sort of thing (thank the good Lord!), but trying to put myself into her shoes, into her mind and heart . . . it was really intriguing.
For instance, she’s a concubine. Now, so far as I can dig up, historians aren’t totally sure what the legal differences were between a full wife and concubine, but they think it has to do with the provisions included in the marriage contract and would be decided by whether or not a woman brings a dowry to the marriage. If so, you’re a wife. If not, only a concubine. I’m taking a wild guess (okay, an educated guess) and stating in my book that what you’re given either at divorce or your husband’s death is determined by whether you’re a wife or concubine.
Kasia arrives at the palace poor and doesn’t much care whether she leaves it in the same state—she loves Xerxes, that’s all. And since when she arrives there’s already a slew of other wives and concubines well above her in seniority and rank, she adopts a place of humility, even though her husband would have raised her up. It takes a lot of prayer, but she manages to avoid jealousy for years . . . until The Affair.
There was a definite hierarchy within a harem, and in the case of Xerxes’, it started with the queen. Amestris ruled her domain with an iron—and often bloody—fist. When she was thrust from power, it would have caused turmoil within the harem. There would have been a slew of other wives trying to claw their way to the top, most likely basing their claims upon bloodlines and who was the favorite of the king. The fact that Xerxes was distracted with the war and waited so long to name another queen would have lent to the upheaval . . . and left the stage open for Amestris to keep a hand on the reins.
Though this may seem a topic foreign to women today, the more I planted myself in Kasia’s shoes, the more I realized that it isn’t so different from what results from the today’s “sexual freedom.” Though women will get angry over their men having an affair, most are instilled with the idea that it’s okay for guys to have a sexual history. And so they have to battle the ideas, fears, and insecurities that come of comparing themselves to the women their boyfriends/husbands were intimate with previously. Not so different from comparing yourself to other wives, is it?
Yet another occasion that proves how the heart of humanity—and of women—hasn’t changed all that much over the centuries.