Woman kidnapped, forced to be in harem
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I'm not sure when I read this, but it may have been late 1990s or early 2000, and I'm pretty sure it was an older book, maybe from the 80s? A woman was taking a trip somewhere by sea and ended up kidnapped and forced into a harem. All I remember is that all of the women were fiercely competitive with their children, and eventually the main character's love interest rescues her. I read the description of The Captive by Victoria Holt and though I have read a lot of her works I don't think that one is it. The one I'm thinking of focused on the harem more than anything else, showing women who were willing to poison other children/women to get their child in a favorable light, and there seems to be a lot more than that The Captive. It was a romance.
The only book that springs to my mind is Nora Roberts' Sweet Revenge, but is only sort of similar to your details. There were a lot of harem scenes, but the whole of the novel didn't take place there. I don't remember a poisoning scene, but I do recall a vivid scene where the whole harem rejoiced when one woman was divorced and thrown out because she dared give birth to a daughter instead of a son. And the main character was the daughter and only child of the first wife in the harem, but she was aided by a love interest.
Can't help you with a title but I remember a novel from, maybe the sixties based on a true (maybe) story of a young english women who ended up in the harem of the ruler of Moracco. she had 2 sons and they and her husband were murdered by one of his other sons or maybe a brother. She is offered a return to England and chooses to stay and support one of the other claiments to the throne.
At the time, I thought it was very romantic, but essentily she falls in love with her rapist.
I just re-read The Captive, and while the harem scenes are a small part of the book, they are extremely significant to the plot. The traveling by boat, slavery in the seraglio, competitive nature of the hierarchy of wives, poisoning of children (and each other), are all there, and vividly memorable. The captive and her love interest, also kept as a slave in the palace, gain their freedom by befriending and aiding more influential and powerful slaves, who help them escape out of gratefulness (and self-interest).
Maybe The Kadin by Bertrice Small? It's set in the 16th century, and the woman is the mother of Suleiman the Magnificent.
In The Kadin, though, her son got her out of the harem, not a lover. She didn't even have a lover other than the sultan at that point.
There's also A Love for All Time, also by Bertrice Small, which actually includes a rescue from the harem by her lover. Though she wasn't taken at sea. And I don't remember much intrigue surrounding the children of the harem.
There are several others by Small that feature harem plotlines, but I don't think any others have the woman rescued by her lover.
There's a book called The Fourth Queen by Debbie Taylor that sounds similar. A young red head from Scotland is kidnapped at sea and sold into a harem. She becomes popular with the emperor making one of his wives mad enough to poison her.
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