With two weeks left in her exchange program, Sibel ignores her intuition and follows her friends into the Istanbul gypsy quarter to visit a fortuneteller. Prophesy doesn’t scare Sibel, but the protective verse on the cryptic, djinn-channeling gypsy’s hip does. It’s similar to the one her biological parents tattooed on her own hip.
Sibel’s flirtations with eerily familiar Haydon turn into something more when his touch triggers an exhilarating energy: the essential fire of the djinn. They set out to research djinn lore, looking for clues about the tattoo and the power, and they’re sucked through a portal to the djinn world.
There Sibel learns that she is pure djinn, and she’s not only been married to Haydon since she was five, but she’s also the lost Queen of Kilikia. She’s unwilling to accept the backward conventions of djinn society, so she resolves to find a way back to the human world. Yet she also wants understand her djinn self, and to determine if Haydon is after her crown, or her heart. The price for the wrong choice is a future cut off from both worlds forever.
BURNT AMBER is a 69,000 word novel inspired by the tale of 12th century castle, Kızkalesi, and the life of Zabel, the queen of Armenian Kilikia. The lore and exotic location of the story should appeal to fans of DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE.
My experience living in Turkey helped me enrich the book with authentic cultural details. Recently, a blogger for the Turkish national newspaper, Milliyet, recognized my blog as a worthy portrayal of modern Turkey. More information about djinn lore along with customs and places described in the book can be found at carolynsnowabiad (dot) com.
The human shape is a ghost,
Made of distraction and pain.
Foreboding coiled up like a ball of hot barbed wire in my stomach. I took a deep breath, held it for three counts, and released. The sensation inched back down to almost bearable.
Anna glanced over at me. “Something wrong, Sibel? You look a little pale.”
“I’m fine.” I lifted my chin and forced a smile to prove it. “Twisted my ankle on the sidewalk.”
Uneven was a generous word for the steep, narrow streets of old Istanbul. The pavement in front of each building was a different level than the neighbor’s, and in the dark it made a plausible excuse for me to steal a minute and rest. I balanced myself against a streetlamp, bending down to adjust the strap on my glittery sandal. “We’re not really dressed for this adventure.”
The light flickered on above us, setting Anna’s platinum hair aglow like a beacon for street urchins. She fussed with the hem of her shirtdress in a futile attempt to cover her Scandinavian legs. “I agree. But it’s not everyday someone offers me a session with a Romani fortuneteller.”
“Hmm.” My own intuition insisted that consulting a psychic was the very last thing I should do, especially when the best of those was located in the back alley underworld of the Sulukule area.
“C’mon. Your personal guide is waiting,” she teased and helped me up, linking my arm in hers with a small squeeze. “If he was a couple inches taller, I’d be jealous.”
A few steps ahead of us, Seyhan, clicked off his phone. Since connections meant everything in Turkey, his knowledge of Istanbul made him the perfect exchange student assistant. Apparently, seventeen was old enough for the job.
The gypsy visit was his fault.
“Did he just wink at me?” I asked.
“I think he just winked at you.” She pursed her lips, but quickly recovered, beaming a smile in my direction.
Seyhan ushered us through a cobblestone passageway. “Come on, ladies. We’re going to be late.”
He turned his velvet brown eyes on me, so I shifted my gaze to the guitar strap settled across his chest. In his own rock-star-rip-off way, with his slick black hair and an eternal five o’clock shadow, he was hot. The problem was he knew it. I swept past him, jaw clenched. I was still shaking off the cheesy “Ballad to Sibel” he’d sung to me at the club earlier that evening. He expected me to fall right in with his adoring fans at the front row, but the harder he tried to get my attention, the less I wanted to give it to him. Plus I had no plans to upgrade any relationship with only a few weeks left in Turkey.
“This is it.” Seyhan said, stopping at the door of a tiny coffeehouse.
Anna and I would have never found the place on our own. The faded stucco façade was punctuated by a single grimy window, and over the entrance a hand-scribbled sign boasted the name of the shop. It was a sign you could pack up on a moment’s notice, or hang on the back of a gypsy cart. A street dog opened one eye to evaluate us, and then tucked his head back under his paw when Seyhan opened the door. Smells of roasted coffee, dusty wool and candle smoke wafted out into the street.
“No tourists around here,” Anna squealed. She practically ran me over to get inside.
My eyes took a second to adjust to the inside of the shop. Glass lanterns draped around the room flooded seating areas with an amber glow. Groups of people lounged on the woven floor cushions, their voices a murmur secreted inside the curtained nooks. A few well-heeled customers took one look at us, and then got up and left.
“What’s with them?” I asked Seyhan.
“Nothing personal.” He hung his guitar on a coat hook and straightened his collar. “They probably just want their privacy. Or maybe they don’t like teenagers.” He winked at me. Again.
Anna settled into a snug corner space. “I looove finding places like this.”
Seyhan sat down across from her, expecting me to slide in. I dropped my purse between us and plunked myself down, curling my legs up. Thankfully, I’d worn jeans because the low Ottoman-style table offered no refuge for the inappropriately dressed.
Anna fussed some more with her hem, trying to get Seyhan’s attention.
I tossed her my scarf. “You might want to cover up before you give some old guy a heart attack.”
“What old guy?” She glanced around the room, and then pulled a cord on the curtain closest to her. It closed in around us. “Atmospheric and useful.”
“A bit too much Otto-mania for me.” I didn’t really mind the décor. In fact, my suitcase was stuffed with lanterns, kilims, and a bunch of Ottoman-style stuff to redecorate my room at home, but my stomach ached so the appeal of the nook escaped me. I added a smile as an afterthought, to take the edge off my remark. No one cared anyway. Anna was tracing the mother of pearl inlay on the table with her finger. Seyhan was busy waving at the waitress.
“Nasmiye’s busy tonight.” He settled back onto his pillow. “We’re lucky I called ahead.”
As if on cue, a group of businessmen walked in and took the last table. Seyhan tilted his head in their direction. “Wish I could join that crowd. No one gets in without a birthright, or an awesome referral.”
“You look more like the entertainment industry type, Seyhan.” Anna poked him in the arm playfully.
“Don’t get me wrong.” He nodded and frowned at the same time, which seemed like he was agreeing to disagree. “I love to sing, but I had something else in mind after I’m done with school.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” I slid a little further away from him, shuddering at the way he set his jaw. It was if the world only saw half of the real Seyhan, and the dark determination I read on his face showed me the half I didn’t care to know. Actually, I wasn’t so fond of either half.
His face lit up as a woman with brassy, bleached hair approached us. “Here comes Nasmiye,” he whispered.
Without even acknowledging Seyhan, she placed a tray with a copper coffee pot on our table, and proceeded to fill our espresso cups. She set one in front of me, fixing her artificially blue eyes on mine. “Welcome.”
“Thank you. I mean teşekkür. ” I took the cup, searching her face for some trace of her true personality, but I couldn’t read her. It was as if there was a hole in the atmosphere where she stood. That nasty feeling twisted back over itself in my stomach and demanded my attention.
“Nasmiye gives the best readings in Istanbul,” Seyhan said, putting a hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sure she does.” I stared down into the frothy coffee. Something about the woman made me want to hide. From everyone. Yet something about her promised me the one answer I sought, but wasn’t sure I could handle.
Who was my mother?
Nasmiye cut her eyes at me, as if she heard my question. “Call me when you are ready.” Then she swirled her gypsy skirt and headed away to another table.
My heart pounded a few beats double-time before it resumed the normal rhythm.
Across from me, Anna flicked her blonde hair around and glanced up, doe-eyed, at Seyhan. “Thank you so much for bringing us.”
“My pleasure,” he said, returning her enthusiasm with his regular polite grin. He rubbed his hands together. “Let’s see what the future holds!” He drank his coffee almost in one shot. Then he inverted the saucer on top of his empty cup, pressing them together between his thumb and forefinger. He swirled the whole thing around three times, flipped it and put it on the table to cool. “Don’t forget to make a wish.”
Anna followed his example. “Come on, Sibel, you too!”
“You know, an old Wiccan woman once told me that prophesy equals submission,” I said, breathing normally for the first time since Nasmiye left.
“Prophesy is a big word for it,” Seyhan said. “Think of it like a head’s up.”
“Still, I’d rather not have my fortune told.” I sipped the bitter concoction until I tasted the sludge on the bottom, and then placed the cup back on the tray.
Anna reached over for my cup and flipped the saucer to start the ritual.
I grabbed her arm. “Don’t-“
“Will it work if I make a wish for her?” she asked Seyhan while she pushed me away. He nodded, looking at me with amusement and a tiny flicker of concern.
“Sibel. What are you afraid of?” Anna asked. “You told me yourself you thought all this was a probably a scam.”
“Fine.” I got up off of my cushion. “I need to find the restroom.” I headed to the back, locked myself up in the closet-sized bathroom and slumped against the door. Ouija boards, tarot cards, tea leaves - I avoided them all since the fourth grade, after I told a friend her cat would die. Her mother found a bloody pile of fur at the end of their driveway the next day. Then the threats written in blood red nail polish appeared on my desk, and I had to find a new school. For the third time.
Dreams and premonitions still stalked me, but I found a way to control them. Avoidance was the first part of the maintenance plan. So when Seyhan proposed the Romani coffee shop, I tried to convince Anna the fortuneteller was a scam. Most of them usually were. In spite of all that, I wondered if Nasmiye really could tell me something about my maddening visions.
I took a deep breath and went back to the table. I’d come to Istanbul to confront my problems, not run away from them.
Nasmiye looked over the top of her reading glasses as I approached. She sat in my place next to Seyhan, so Anna made room for me on her cushion.
“There is an ant at the bottom trying to climb. He means determination,” Nasmiye said to Anna. “That’s all I can see.”
Cliché, right out of some fortuneteller’s manual. I exhaled a mixture of disappointment and relief. Maybe I’d worked myself up for nothing. I couldn’t even sense the emptiness around Nasmiye anymore.
Seyhan slid his cup over to her.
She picked it up, but it was vacuum-sealed to the dish underneath. Seyhan’s smile slipped.
“Sorry, canim! It means we are not supposed to know what is inside,” she said.
Anna gave Seyhan a sly look and passed my cup to the fortuneteller. I gritted my teeth against a wave of nausea.
Dark coffee swirled into the saucer when she tilted my cup open. I crossed my arms, leaning back against the wall, while she examined a lump of grounds at the base of the cup.
“This means you are living through some difficulty.” Nasmiye adjusted the glasses on the end of her nose and her brow knit into a maze of lines. She mumbled something to herself before pointing out some random squiggles.
“There’s a boy watching over you, but you are looking away.” She showed me the side of the cup to prove it. “Here he is, putting a crown on top of your head.”
I sucked in a breath as the stick figure Nasmiye was pointing to zoomed into focus. Hot air closed in around me, clinging to my skin like a filmy shroud.
In the cup, a giant scorpion, tail poised for a strike, hovered behind the figures. A stabbing pain exploded in my stomach. I pushed the cup away and the heat slid off of me.
I’d expected the truth to be painful, but not like that. Maybe I wasn’t ready to face facts after all.
She pointed at another line. “This here is a very long road or journey. Here you take a side turn before you come back to the same road.”
I didn’t dare look into the cup again.
Anna leaned toward me. “Maybe this is about your nightmares,” she whispered. “I wished for you to find the solution to your nightmares.”
I shot her a warning glance, trying to make her understand that I didn’t want to share the information with fortunetellers and hot Turkish guys. I never would have told her about my dreams either, except living in the same dorm room made it hard for me to explain away the psychotic sobbing in the middle of the night.
“What does the scorpion mean?” I asked Nasmiye. Either she wasn’t perceptive enough to see it, or she was avoiding it, but I wanted to know what she thought it meant.
She fumbled the cup in her hand and paled. “Tashkiri?”
Seyhan sat bolt upright, but Nasmiye recovered and shook her head at him.
“The scorpion is a sign of evil, and in your case it probably means…” She rubbed her brow, trying to find the right words. “It must only be about the boy in the cup. Or another boy with very bad intentions.”
Seyhan and Anna stretched over the table to see the mysterious sign, but Nasmiye poured the coffee from the saucer back into the cup, obscuring the patterns. “That’s all I can see.” She put the cups back on her tray and shook the bangles down her arm, as if she was trying to shake off the ill omen.
“Don’t worry.” Seyhan put a hand on Anna’s knee. “I won’t let anything happen to you girls while I’m around.”
If he thought he was the protective boy in the cup, I knew better. I closed my eyes for a second, wishing it was Haydon, a dark-haired boy I’d seen around campus. His angular features haunted me for some reason. But it wasn’t him, or not quite. The boy in the cup was a stranger.
Nasmiye stood up and smoothed down her blouse, preparing for the handsome customers at the next table. As her fingers grazed her waist, I noticed a tiny blue verse swirled on her hip.
The mark darkened. Nasmiye’s face transformed into a rigid mask and the hole in the atmosphere flickered around her again for a brief second. She covered the mark with her hand. Her eyes darted around the room looking for the culprit.
- et tiam audax.
I didn’t need to see the unusual tattoo to know what the rest of it said. My birth mother had inked a similar one on my own hip. I’d never seen another.
The foreboding sensation in my stomach twisted itself up tighter, but it fought against the thrill of my first real clue. Nasmiye’s mark meant my search was pointed in the right direction.
She shot a pained glance in my direction. “As we say in Turkey, faldan inanma, faldan geri kalma!” Cups rattled on the tray as she disappeared into the back of the restaurant.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked Seyhan. My Turkish was basic, so sometimes I still needed translation, especially with idioms and obscure things like fortunes.
He was looking at me like I’d sprouted an extra head. “She said if you don’t believe in the predictions, then you won’t be held back by them.”
“I don’t really believe in all that crap,” I lied. I sat on my hands so no one could see them shaking. My tattoo meant my mother was gypsy, the Tashkiri scorpion freaked out the psychic, and deep down I knew, felt in my twisted stomach that making the two discoveries at once was no coincidence.
“It can also be figurative, you know.” Seyhan kept looking toward the door where Nasmiye went, as if she would help him explain what just happened. “When you ask about someone’s fate, the fortuneteller channels a message from the djinn, and then she uses the coffee grounds, or droplets of lead, or-” He waved an open hand around. “Or even a crystal ball to interpret it.”
Anna fidgeted in her seat like she was desperate for attention. “What’s a djinn?”
“You call them genies.” He rewarded her curiosity with a smile.
“Not like the kind with three wishes?” I asked. Clairvoyance was one thing. Blaming it on mythical creatures was another.
Seyhan cleared his throat and stared back at me as if I should know better. “No, like the kind who live in a parallel universe.”
“You can’t be serious, Seyhan,” Anna said. “And anyway, aren’t they supposed to be evil and manipulative? Why would anyone listen to one of them?”
“Djinn can predict the future because they see everything happening around us, like they have a bird’s eye view. Lots of important people want that kind of information.”
He tilted his head toward the table across from us, where Nasmiye was beginning to read for the businessmen. Muscular bodyguards, suits straining at the seams, stood watch. The one closest to me must have felt us staring because he turned around. I got caught in his black eyes for a moment before the glimmer of his lapel pin distracted me – KH. He whispered something to the other bodyguard and I looked away.
“They’re from Kemer Holding.” Seyhan lowered his voice. “Maybe you heard the story. Mr. Kemer was a village boy, but then his ‘company’ swallowed every other business in its path. He owns half of Turkey. Nasmiye will probably get a gold-plated apartment when they redevelop this area.”
“And you think djinn have something to do with it?” I managed a steady smile. “America must be full of evil genies then.”
Seyhan narrowed his eyes at me. “Djinn are one of God’s creatures. They have free will like us and can be good or evil. And some of them can be very powerful.”
“Do you have to be a gypsy to communicate with them?” Anna asked in a whisper.
“Technically, the djinn can respond to anyone, but if they do, you can’t be sure they are reliable. It’s like you have to have some pass code or something to gain their trust.” His disappointed scowl made it seem like he wanted access to that pass code pretty badly, but he didn’t know how to go about getting it.
“Exactly what kind of something,” I asked, wondering if “something” was a tattoo on the hip.
“Sometimes djinn… How shall I say this?” He rubbed the back of his neck and looked over at Nasmiye. “They interact with people. Their powers can affect generations afterward. Those are the people who can communicate with djinn the best.”
A horrified look crossed Anna’s face. “Interact? Do djinn possess you or something?”
Seyhan snorted and shook his head. “People possessed by the djinn are mecnun.” He waggled his finger in a circular motion next to his temple. “Crazy,” he whispered. “When I say interact, I mean it’s in the blood. There’s a rumor that Nasmiye’s great-great-grandfather was a djinn.” He leaned toward me, curling his fingers around my wrist. “How did you see the scorpion, Sibel?”
“I-” The knot in my stomach twisted tighter. “I just have extra sensitive powers of observation.” I pulled away from him, grabbed my bag and stood up. “Let’s go.”
Anna struggled to her feet, and then dipped low in an exaggerated bow. “Yes, master!”
Nasmiye watched with her intense blue eyes as I stormed out the door.
I wasn’t upset because Seyhan believed in djinn. That wasn’t it at all. Something triggered my sixth sense, maybe not djinn, but something intuition always wanted me to avoid. Something about my mother and a Tashkiri scorpion.