“Confessions of a Janissary” by Nicholas J. Downing

Confessions of a Janissary

Nicholas J. Downing
Flagship Fiction (2021)
ISBN 9798458360883
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (10/2021)

Nicholas J. Downing’s “Confessions of a Janissary” is set in the 14th century during the period where the Ottoman Empire reigned supreme in the Middle East. Here, readers meet Mirko, a young boy conscripted into the Sultan’s army. The Ottomans have been taking boys from Christian families as slaves and forcing them into the Sultan’s elite corps. Readers follow Mirko as he transitions from an angry, confused 13-year-old boy focused on avenging the death of his father, who had fought with the Serbian forces, into an accomplished soldier and leader in the Sultan’s army. As Mirko tries his best to navigate his new world and battle old demons, he must make a choice: Succumb to the force the culture and religion of Islam and accept his place in the Sultan’s kingdom, or use his newfound position to undermine the Sultan, and ultimately assassinate the man who Mirko believes is responsible for his father’s death. As the years unfold, however, and he gets to know the men behind the curtain of the Ottoman Empire’s success, Mirko realizes that maybe the world is not as black and white as he believed it to be.

“Confessions of a Janissary” takes a unique angle on conscription and enslavement. It is clear Downing engaged in heavy historical research before penning his novel, as the historical details and components are strong throughout the book. One thing I thought was particularly done well was how Downing tackled the topic objectively. I loved watching Mirko transition from an angry teen hellbent on fighting against this new, invasive Islamic regime to an enlightened man and accomplished soldier who opens his mind to new ideas. I also found that one of the underlying themes of religious tolerance was quite relevant to today’s sociocultural climate. Reading about how the Janissaries allowed their conscripts to not only keep in touch with their families, but maintain some aspects of their Christian upbringings, is a wonderful example of how it really is possible to co-exist with other religions and cultures.

“Confessions of a Janissary” starts out a little slow, and it took a few chapters to get used to the culturally specific terminology. I thought it was smart of Downing to include a glossary in the opening pages, but especially when reading the e-book format, it’s hard to keep going back and forth trying to keep track of what the new words mean, especially considering that these terms are significant to the understanding of the story. As Mirko grew, however, I noticed the pacing seemed to pick up, and by about halfway through, the pages turned quickly. I think if the pacing had been a little more urgent right off the bat, the book would have been even more captivating. 

Ultimately, “Confessions of a Janissary” is a thorough, captivating historical tale that focuses on a portion of history not afforded much of a spotlight. One of the reasons I love historical fiction is because there is always something new to learn, and Downing’s book is resplendent with new knowledge to be learned. I recommend the book to any history lovers or to readers looking for an epic military journey through the 14th Century Ottoman Empire. 

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