Saturday, June 17, 2023

Sandra Worth's epic novel Tomorrow We Will Know presents the swan song of imperial Constantinople

Sandra Worth has established a literary career around historical novels about real people during the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor period. Now, ten years after the publication of her last book, she pivots partly around the world with a stunningly detailed historical epic about the final years of imperial Constantinople in the mid-15th century.

All three of the main characters once lived, although one whose early life isn’t well documented is given a different name (you can read more in the comprehensive author’s note).

At first glance, Zoe Notaras has an illustrious life ahead: she’s the beautiful auburn-haired daughter of a high-ranking noble family in the Eastern Roman Empire, her father is immeasurably wealthy, she’s a talented musician, and she’s well-versed in literature. But she has the misfortune to be her mother’s least favorite child, for reasons she doesn’t know, and since childhood she’s had a crush on Constantine of Mistras, the emperor’s younger brother and heir, who’s destined for a marriage of state.

Constantine, over twenty years older than Zoe, has been widowed twice and bears a heavy mental load after his brother dies and he ascends the imperial throne. Though bolstered by fortified walls, Constantinople’s geographic position makes it vulnerable to attack by the Ottoman Empire; the city is also heavily reliant on outside support. Also, with his people bitterly divided about potential union with the Pope in Rome, Constantine XI finds himself in a no-win situation with a dwindling range of options.

The historical circumstances are nimbly revealed through the characters’ experiences. Although undoubtedly devoted to his country, and to Zoe – whose love he eventually returns – Constantine makes several key misjudgments and fears that a famous prophecy (implying his reign will be the empire’s last) will hold true. The arrival of a Genoese nobleman named Justiniani Longo who vows to defend Constantinople seems the answer to his prayers, but Justiniani falls in love with Zoe, complications ensue.

Worth has devoted extraordinary attention to her settings, creating a banquet for the senses on the page, from the glittering palace d├ęcor to the lemon-scented breeze along the shoreline. Zoe may seem somewhat idealized at times, but she remains easy to root for; her main fault is that she’s too trusting and romantically inclined, which leaves her unable to see flaws in others. The 53-day siege of Constantinople, which extends through much of the book’s second half, takes you step by step through the military decisions of both Constantine’s forces and those of Mehmet, the Ottoman Empire’s young and ruthless sultan – and their personal consequences.

Replete with human passions and deep-rooted courage, Tomorrow We Will Know brings readers front and center into a major turning point in history.

The novel was independently published in February; thanks to the author for the e-copy.

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