Plot/Idea: The author has created a lavish and detailed plot that deftly combines history and romance in this captivating work. The scope of the work is vast, and the plot far richer due to its historical context. The work offers a perfect blend of all the best elements of quality romantic fiction.
Prose: The prose here is truly top notch. Description, dialogue, action - all are expertly handled while simultaneously advancing a well-crafted story with a protagonist so real to the reader that they feel her joys and pains every step of the way.
Originality: Worth's skillful blending of historical fiction and romance results in a highly memorable reading experience.
Character/Execution: Worth does a stellar job with characterization. Zoe in particular comes alive in the author's skillful hands, while the historical settings and examination of the fall of Imperial Constantinople are equally authentically crafted.
Date Submitted: April 05, 2023
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 décor 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.
Tomorrow We Will Know: A Novel of Imperial Constantinople 1453
by Sandra Worth
book review by Kate Robinson
"Seated together on the balcony, they delighted in the beauty of their ever-changing land, where black cypresses grew by round towers and giant plane-trees spread dappled shade..."
Lyrical prose, an expert grasp of historical detail, and deftly honed plausible imagination define award-winning author Worth’s passionate seventh novel. A historical romance set from 1448 to 1453 against the dramatic backdrop of the Eastern Roman Empire’s final days, this love story for the ages culminates in tragedy: the prophesied fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire and the demise of Emperor Constantine XI. By the time Constantine XI ascends his throne, the once great empire of eastern Christendom has been reduced to a mere blip on the map—a bit of land surrounding the city of Constantinople, the Queen of Cities. Although much has been written and recorded about the empire, emperor, and era, many facets of this history, including Constantine’s supposed secret third marriage, remain a mystery debated by scholars to this day.
Worth’s prose is evocative and sensual. Seemingly without effort, she paints brilliant word pictures of place, setting, and character that bring this distant fragment of history and its players to life on the page. Readers will be instantly transported from the prologue onward into the enigmatic world of Anna Palaeologina (Zoe) Notaras, Emperor Constantine XI, and the emperor’s lovestruck Venetian military commander, Justiniani, who may have saved Zoe’s life before or during the final battle between Ottoman and Byzantine forces. The book also features Worth’s extended author’s note, an illuminating exploration of historical facts supporting this novel, which states that “[Anna] lived another fifty-four years after the fall and never married... she won for herself an illustrious reputation as a patron of the arts and the refuge of destitute Greeks” in Venice. Certainly, this novel is a sweeping and unforgettable tale worthy of further consideration by historians and one to fuel many creative daydreams of dramatists and filmmakers.
Sandra Worth’s most recent novel, Tomorrow We Will Know, is an epic situated during the fall of Imperial Constantinople and told through the romance between Emperor Constantine and Zoe, the daughter of his grand duke. Navigating this tumultuous period and the personal stories of three main characters, Worth weaves a riveting tapestry of the love that drove the actions at the heart of Constantinople’s fall. The familiar tale of the cowardice at the root of the city’s end is turned here into one of intense bravery and emotion that considers the humanity behind the events that took place.
Tomorrow We Will Know unfolds in a rapidly changing Constantinople. What inspired you to turn your attention to this time and place?
I first became intrigued by Constantinople when I read mention of the mysterious light phenomena that had plagued the city in the last days of its existence — phenomena that still baffle modern scientists. All I knew then about the ancient city was that it had been the seat of the Roman Empire for 1,100 years and was all that remained of that great civilization when it fell. Years later, I came across another mention of Constantinople, and an image of fire, death, and crumbling walls flashed into my mind. I began to read about the period, and the more I read, the more engaged I became.
The novel explores these events through the lens of a love triangle between Zoe, Constantine, and Justiniani. How did you develop their stories? And were there any characters that you found especially intriguing to write about?
All my novels are set in wartime and driven by the love story, because war is dark, and love is the only light. Sometimes, the love story is writ large in the historical record, but sometimes it’s buried, as it was with Constantinople. The picture that emerged — the love triangle — surprised even me.
Emperor Constantine’s story is a matter of record. When he wept for his people, his ministers witnessed his tears. We know his character and his hopes and dreams. We know he was a man of great courage who refused to flee his country, though his ministers begged him to leave. Into this dangerous world hovering on the edge of extinction came brave, dashing, princely Justiniani for the noblest of reasons. He was closer to Zoe’s age than Emperor Constantine. It was a time of crisis. Did he fall in love with her? How did Zoe feel about him?
I modeled Zoe’s character on what was known of her in Venice. She had a good heart, was generous, resourceful, and of high intellect, with a literary bent. I found nothing to indicate a relationship of any kind between her and Justiniani, but that is not surprising. Affairs of the heart were more likely to fuel gossip than record-keeping.
You ask about an especially intriguing character, and that has to be Justiniani. Constantinople was expected to fall within days to the Ottomans, but Justiniani changed that. Thanks to his courage, charisma, and military brilliance, 5,000 men withstood 150,000 enemies for seven weeks and nearly won an unwinnable war. Yet Justiniani abandoned his post just as the sultan was about to call the final retreat and Constantinople was about to win the war.
How did you tackle narrowing down the scope of this story?
As significant, momentous, and far-reaching as time has proved this historical event to be, the people in this extraordinary tale are what I focused on. History offers a stunning backdrop to the story, but it is the human heart and the resilience of the human spirit that I find awe-inspiring. Turkey won. They went on to win for a very long time. It took Europe 125 years after the fall of Constantinople to win its first victory against the Ottomans. It took Europe another 125 years to finally liberate itself from the threat of annihilation. Only Justiniani and a few brave Italians answered the emperor’s call for help. My book salutes their valor.
Your novel intertwines fiction with real events. How do you navigate the line between staying true to historical events and incorporating imaginative elements to engage readers?
Historical accuracy is always paramount for me because my readers expect it. Sometimes, there are conflicts in the historical accounts, and I’m obliged to choose which to follow. But when I have to fill empty spaces, I always strive to connect the dots between the events as plausibly as I can because I’m searching for the way it really happened. In the case of Constantinople, there weren’t any blank historical spaces to fill that I can recall. Except for Justiniani’s motivation at the end, we know from the diaries and writings of the many survivors precisely what happened. Only romance left wide blank spaces free for my imagination.
More relevant to storytelling is the need to keep the reader engaged by creating drama. I didn’t find that difficult here. Those who came before us lived with an appalling amount of drama in their lives. How they dealt with it and kept going when we ourselves might have given up is what keeps me enthralled. It all comes down to the resilience of the human spirit. They may have won the battle and lost the war, but even across the ages, their deeds blaze with light and warm the heart. They deserve to be celebrated. Even 600 years later, they have something to teach us. We can learn from their fortitude when we face our own battles in our modern life.
[Editor’s note: This article was written with support from the DC Arts Writing Fellowship, a project of the nonprofit Day Eight.]
Thais Carrion is a contributor to the Life section of American University’s Eagle and has been publishing articles for the Eagle Online since 2021, covering cultural events around DC. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has had the opportunity to interview filmmakers and museum curators both local to the District and international. Throughout her time studying international relations and art history, Thais has developed a deep interest in art and literature, and she enjoys writing book reviews and museum pieces.