The year is 1648 and life in Venice is serene for Isabella Hawkins and her friends Willem, Al-Qasim and Signora Contarini. Together they publish fine books like the controversial encyclopaedia, The Sum of All Knowledge. When a new Inquisitor declares war on free speech however, they are forced to flee across the seas to the wondrous capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, which is ruled by the infamous Sultanate of the Women. Old friends and new, including the boy Sultan and his sister, welcome them to the world′s greatest city. But Isabella is soon entangled in poisonous palace intrigues, while her friends secretly play perilous games of their own.
The fascinating and page-turning sequel to Act of Faith.
Kelly Gardiner's latest series for young readers is a time slip adventure trilogy called 'The Firewatcher Chronicles': Brimstone(2019), Phoenix (2020) and Vigil (2021). Her previous novel was '1917: Australia's Great War', set in Flanders and in Melbourne during the First World War. Her novel 'Goddess' was based on the life of the remarkable Julie d'Aubigny, also known as Mademoiselle de Maupin - a 17th century opera singer and swordswoman. Kelly's other books include the young adult novels 'The Sultan's Eyes' and 'Act of Faith' (HarperCollins); and for younger readers, 'Billabong Bill's Bushfire Christmas' (Random House) and the ‘Swashbuckler!’ trilogy (HarperCollins): 'Ocean Without End', 'The Pirate's Revenge' and 'The Silver Swan'. Kelly teaches writing at La Trobe University. She is also the co-host of Unladylike, a podcast about women and writing. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Sixteen-year-old Isabella Hawkins has experienced much sorrow in her time – first fleeing from England with her scholar father when The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (aka ‘The Spanish Inquisition’) rode throughout the land, upholding Catholic orthodoxy by any means necessary. Isabella and her father tried to flee to Amsterdam; but only Isabella arrived, orphaned after losing her father to the bitter seas. But the Inquisition, and one Holy man in particular called Fra Clement, was never far behind.
While in Amsterdam Isabella befriended and began working for a scholar called Master de Aquila and his young printing apprentice, Willem. But Fra Clement and his Holy order came again – and Master de Aquila was lost, trying to preserve the writings of Isabella’s father in ‘The Sum of All Knowledge’.
But Isabella and Willem kept running and eventually found peace and acceptance in 1640 Venice, where we last left her, having found a new happiness for herself working for Signora Contarini’s Mermaid Press.
Now the year is 1648, and Isabella has known true happiness and beauty in Venice where she works with her friends – Signora Contarini (Valentina), Willem, Luis and Al-Qasim – and is again surrounded by books.
But when invitations arrive, inviting everyone to the Doge’s Palace, the past begins to stir and trouble lurks . . . and Isabella is again confronted by the Inquisitor, Fra Clement, whose Holy campaign has now stretched to the intellectual, artisan capital of the world – beloved Venice. Clement has been following Mistress Hawkins for all these many years, hell-bent on bringing her godlessness to justice.
‘Your father was a blight on Christendom, like your precious Master de Acquila, like you,’ said Fra Clement. ‘Who are you to say that?’ ‘I am the Holy Father’s Inquisitor. I am the appointed hand of the Faith.’ ‘You know nothing about faith,’ I said. ‘You think it is about restricting people’s minds, people’s words.’ ‘Faith without rules is merely superstition.’ ‘Is that what you believe? You couldn’t be more wrong. Faith without wisdom is merely superstition. Rules are made by men, and rules can change.’ ‘These rules,’ Fra Clement took a breath through clenched teeth, ‘hold the world together. Shatter them, Mistress Hawkins, and you shatter faith.’ ‘I doubt that very much. Real faith is about everlasting kindness, about grace, about mercy – and understanding. These things are the essence of all the great religions. If you had read Master de Acquila’s book, you would know that. But you haven’t read it, have you?’ ‘Of course not.’
Isabella and her friends accept there is nowhere in Christendom they will be safe from the Inquisition, at least not for people like them who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of knowledge. So they decide to escape, to the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople.
This is a strange new land indeed, and only ex-pat Al-Qasim is wary of what lurks in their new sanctuary.
All seems well to begin with, especially when the eight-year-old Sultan Mehmed IV reveals his love ‘The Sum of All Knowledge’. But eventually Palace politics intrude on the group’s new refuge, and each of them must play a delicate game to keep their lives and guard their secrets . . .
‘The Sultan’s Eyes’ by Australian young adult author Kelly Gardiner is the continuing tale of Isabella Hawkins’s thrilling life; sequel to the 2011 novel ‘Act of Faith’.
I loved this book from first line;
In Venice, the days die slowly
To last page.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I fell in head-over-heels love with first novel ‘Act of Faith’ and have been desperate for Isabella’s continued tale since I first heard that Gardiner had more in store for my favourite Philosopher and Adventurer. ‘The Sultan’s Eyes’ does not disappoint, and has been well worth the two-year wait.
When the novel begins we are offered only a small glimpse of what Isabella’s life has been like since we last left her, content and working with books once again, in beautiful Venice. We see that she has kept herself surrounded by the same people she met and befriended in ‘Act of Faith’, and now this group of bibliophiles and knowledge-pursuers have become a family. But just as quickly as we are reacquainted with Isabella, we are running with her again when The Inquisitor turns his raid on Venice – a city full of intellectuals and artists, and ripe for the Inquisition’s orthodoxy. And when Christendom is not safe, the group turn to Constantinople and the Ottoman Empire for refuge.
Now, my heart gave a thrilled little flutter at Isabella and Co. venturing to Constantinople (now, Istanbul) because I have plans to visit there very soon. And now, more than ever, I want to see this beautiful and chaotic city because Gardiner’s descriptions are mouth-watering. Indeed, nobody evokes place and history quite like Gardiner for me – it’s not just her describing the many towers of the Byzantine city, or the silk burqas Isabella and Valentina wear. It’s in her describing the feel of the city –particularly through the eyes of Dutch Willem and British Isabella for whom this place is so wholly foreign, caught between Europe and Asia and unlike anything they have ever seen or experienced before.
‘The Sultan’s Eyes’ is also a much bigger book than ‘Act of Faith’, where that first book came in at 227-pages, Isabella’s new adventure is a satisfying 334. And most of the book does take place in Constantinople; a much different plot which doesn’t see Isabella escaping and on-the-run, so much as plotting and surviving within the Sultan’s palace.
Eight-year-old Sultan Mehmed IV is a precocious and driven young man. He has dreams of one day being greater than Alexander the Great, and when Isabella seeks asylum on his shores he thinks he’s found a way to start his process to Greatness by turning her into a sort of Scheherazade . . .
‘Mademoiselle Hawkins will be my eyes,’ the Sultan announced in a loud voice. ‘She will read every book on earth to me. Through her eyes I will see the whole world. I will speak a dozen languages, understand the meanings of the stars and the ancient wisdom. I will know everything.’
I loved that Isabella and her friends were mostly settled in Constantinople, and the crux of the story is about them surviving Palace life. I would say that ‘Act of Faith’ was about Isabella the Adventurer – ‘The Sultan’s Eyes’ lets us see Isabella the Philosopher. We get a chance to see her dodge Palace politicking and untangle webs of lies, and we see how Isabella’s moral compass has developed through the years spent running and hiding from one man’s vengeance and misguided faith. In this book, we see how the years have shaped Isabella into a kind and determined young woman. This is never more apparent than in her caring for the Sultan’s sister, Ayşe, whom she insists be educated by Isabella right alongside her brother.
The whole book is an opportunity to know the family Isabella has surrounded herself with, those she collected along the way in ‘Act of Faith’ and who she remains steadfastly loyal to. I loved reading about Willem’s dogged pessimism, Valentina’s strength and a small a spark of something between Luis and Al-Qasim. These are some beautiful characters who complement Isabella, and make it easy to see how she’s been shaped into the young woman she is today.
Gardiner’s second book for Isabella ends exactly the way I wanted it to – full of wide, open spaces and endless possibility – which is just what I had hoped for my favourite Adventurer & Philosopher. We’d been with her through the fear and heartache of ‘Act of Faith’, and in ‘The Sultan’s Eyes’ we see what those trying years have moulded her into – this brave and cunning young woman who is loyal to a fault and exactly the kind of heroine I want all girls to be reading.
I am not a huge reader of historical fiction, but I loved Act of Faith, and I found this one just as engrossing, just as intelligent, just as poignant.
This is a book about ideas and their importance. It's a story about creating and looking after family. We sometimes have to find our own kind, and thankfully Isabella is surrounded by loyal and loving people.
The narrative seamlessly integrates all the history, the intrigue and the cruelty of a time when the Catholic Church went a little mad. The depiction of Constantinople is astonishing, and through the eyes of Willem, quite hilarious.
The main reason why I chose to read this book is because it's a form of fiction based on historical people, my favourite, favourite, favourite, and because I have found an interest in the Ottoman Empire recently.
Clearly, I had not read the first book of the series or even knew about it until I was one chapter in the book - and if i had, I would have probably found this book more enjoyable to read.
I found Isabella and Valentina to be strong willed and capable women, who chose to differ from the functionalist way of life from that era in order to achieve female independence, which as we know was quite rare until probably the past 20 years or so. So as a female, they were obviously my favourite characters.
Up until the last few chapters of the book, I failed to notice a love connection between the characters, more so Isabella and Justinian. Generally speaking, I think the characters lacked emotion mentally and couldn't express it physically either.
The facts in the book were of a great quality and as a general overview I found them to be very creative - which I loved! Yet, I felt that there was no real excitement in the book that kept me drawn to it. When I reached the climax, I didn't have moments like "OMG, OMG GET OUT OF THERE/ DONT DO THAT/ KILL THEM ALL!!!!!!!!!" Which would have been a splendid experience :) It was merely that, which created a boulder to prevent me from getting attached to the book.
Rewinding back to the reason why I chose to read this book: being quite interested in the Ottoman Empire currently, it was great to find out about Mehmed IV and undertake personal research about him in order to expand my knowledge about Sultans and the Sultanate of the Women. Despite being fictional, it provided me with ground knowledge on that particular Sultan and how the Ottoman Empire functioned.
Anyways, it was a great book to read, more so if the first book 'Act of Faith' is read before hand. The historical facts imbedded with the authors fictional creativity is genius, especially if you take the time to read author's notes located at the back of the book - provided an insight of her intentions. I give it three stars and recommend it to those interested in history, and how fiction can add flavour to the facts behind it! :)
This book follows on from ‘Act of Faith’ and I preferred this book to the first. The plot was less scattered and the characters were more developed, plus I enjoyed the setting - Constantinople. In this book, it is revealed that there are a couple of LGBTQ+ characters. The strong feminist view continues in this book. Overall, I enjoyed both books, I just didn’t love them.
I was on a panel with Kelly Gardiner at the Melbourne Writers Festival, and so read The Sultan’s Eyes in preparation for our talk together. Historical fiction is my favourite genre, and I particularly love books set in the mid-17th century, a time of such bloody turmoil and change. I set my six-book series of children’s historical adventure novels ‘The Chain of Charms’ during this time and so I know the period well. I absolutely loved reading The Sultan’s Eyes, which is set in Venice and Constantinople in 1648, and am now eager to read the book that came before, Act of Faith.
The heroine of the story is Isabella Hawkins, the orphaned daughter of an Oxford philosopher, and educated by him in the classics as if she had been a boy. She has taken refuge in Venice with some friends following the death of her father, after what seem like some hair-raising adventures in Book 1. An old enemy, the Inquisitor Fra Clement, arrives in Venice, however, and afraid for their lives, Isabella and her friends free to the exotic capital of the East, Constantinople, which is ruled by a boy Sultan. His mother and his grandmother are engaged in covert and murderous intrigues to control him, and it is not long before Isabella and the others are caught up in the conspiracies. I loved seeing the world of the Byzantine Empire brought so vividly to life, and loved the character of Isabella - passionate, outspoken, intelligent and yet also vulnerable.
This is the way I think historical fiction should be written. The Sultan's Eyes by Kelly Gardiner has beautiful prose with golden lines, use of metaphor (just the right amount as too many clever metaphors can spoil the effect) and I was never forced to be aware of the huge amount of research that Gardiner would have undertaken. She seamlessly wove a story and transported me to Constantinople in the seventeenth century. Characters are strong, individual yet true to the times. Add to this a page-turning plot. History and readers deserve this kind of writing.
Overall, THE SULTAN'S EYES will definitely be enjoyable if you were like me and loving Kelly Gardiner's Act of Faith book. If you loved that book, then there's a big guarantee that you will also love its sequel as well.