This is the story of a magical child who lives during a fascinating time in Istanboul's history, near the end of the Ottoman Empire. A mysterious pair of midwives arrive at the Cohen home. They say that the signs of a prophecy their last king gave on his deathbed has come true: a sea of horses, a conference of birds, the North Star in alignment with the moon. They attend to Eleonora's birth and shortly after the birth, the new mother dies.
Eleonora is raised by her father and her strict, bitter stepmother. Her childhood is relatively uneventful and happy for the most part. Eleonora is followed by a flock of hoopoes, the same birds that settled over the roof of her house when she was born. When Yakob, her father, teaches Eleonora to read, the girl's intelligence is revealed. She takes to reading as though she has always known how, to the delight of her father and the chagrin of her stepmother.
When Yakob announces that he must leave for Stamboul for a month on business, Eleonora is fearful of being left behind with her stepmother and decides to be a stow-away on the ship. She reveals herself to her father on the last night of his journey. They stay in Stamboul with Moncef Bey, her father's business partner. One of his servants, who attends to Eleonora, happens to be one of the midwives that delivered her. Eleonora is enchanted in the new world of mystical Stamboul.
I was fascinated with Eleonora's character and wisdom. She touches your heart and makes it hard to put this gentle, shimmering novel down. This is a good one to pick up if you want to get lost in another world, one that won't overwhelm you. - Bronwyn