Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, everybody! I will be celebrating by reading some of The Warmth of Other Suns and driving down our street named after him, my favoritely nicknamed street: MLK.
Sailing to Sarantium
by Guy Gavriel Kay
“Crispin is a master mosaicist, creating beautiful art with colored stones and glass. Summoned to Sarantium by imperial request, he bears a Queen’s secret mission, and a talisman from an alchemist. Once in the fabled city, with its taverns and gilded sanctuaries, chariot races and palaces, intrigues and violence, Crispin must find his own source of power in order to survive-and unexpectedly discovers it high on the scaffolding of his own greatest creation.”
Good Things: Kay is a master writer – I’ll read most anything he writes. The setting is fairly unusual for fantasy- it is inspired by Byzantium. I also love the focus on craft, with the main character being a mosaicist.
Bad Things: My main issue with this book is that there are way too many viewpoints. It works wonderfully in the prologue – he goes from the lowliest class to the scheming people at the top to set up the milieu that will affect the rest of the book. It doesn’t work in the rest of the book. While it’s enjoyable to see the viewpoint of a lowly cook in one of the kitchens, the effect is that we have less time to care about even the more sympathetic main characters. And then we never meet that lowly cook again! And then we see the events of the night again from a less minor character, though this is the only time we get his viewpoint. And then we see the events of the night again, finally from a main character. And yes, Kay is a good enough writer that he gives us different and new information each time, but… This sort of sequence happens over and over again and gets kind of tedious. But he mostly makes it work because of his skill as a writer.
The time that it particularly doesn’t work is in the flashbacks to the revolt that takes place two years before the events of the book, possibly because we know what was the fallout of the revolt was. (That is, the emperor wouldn’t still be in power if there had been a coup.) The violence and frenzy of the riot is subdued, undermined by the reader’s knowledge.
I do feel like I should make clear that this book is the first of two. They really shouldn’t be considered separate stories, as the Lord of the Rings is one story separated into three books. It is quite likely that, in the context of a larger work, this viewpoint issue would be less of one. (Though I do stand by saying that the revolt sequence didn’t work very well.)
Overall: This is an excellent book, though not my favorite of Kay’s. I’m guessing I’ll like it even more once I read the second book, but I don’t know when that will be. Whee!