Book Review: Lord of Emperors by Kay (4 Stars)

Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

4 out of 5 stars

Read in June 2010

The characters I related to best surprised me in this second half of the Sarantine Mosaic duology. I wept more than once for a chariot racer and for an obsessed, vengeful woman. Crispan, through whose eyes most of this tale was viewed, did not touch any of my heart-strings.

Both this novel, and its predecessor, Sailing to Sarantium, included phenomenal chapters filled with thundering horses hooves, dust and crashing chariots … just a pleasant day at the Hippodrome races. Continue reading “Book Review: Lord of Emperors by Kay (4 Stars)”

Book Review: Ysabel by Kay (3.5 Stars)

Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay

3.5 out of 5 stars

Read in Nov/Dec 2013

Synopsis (excerpts from author’s website Bright Weavings):

Provence, in the south of France, is a part of the world that has been—and continues to be—called a paradise. But one of the lessons that history teaches is that paradise is coveted and fought over. Successive waves of invaders have claimed—or tried to claim—those vineyards, rivers, olive groves, and hills.

In Guy Gavriel Kay’s novel, Ysabel, this duality—of exquisite beauty and violent history—is explored in a work that marks a departure from Kay’s historical fantasies set in various analogues of the past.

Continue reading “Book Review: Ysabel by Kay (3.5 Stars)”

Book Review: Sailing to Sarantium by Kay (4 Stars)

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

4 out of 5 stars

Read in June 2010

A strangely compelling story even though none of the characters evoked compassion, laughter, anger or any other strong emotion from me. Normally, without an emotional connection, I become bored and sputter to a stop. Kay crafted an exquisite tale, a risky reckless journey into intoxicating intrigue fueled by ambitious visions and ruthless machinations.

Fantasy elements are kept to a minimum, the purview of alchemists and the occasional supernatural intervention. I read this novel with the understanding that Kay ‘re-imagined’ the Byzantine Empire of Justinian II. Sort of an alternate history where the names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Book Review: A Song for Arbonne by Kay (4.5 Stars)

A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

4.5 out of 5 stars

Read in April 2009

Halfway through this book I had an epiphany. In fact, I woke up in the middle of the night with a realization – Kay’s A Song for Arbonne has few if any traditional fantasy elements woven in it’s rich tapestry of love, music, honor, courage, tragedy and hope. Yet I was so enthralled with the lives of his characters that I could not bear to be parted from them. The greatest tragedy of the entire tale was that it ended. I yearn for more, as I strain to hear the plaintive echo of the final fading note.

This was the February 2010 book of the month at the Fantasy Book Club group at GoodReads.  To view the discussions, follow this link:  02-3/10 – A Song for Arbonne

Book Review: Tigana by Kay (5 stars)

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

5 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2008

A parent’s grief at the death of their child can be a terrible thing. When that parent is the world’s most powerful wizard, and his beloved son dies in battle in one of the last provinces to be conquered, the grief becomes an all encompassing spell. And so starts the drama that is Tigana and the struggles for independence and remembrance against Brandin (the Tyrant and sorcerer).

My first thoughts when I started reading this story were of events in our own history where tyrants have tried and very nearly succeeded in obliterating a race of people. Tigana takes this one step further. Brandin, in his grief and yearning for revenge, pursues the path of genocide but also casts a spell which makes it impossible for anyone to remember the name of the province where his son died. Only those born in that province before his spell was cast can say the name – Tigana. Brandin plans to extend his life sorcerously so that he will outlive anyone who had been born in Tigana, thereby sealing his revenge forever and assuaging his grief.

The tale revolves around several key remnants of Tigana, namely Allessan, the youngest and only surviving prince of Valentin, Prince of Tigana; Baerd, son of Valentin’s sculptor and Alessan’s right hand man; Dianora, Baerd’s sister and lover, who was taken in tribute under a false identity (the tribute captain believed she was from a different province). Dianora becomes a saishan (like a mistress or concubine in Brandin’s harem) and eventually wins Brandin’s love. There are many other characters, all of whom are entangled and ensnarled by the circumstances which are boiling and erupting across the peninsula of the Palm.

I will restrain myself from spoiling the ending. I will say that even though this is a fantasy, and there is magic and magical creatures, all of this is merely a background to the drama of the lives hurtling along the paths of their destinies.

Book Review: The Summer Tree by Kay (4 Stars)

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

4 out of 5 stars

Read in June 2011

I took quite some time to warm-up to this earliest novel of Guy Gavriel Kay. I just couldn’t get excited about five Canadian college students agreeing (with the exception of one malcontent … but there’s always got to be one rebel) to be whisked or warped or rifted or transported (take your pick) to the world of Fionavar just to attend the king’s jubilee. Thrust into a seemingly medieval setting, complete with court politics, royal succession quandaries, manipulative magicians, kingdom-wide drought and blight and an approaching storm of vengeful evil, these young men and women adapt readily and a bit unbelievably. Even the initial loss of one in the crossing barely causes a blip of concern once the remaining four become embroiled in the avalanche of events bearing down on the kingdom.

Of all the characters, both from our world and Finovar, I respected Dave the most as well as Sharra (and I hope to learn more about her in the rest of the series). Paul seemed to excel at doing the right things for all the wrong reasons. Kimberly went native almost before leaving Earth, but Kevin remains an enigma to me. I barely glimpsed Jennifer’s tribulations and fear for her fate.

I saw the influence of Celtic mythology throughout Kay’s worldbuilding and drew parallels with other epic fantasies prevalent and popular in the late 70s and early 80s (Tolkien, Lewis and to a lesser extent Brooks).

I suspect I missed reading the Fionavar Tapestry in high school and early college because I had to rely on what I saw at the grocery store book/magazine aisle, since I didn’t have access to a library or a book store and GoodReads wasn’t even a gleam on the Internet’s nascent horizon. Had I read this series then, I am confident I would have added it to my permanent re-read collection. While The Summer Tree and the rest of the Fionavar Tapestry will remain on my shelves besides Kay’s other later great novels, I doubt I’ll be tempted to re-read it. Not with Tigana or the Lions of Al-Rassan enticing me to return and relive the wonder and the glory.

For further insights, please visit the discussion threads at the GoodReads Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club held in June 2011.

The Beyond Reality group at GoodReads started reading the entire series, The Fionavar Tapestry in mid-January 2014.

Book Review: The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of al-RassanThe Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Of the six novels by Guy Gavriel Kay that’s I’ve read, this and Tigana vie for my favorite of his work. How does he manage to make me care so much about his characters? And he creates a reflection of our world on the cusp of a rigid religious fervor scything inexorable destruction before it. A glimpse of the beauty crushed and the horrors perpetrated in the grip of zealous belief and political expediency. A lament for the loss of the previous generation’s glories and grandeur. A glimpse of the perseverance and grace of the survivors who rebuild from the ruins of wrath. An affirmation and triumph of love flourishing regardless of race or creed, persecution or circumstances.

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Book Review: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (5 stars)

Under Heaven
by Guy Gavriel Kay

5 out of 5 stars

Read in December 2010

Shen Tai mourns his father for over two years by burying the bones of the dead in a vast battlefield on the western edge of the Kitan empire. A backbreaking labor of grace daily and the company of the restless shades of soldiers nightly. He gains the respect of friend and foe and the attention of women in high places with influence, intrigue and power. The unfathomable gift of two hundred and fifty horses from a rival empire courtesy of a Kitan princes sent as tribute sets Shen’s life adrift on the high tide of potentially lethal imperial politics. He receives unlooked for and unlikely assistance from several women as he travels from the far western reaches to the very center of the Kitan empire in Xinan: a well trained assassin, Wei Song, sent by a former courtesan of the northwestern district previously known as Spring Rain and a former dancer now the favored courtesan of the emperor himself.

Even though we only ever see one of the famous Sardian horses for much of the novel, Shen repeatedly attempts to exchange them for knowledge of his sister and her rescue from the Bogu barbarians of the north, since his own older brother, now adviser to the prime minister, allowed her to be elevated to an imperial princes and sent as a tribute bride to the Bogu leader. But not even the most powerful players on this corrupted game board can assist Shen with his quest.

Kay delivers sweeping epic vistas of the open grass steppe and the heart-stopping gut-wrenching frenzy of court intrigue and rebellion. No other prose flows so seamlessly as Kays, completely engulfing me in the world he unfolds before me.

My only quibble with this novel, and which almost made me drop my rather to four or four and a half stars, was with the ending. Shifting to third person and a more remote historical sagacious point of view distanced me from the characters just as the story culminated and resolved. I still enjoyed the novel immensely, though, and highly recommend it.