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Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Review by Aryck

I just finished the latest book by Guy Gavriel Kay, my current favorite author, fantasy or otherwise. I thought I'd share my thoughts on the book with anyone willing to listen. That would be you, I suppose, if you clicked here.

So. Let's get the details out of the way first. Sailing to Sarantium, the first in Kay's Sarantine Mosaic series, is a very good book. Can't say it was as good as Tigana (right up there as one of my all-time favorite books), but it was a tight read.

The well-written story is once again interspersed with abrupt changes into the present tense. I'm still not exactly sure why Kay does this in his books, but I suppose once you get past the suddenness of it, it makes for an interesting storytelling device. Since this happens only twice that I can remember, it's not a big deal. Just something to note, since not too many authors use present tense.

The characterization is pretty good overall. The main character, Crispin, is realistic for the most part. Torn by personal tragedy and forced into political intrigues, he comes across as a likable man, though with as foul a mouth for a main character as I've read in awhile. His temper and hard-headedness are two key qualities that end up having an impact on the way the story turns out. Some of the minor characters, notably Kasia, need a little more fleshing out for my taste. There is very little said about her at all in the last half of the book. Hopefully this fleshing out of the minor characters will happen in the next two books. The series does not need to be dominated by only one well-rounded character.

I again find Kay's depiction of the royal court very good. The Emperor (much like Brandin of Tigana fame) is likable. He is a very intelligent man, and unlike many emperors of fantasy books, he is not concerned with just military conquests and blood. Which is of course the reason an artisan like Crispin can be the major character of the series. The political intrigues of the court are well done. The women are strong characters, as they always seem to be in Kay's books. The scene where Crispin meets the Imperial Court is very well written, with good dialogue and excellent descriptions. This, in fact, describes the whole of the book. Kay is very good at incorporating humor into the dialogue. I laughed out loud at a number of places in the book.

One thing I'm really stuggling to find in this book is a true villan. I'm not sure that there really is one. One of the ladies of the court, a rival to the Empress, is possibly the closest the book gets, and she is only introduced over half way into the book. I suppose the later books in the series will clear up this confusion.

The ending of the book leaves a lot to be desired. Some characters haven't been heard from in a long while when the book ends. A few minor things are resolved (the anecdote about the imperial courier is funny) but too many things are left undone. Hence the need for the future books I suppose. But it just doesn't end like I thought it should. Too ambiguous.

Still, Kay's newest work is really a very good read. I stayed up until 2 AM last night finishing it up. I suppose there are parts in there that might bore some people. Fairly lengthy discussions of mosaics and the making of same are scattered throughout, but I found that Kay made them interesting enough to read through and not skim over. Personal preference. Another point to mention here is that the f-word is used. A lot. Which is another rarity in fantasy, or at least in the fantasy I've read. If something like that bothers you...*shrug* well, use your own judgement.

I still feel like Sailing to Sarantium is worth picking up, from your local library if nothing else. Read and enjoy.


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