I must admit to a bit of a letdown with Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest, . Don’t get me wrong – I love his stuff and would have read it no matter the setting, but I did allow myself to get a little over-excited when I read that it was set in a world with a city-state called Seressa. Which, as any Venetophile knows, has to stand for the Republic of Venice, traditionally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice (Italian: Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia).
It begins auspiciously enough, with a Seressan ambassador checking into what I imagine is Kay’s version of Vienna, the court of Jad’s Holy Emperor. Jad is a sun god in this world, at perpetual odds with Asharia (star-worshippers) and somewhat shared with the Kindath, worshippers of the moon. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
The story itself, however, follows the adventures of a young Seressan painter, travelling through the lands that would have been known as Dalmatia and Greece to the city of Asharias, once known as Sarantium. Constantinople. So not so much Seressa (Venice) as I had hoped.
Sarantium will be known to Kay’s readers from the two books known as The Sarantine Mosaic, in which the emperor of Sarantium builds a marvelous basilica with the help of a very talented mosaicist. It has, however, recently been conquered by the Grand Khalif of the Asherites (Mehmet the Conqueror), and therein lies our tale. It seems The Sarentine Mosaic is now a trilogy.
The painter, a merchant, the disgraced daughter of a high house, a woman warrior and her long lost brother roam through these pages, interweaving on their various quests that involve bandits, peasants, princes and soldiers. Cowards and heroes. All the best ingredients for a tale that insists that no matter when or where we have lived, we have always been the people that we are. Inscribed within a world painted with Kay’s trademark lyricism.
Kay’s heroes may be a cut above the rest of us, but that’s one of the functions of fiction, I think. Not only to remind us of who we are, but to suggest that we are capable of so much more.
Children of Earth and Sky didn’t have, for me, the magic of Under Heaven and River of Stars, but Pero and Leonora, Danica and Marin, are good travelling companions and the geography of their lives is one worth traversing.