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Sailing to Sarantium: Book One of the Sarantine Mosaic
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.read more
GUY GAVRIEL KAY is acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost fantasy authors. He is the author of eleven novels, and his works have been translated into twenty-five languages. Kay lives in Toronto with his family. Visit him online at brightweavings.com.read more
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An artisan undertakes a journey to the most celebrated city in the world.I've read this book twice now. The first time through, I was struck by the feel Kay manages to create. This isn't a happy book, by any means, but I always felt entirely comfortable in the world. The setting, (an alterante version of 6th century Byzantium and its surrounding environs), was so well drawn that I never felt as though I were reading fantasy. There are many parallels with real historical places that help add veracity to the text. As an art historian, I was particularly delighted with Varena, (this world's Ravena equivalent), and with the differences between Eastern and Western mosaics. The whole thing felt so real that when the fantastical elements did appear I, like Crispin, initially assumed they were slight-of-hand. I was also very impressed with Kay's talent for character. That first time, I found that I didn't feel particularly strongly about any of these people... but I did feel like I knew them through and through. They're remarkably well delineated. Kay manages to quickly and fully convey just who a person is with a few well-placed background details and some telling dialogue.So I was very, very impressed after my first reading. I promptly went out and acquired the rest of Kay's bibliography, and I consider it one of the best literary decisions I've ever made.This second time, though... well, it utterly trumped my first reading. Some books, some stories, are just better when you know what's coming. I found myself noticing much, much more. I could see the groundwork Kay laid for the next volume, and many times I found myself in tears just thinking of where all this was leading. I discovered that I did, in fact, feel strongly for all these peple. I found myself in awe of the way Kay had layered each individual element, placing small pieces of each story into the larger whole to create a literary mosaic of surprising depth and beauty.I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's far from action-packed, but those who enjoy character-based stories and intricate settings should find it more than worthwhile.read more
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I still remember a lot of the things I thought and felt the first time I read those two books, because it was fairly recently (about three years ago, large chunks read on the night ferry from Angelsey to Dublin as I just couldn't stop reading and refused to sleep). I was actually surprised how much of the plot I still remembered. And I think it's partly because I remembered that much of it that this time there we completely different things which struck me and reduced me to tears/laughter/outbreak of random other emotion.I think, stylistically, the Mosaic is Kay's best work. In it, he shows that he is in complete mastery and control of his craft. Some of the things he pulls off are amazing. The pacing for one is absolutely astonishing. The second part of the first book (over 200 pages) describes events which take place in the space of 24 hours (the day after Crispin arrives in Sarantium). So, for that matter, does the first part of the second book (another 200 pages, the day of Kasia and Carullus's wedding), and most of the second part of the second book (the day of Valerius' death). Despite this, I personally couldn't stop turning the pages. Kay uses shifts in narrative perspective and tense so cleverly, it's dazzling. He reveals bits of plot slowly, but because of the shifts in perspective the reader barely has time to assimilate everything. Reading the books feels a bit like seeing Sarantium for the first time - absolutely overwhelming.In most of his other novels, Kay is extremely careful of when he shifts to present tense. In the Mosaic, he uses it on a more regular basis, but in places where if flows naturally out of and into the surrounding passages. There's is only one place where the shift back into past tense seems extremely harsh and abrupt - after Valerius' death. And that has an effect of its own. The reader definitely gets the feeling that this is the end, that an rea is over and whatever comes after it will not be a smooth transition.Another example of Kay's absolute control over the writing is the way he plays with the reader's emotions. I remember this from my first reading of the books. He takes a long time to set up Valerius' death. It starts with Alixana's visit to the island, then we get a chariot race, all the time dreading what we know is going to happen in the palace. This for me created a feeling of utter doom. I could no imagine Sarantium going on after Valerius. And at the same time, Kay kept giving us glimpses of the future, reassuring us that there would a future. He does it when he mentions that Cleander would one day write his Reflections. And there is one quote which for me puts everything into perspective:"The first of what would be one thousand, six hundred and forty-five triumphs for the Blues. By the time the boy in that chariot retired eighteen years later only two names in the long history of the Sarantium Hippodrome would have won more races, and no one who followed him would do so. There would be three statues to Taras of Megarium in the spina to be torn down with all the others, seven hundred years after, when the great changes came."What this is saying to me is: "If you think the death of an Emperor is the end of Sarantium, think again."On the other hand, despite some very touching moments, I don't think the Mosaic has the raw emotional power I found in Lions. To use one of Kay's own images, Lions for me is a bit like the image of Jad in the chapel in Sauradia - so powerful it floored me both times I read it. The Mosaic, on the other hand, is more like Crispin's mosaic on the dome in Sarantium: still powerful and emotional, but above all a mastery of the craft.One of the really nice touches about the Mosaic is the historical accuracy of the setting. A lot of the characters (Valerius, Alixana, Leontes, Pertennius, the Greens and the Blues) are based on real historical figures, and a lot of the plot (the Victory Riot, Ashar going into the desert, Pertennius' Secret History, mosaics in Varena) is based on real events. Of course, there are also a lot of divergences, but the picture Kay paints of Byzantium is fascinating. When I first read the Mosaic, I did some historical research and reached the conclusions that Islam was founded around the same time as Justinian ruled in Byzantium. I was amused and gratified to see Kay mention this.Like all of Kay's books, the Mosaic, too, is about loss; and moving on. It starts with loss (Crispin's loss of his family, Styliane's loss of her father and her life) and ends with loss (Alixana's loss of her life, Crispin's loss of his work). It shows how different characters deal with loss and succeed or fail to move beyond it. It shows change and destruction, and at the same time makes a compelling case for hope and faith in the future.A lot of it, I think, boils down to what Rustem says: we have to bend, or we break. We see a lot of extremely strong characters, all facing change and destruction. Some of them bend; and other break. Two of those who break strike me in particular: Styliane, who cannot move beyond loss and hate and revenge and whom I find myself unable to hate despite her deeds; and Thenais, whose world is so frozen that the slightest tension or pressure makes shatter.And then there are those who do bend, and who through bending move on. Kasia finds a new life. Gisel, through being clever and flexible and probably also being luckier than one might think she deserves, not only stays alive but keeps her kingdom and becomes Empress. Crispin, despite all that life has thrown in his path, goes on, lives. Above all, though, there is Alixana. Despite, or perhaps because of, who and what she is, after tremendous loss, she, too, moves on.There are two defining moments to Alixana, I think. The first is during the victory riot. "The vestments of Empire are seemly for a shroud, my lord. Are they not?" And then dropping her Porphyry cloak on the island after finding out about Lecanus' escape. These may seem contradictory at a first glance, but I think they are two sides of the same coin. It is not only about bending, so as not to break; is also about knowing when to bend and when to stand in the face of change.The pairing of Crispin and Alixana at the end also seems unlikely at first. Thinking about it again, however, there is something between them throughout the books. It starts even before they meet, with the death of Crispin's wife and with Alixana during the Victory Riot. There is a lot of interaction between them, and we see Alixana trusting Crispin without even knowing why. And then she asks him how he lived after his wife died. He cannot answer, but she finds the answer for herself and thus the way to him and a new life. Yes, Alixana and Valerius were very much two halves of a whole; but once Valerius was gone, Alixana had the choice: she could die, or she could move on.Finally, I would like to say that a lot of highly unpleasant things involving swords, or tesserae, or possibly both, and which Crispin or Carullus could describe much better than me, should be done to Leontes. He is a spoilt arrogant brat. He is also a religious zealot. I cannot stand religious zealots. In fact, I have very little patience for religion in general. And I feel sorry for Gisel marrying him. While Gisel is definitely a match for Alixana and with passage of time one can see her become even more so, Leontes is no match for Petrus. His failings, however, are in many respects what makes the Mosaic so good and what makes the loss - of the mosaics, of a culture and an era, of a civilisation - so keenly felt.read more
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Heavy of character and light of plot, Kay's (The Lions of Al Rassan) new series opens with the heady scents of sex, horseflesh and power. In the Holy City of Sarantium, the wily, murderous new emperor, Valerius II, stiffs his soldiers of their pay in order to build a fabulous monument to immortalize his reign. To adorn his temple, he summons a renowned elder mosaicist, who entreats his brilliant, younger partner, Caius Crispus of Varena, to make the journey to Sarantium in his stead. Crispus, who lost his zest for life after his beloved wife and daughters died of the plague, makes the journey under protest. His besieged country's young queen forces him to carry a dangerous, private message to the emperor, the contents of which could cost him his life. En route to Sarantium, Crispus becomes involved with mystically souled mechanical birds created by the magician Zoticus; encounters an awe-inspiring pagan god; saves the life of a beautiful, enslaved prostitute; and demonstrates that decency brings out the best in hired workers. At his destination, he learns to trust his own instincts, especially where knife-wielding assassins and powerful women who use their sexuality as a weapon are concerned. Kay is at his best when describing the intertwining of art and religion or explicating the ancient craft of mosaic work. The slow pace of the novel and the sheer volume of its characters (if ever a book cried out for a listing of dramatis personae, this is it) are dismaying, however, and don't augur well for future installments in the series. Rights: Westwood Creative Artists. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved