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Children of Earth and Sky Hardcover – May 10, 2016
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Praise for Children of Earth and Sky
"...Kay's real genius at unveiling history as a large tapestry of individual ambitions, betrayals, loyalties and simple efforts to negotiate survival in a radically unstable world...compelling, sympathetic characters whose stories gradually weave together in ingenious ways.”—The Chicago Tribune
“Guy Gavriel Kay has a wonderful talent. He tells stories in an invented world that is so rich in historical echoes that I found myself smiling with pleasure as I heard the echoes, while engrossed in the story. Warmly recommended.”—Edward Rutherfurd, bestselling author of Sarum
[Kay's] approach, which is to explore our shared humanity through a prism of fantasy and history, is unparalleled... weaves a heartwrenching, exquisitely rendered tale that speaks to every time and place.”—Huffpost Books
“...Kay is in masterful control of his material, and the prose is elegant. This is writing of the highest order. Very highly recommended.”—The Historical Novel Society
"A book of the year ... about ordinary people not so different from you and me, Children of Earth and Sky is every inch the equal of the superlative Sarantine Mosiac.”—Tor.com
Praise for the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay
“[Read] anything by Guy Gavriel Kay... His strengths are strong characters and fantastic set pieces.”--The New Yorker
“History and fantasy rarely come together as gracefully or readably as they do in the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay.”--The Washington Post Book World
“Kay is a genius. I've read him all my life and am always inspired by his work.”--#1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson
"A storyteller on the grandest scale."--Time Magazine, Canada
About the Author
Guy Gavriel Kay is the internationally bestselling author of, among others, The Fionovar Tapestry, Tigana, The Last Light of the Sun, Under Heaven, and River of Stars. He has been awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his work in the literature of the fantastic, and won the World Fantasy Award for Ysabel in 2008. In 2014 he was named to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. His works have been translated into more than twenty-five languages.
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Since he began writing alternate history a 'quarter turn to the fantastic’ and quarter century ago, Kay’s narrative approach has followed a traditional path: a main character or group discover they have a specific goal and must fight to achieve it, often against the currents of history on their journey. Children of Earth and Sky is different. While there's a common background thread - Osmanli subjugation and fear of their inevitable conquering march towards the gates of Vienna - the interests and threads of the diverse group of individuals that Kay introduces here repeatedly coalesce and diverge, often without seeming connections.
Plenty of writers have attempted a similar scattershot plot approach to ensemble driven novels, but very few have succeeded. Kay does so likely because of his fondness for deep character development – it’s been said Kay has never met a secondary character he hasn’t liked - and his deep research into the underlying history that forms his alternate universe Venice, Balkans, and the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires. The author has acknowledged a deliberate focus on the stories of the ordinary people of these times trying to get on with their lives in the midst of this chaos, so the protagonists are neither heirs to thrones nor brilliant generals. However, the unique skill sets of the talented but common folk he weaves in and out prove applicably powerful at appropriately large moments and inflection points. Their 'ripples', as Kay calls it, into the river of history produce consequences for their actions that neither his characters nor the readers see coming. Combine that with Kay's particularly skilled writing, and this is one of the tiny handful of books in which the lack of a traditional narrative works.
This isn't to say that the structure doesn't have its flaws, some serious. Children of Earth and Sky does start slow; the first fifth of the book is spent introducing most the various players, and it isn’t until the second fifth is concluded that the various main plots begin in earnest. Several threads go absolutely nowhere, including a prominent one introduced very early that ultimately provides nothing more than background enrichment. Finally, for some reason Kay expands from his occasional foray into competently crafted erotica into a larger number of scenes that may make some readers uncomfortable.
If readers have patience, the payoff for all of this is spectacular. An often-slow moving plot that deals with the stubbornness of the revenge-seeking Balkan Senjans creating diplomatic headaches for three other powers produces dramatic effects down the road, and a planned trip to Asharias (the conquered Sarantium) provides significant unintended consequences. Suffice it to say that the ending here is among Kay's best in many, many years.
However, this does bring up an important point. While some of Kay's novels can be enriched by reading others set in his universe, it's not been a prerequisite. Children of Earth and Sky can certainly be read as a standalone, but there are so many echoes (and in one plot line, outright mirroring) from the Sarantine Mosaic that those two predecessors are essentially required despite taking place a thousand years earlier. Without them, the payoffs from the conclusion aren't quite as dramatic, and given that makes the structure of the book work, it's important. They should be read first if at all possible, and many readers will also find The Lions of Al-Rassan, in which Kay establishes the religious structure of his world, quite helpful.
If all this seems a bit vague, a clearer way to put it is that it’s Kay’s best book in a while despite its unusual approach, and from this author, that’s saying something. 5 stars.
Kay has written this book in a way that makes it seem like some anonymous person is actually telling this story directly to you. His books often use this device, but usually a bit more subtly. In other books, this "storyteller" might very occasionally offer up some profound or ironic reflection of what has occurred to the characters, but he does it constantly in this book, and this device definitely loses its impact when not used sparingly. It just felt like Kay was trying too hard.
Like I wrote earlier, I did enjoy the book for the most part. Although it is not necessary to have read them, this book does take place a few hundred (maybe even a thousand?) years after the Sarantium books, and offers up a few Easter eggs for those who have read them. This book actually got me to go back and re-read those, as well as read up a bit on the actual history of the region, people, and era that the book is based on, so that was fun!