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Sailing to Sarantium (Sarantine Mosaic, Book 1) Mass Market Paperback – January 5, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sailing to Sarantium is a small story. Its hero, Crispin, is unassuming as heroes go. He's a skilled mosaicist, an artist who makes pictures with decorative tiles, and responds to a request from a distant emperor to travel to the imperial capital and work on the new sanctuary there. Hardly the makings of high adventure. But then again, Guy Gavriel Kay could write about a peasant going to pick up a pail of water and you'd probably hang on every word.

If you don't know Kay, you should. His pedigree is impeccable, starting with a well-loved fantasy debut, the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road), and a compilation he did with Christopher Tolkien called The Silmarillion. Sailing to Sarantium, the first half of the Sarantine Mosaic series, evokes his other historical fantasy titles, such as A Song for Arbonne and The Lions of Al-Rassan, and is a well-researched analog to the Byzantine Empire and fifth-century Europe--with all its political and religious machinations.

Despite its seemingly prosaic cast and quest, Sailing to Sarantium is a charmer, another Kay classic. As usual, the character descriptions are subtle and precise--the mosaicist, Crispin, is a shrewd, irascible, and intensely likable man who is fiercely devoted to his art but troubled by guilt and loss. Reluctantly surrendering to events, he agrees to travel to Sarantium to work for the emperor. ("Sailing to Sarantium," we learn, is an expression synonymous with embracing great change.) As Crispin moves from roadside quarrels to palace intrigue, Kay gracefully shifts perspective from character to character, moving forward and backward in time and giving a rich sense of the world through the eyes of soldiers, slaves, and senators. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 546 pages
  • Publisher: EOS; 1st edition (January 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061059900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061059902
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,933,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the third novel I've read by Kay. The first two were "Tigana" and "A Song for Arbonne" (which was one of the better books I've read in a long time, in any genre, not just fantasy). "Sailing to Sarantium" gave me no reason to doubt the impression I received from reading those two books, which is that Kay is a great novelist, not just a great writer technically. His characters are psychologically deep, his worlds politically complex; he does not shy away from such topics as a culture's religious philosophy and tolerance; his history is obviously well-researched, even if the reader is not familiar with the historical period or place. He makes his readers think. And the way in which he infuses his novels with his widsom about life makes him a rarity in today's literary world.
One of the things I liked best about this novel was Kay's theme of the artist wanting to have his name remembered in history in some way; though this is only one of several themes in the book. I also admired his knowledge of the visual artist's perception of the physical world; how he must learn to be conscious about seeing and observing everything. Kay's breathtaking depiction of a chariot race (the writing of which can't be an easy task) made me reflect on how little the gambling and gaming nature of man has changed over the centuries (yesterday chariots; today, the Daytona 500!). The unique idea of Zoticus's birds is a beautiful one; their characters provide some of the book's most poignant moments. And one other quality I admired, which seems to be a Kay trait, is the way he presents different view points of a single event through several characters' eyes.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I found this book to be exceptional, because of what it was, and was not destracted by what it wasn't. Guy Gavriel Kay in Sailing to Sarantium creates a captivating story of an artist, without it flowing quietly into the depths of cliche. The characters are multifaceted, and he captivates you with the beauty, love, and power that flow from his writing. He takes a story that in most author's hands would have come across very boring, and the fact that Kay pulls it off is a testament to his ability. He even managed a rather frustrating cliffhanger at the end of the book, what a place to pause the story. It almost made me wish that I had waited until all the volumes were out, before I started reading them. In STS Kay's court intrigue is so complex that at times the monarchs seem almost psychic with their ability to reason out what is going on in the shadows of their palace. In most cases this would have made the story seem unrealistic. Guy Gavriel Kay manages it very well and to astonishing effect.Instead of a feeling of unreality, I was struck wondering how long Crispin could exist in such a hostile and duplicitous environment. This book is recommend to fans of Kay's past work. If you are new to Kay, however, start at the beginning with The Fionavar Tapestry, and work your way to the present.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have such mixed feelings about this book. It's language is intoxicating, subtle, and quite pleasurable to read. I wish there was as much a story to go with such gorgeous wordsmithing.
I picked up this book, Sailing to Sarantium, while visiting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in May 2000, at an outlet mall near Ashland, Oregon. I had heard so much about Kay that I just had to find a book by him, so when I saw this book on the shelf, I picked it up.
Ah! the sights, sounds, and smells he describes are so real - Guy Kay is able to take you there to see what the characters see, smell what they smell. But I felt there was no there there. The characters barely move through this detailed world.
This book also didn't seem to stand alone: it's waiting for its sequel to be published (which of course has happened).
I must say, though, that I will buy the sequel, and hope that the story moves along a wee bit better than this one.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Kay is a magnificent writer - he can portray and evoke emotions like none other. His plots are intricately woven and exciting, intrigue gains another meaning after reading his works.
If only Sailing to Sarantium had been less annoying.
Don't get me wrong, I thotoughly enjoyed the book, although I've come to expect more from Kay. However, his works seem to be getting more ponderous - scenes that should be dealt with in two pages seem to take twenty. Now, I admire Kay for taking time with his plot and scenes, but he does tend to go a little overboard in the Sarantine Mosaic. He continually shifts perspective from one character to another, seeing the same scene from many angles.
On the positive side, the story runs deep and thickly; Kay paints a tale of the lost and the gained in exquisite detail. He pains to portray the Byzantine Empire and succeeds magnificently. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical-style fantasy and enjoys deep characterisation. If you're after Hack'n'slash Fantasy, go elsewhere.
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Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favorite fantasy authors, because he is able to portray some of the most believable characters I've ever read. After a string of fabulous single-volume novels, he has now published the duology "The Sarantine Mosaic". This story appears to be set in the same world as "The Lions of Al-Rassan", but in a different country and time. Still, there are references to Esperana, Trakesia and other countries in both novels. And once again this is a historical novel disguised as a fantasy novel. Magic doesn't play a very strong part, and anyone with some basic notions of history can draw easy parallels between this novel's characters and settings, and their real-world counterparts. Still, the novel will be enjoyable even if you are not familiar with the historical period. When someone says they are "sailing to Sarantium" (an obvious reference to "Sailing to Byzantium" by W. B. Yeats), it means they are going through a time of change, even upheaval, in their lives. Likewise, the major characters in this novel are experiencing change. The mosaicist Crispin, the guard Vargos and the former slave Kasia arrive in the city of Sarantium. This is the story of how they arrive there, and how the city influences them, and vice versa. I can't urge you enough to buy this novel, and any others by Guy Gavriel Kay you can find.
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