River of Stars

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel KayRiver of Stars

By: Guy Gavriel Kay

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

When I began reviewing books, I imagined that I would have a never-ending supply of books that I loved to read and review.  For the most part, that isn’t the reality.  I do, however, get the opportunity to receive a book from an author that I love.  Kay is one of those authors.  I started with his Fionavar Tapestry many years ago, and have since moved on through his library as he releases new novels.  River of Stars is set in the same “universe” as that of his novel Under Heaven.  I say “universe” because, really, the novels are set in a “universe” that is a near carbon copy of our own.  Each deals with a different historical dynasty of the Asian people.

The beauty of a Kay novel, to me, is that the stories are so very real.  It isn’t all about this huge plot arc that inevitably ends in the world finding it’s balance and the hero winning the day.  His characters are real, with real emotions, real ambitions, and real disappointments.  He makes you feel for the characters in such a way that you root for them throughout the novel, and feel those emotions right alongside them.

If there’s one thing that both this novel and Under Heaven share that I dislike is that the names of the characters is hard to follow.  That’s more of an issue on my part than on his, as he’s named the characters in keeping with naming conventions of the times he’s writing about.  Which brings me to another thing that I really like about his novels.  He’s an impeccable researcher.  Or maybe he has someone do it for him.  If that’s the case, he’s an impeccable research combiner.  😉  In any case, I think he writes stories that are very true to the era that they’re meant to take place in.

River of Stars follows several characters through a few formative years in their lives, and leads us through the fall of a dynasty and the survival of it’s remaining people.  He does it by beautifully weaving the tales of each of the characters into a wonderful story that’s a pleasure to read.  I was immersed into the story until the end, and then felt that subtle form of sadness that only the ending of a terrific book can bring.

Some classify Kay’s works as fantasy.  Others as historical fantasy.  I suppose that’s somewhat accurate.  But, much like many of the classics being taught in literature classes around the world, his works belong in a category of their own, as epic literature classics.  Even if you don’t read fantasy regularly, you really should pick up a Kay novel and see what you’ve been missing out on.

Under Heaven

Under Heaven

By: Guy Gavriel Kay

Kay is one of my favorite authors.  His works are engaging and intelligent.  I have yet to be disappointed by one of this books.  And Under Heaven is certainly no exception.  What a spectacularly written novel.

It follows the adventures of Tai, a generals son who, after his father dies, goes off to the battlefield that haunted his fathers dreams.  For two years (the official mourning period), he buries the dead of Kuala Nor.  He overcomes the screaming of the ghosts of the dead, and becomes revered by those who man the posts of his country and the neighboring country.  The action of going to Kuala Nor and burying the dead changes the world around him.

Under Heaven is a book about choices.  About how the choices a person makes can affect that person, his family, his peers, and even his country and emperor.  Stemming from Tai’s choice to go and bury the dead of Kuala Nor, the novel branches off into many plot lines.  The cascade of choices that Tai makes based on what happens to him because of Kuala Nor and the choices that the people around him make because of those choices make for an amazingly intricate weaving of plots.  To the very end page, the ripples of that choice can be seen.  Kay uses his normal command of the written language to delicately lead the read on through the path, and carefully reveals only what we need to know.

The novel isn’t as good as some of my favorite Kay novels. It pales in comparison to Tigana, The Sarantine Mosaic, and The Fionavar Trilogy.  And, of course, that will depend on your reading tastes.  Part of the (minor) failing is that with Tigana, Sarantine Mosaic I felt a deep emotional connection to the cast of characters.  I felt the failings of their world.  I never got that connection in Under Heaven.  Now, you can make the decision on whether that’s my failing or the novels’.

Either way, it’s still an immensely enjoyable book.  One that I would recommend you pick up from Amazon or your favorite bookseller.