Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CBII Book 14: Sailing To Sarantium - Guy Gavriel Kay

I was forced to read a Guy Gavriel Kay book by my wife. She's been nagging me for years but it wasn't until she very publicly called me out on Pa'eh'ba day that I decided to take her up on her most subtle insistence. She did a review of a GGK book as he's a Canadian author who happens to be from my home province. (did I mention that she received a copy of his latest, unpublished book as a thank you?). This wouldn't be such a big deal but for the fact that Guy Gavriel Kay is from one of the most redneck towns in the province but has managed to develope an imagination far beyond anything I could hope to ever obtain. While I refused to take my wife's advice for a time (mostly due to her love for American Idol, Grey's Anatomy and her penchant for watching all of the television shows my kids watch) I have to admit, she was right: Kay has a fantastic gift for storytelling. However, in this case, it is certainly not without fault.

The central story is about a newly crowned emperor, his empress of lesser means, a mosaicist, and the all the politics that go along with being favoured by His Highness. A few years after winning the throne, the emperor summons mosaicist Martinian of Varena to Sarantium to construct a mosaic unmatched in the world in his holy temple. However, Martinian (being an old man)  insists that his partner Caius Crispus go in his stead. Caius, having lost his wife and daughter to the plague the year prior, refuses to go until he speaks secretly with the queen of his country .She urges him to go with the intention that he delivers her offer to the emperor in the interest of peace and saving her life. Caius sets off with the aid of a necromancer and his "tricks"  but has no idea of the pagan religion he must face or the political intrigues that await him.

Honestly, when I began to read this book, I was about ready to call my wife on her bullshit. It bore a striking resemblance to many other tales of the city of Rome. In fact, you could substitute Rome for Sarantium and never miss a beat. At first, It's somewhat difficult to grasp who the story is about because the prologue of the book is fifty-one pages long and details the current emporer's rise to power; but it also begins with the perspective of a poor shop-keeper, then it shifts to a bureaucrat, then it  then it moves to a Senator, then it details the thoughts of a hooker and her lover then some dudes in the get the idea.

I was extremely frustrated. I could not beleive that my wife and I could be so disjointed in our appreciation of fiction. Really, it took me about a week to get through the first 150 pages, which is unheard of! Then, after that, I tore through the next 400 pages in a day.

Kay describes everything and everyone in minute detail. While this was initially perplexing to me, it all made sense at the end of the tale and I could definitely appreciate his reasons for fleshing out seemingly innocuous characters (with one exception). The way he describes objects through the eyes of his characters is truly breathtaking and his attention to detail (once you get used to it) really makes this book wholly engaging. At its heart, Sailing To Sarantium is a book of political intrigue with a smattering of the occult and a whole lot of love. As such, explaining each characters motivations in such a detailed fashion is integral to the plot. While I initially criticized Kay for being obtuse and unnecessarily verbose, he has a gift for making you understand the motivations of the characters and believing in every action they choose to perform.

Sailing To Sarantium is the first in what I understand will be a duology. If I enjoy the second book as much as I did the first (after the first 150 pages) I may have to admit to my wife that I was wrong. While I'm generally adverse to admitting her correctitude, I'm willing to accept it in this instance.

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