Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am a fan of Kay’s books. I enjoy his use of language, his always engaging characters, and the detail he brings to his worlds. Based on the real world Byzantine empire, this duology (the first book is Sailing to Sarantium) is no exception. Kay always painstakingly researches his history before writing, and he evokes a real sense of the time periods he uses.
This second half of the duology takes place mainly in the city of Sarantium, although the early part of the book follows the travels of the physician, Rustem, newly appointed a Royal Physician by the King whose life he saves. Rustem and his king are from a rival kingdom to Sarantia, and Rustem eventually arrives in the capital city of Sarantium. We again meet Crispin, the mosaicist from the first book, now working on the dome of the newly built royal sanctuary. Both men are drawn into the intrigue and machinations of the precarious political situation in this world, however much they would prefer not to be.
As always, the story is large and many layered. There are court machinations, alliances made, betrayals, assassination plots, and rumors of war. The world is detailed and well made, as always with Kay’s works. Characters are developed and intriguing, with depth and flaws enough to make them real. The plot twists and turns, weaving in and out of the lives of not only the rich and powerful, but the simple, everyday folk, as well.
This is a far more subtle work than some of Kay’s others. There is very little true magic or other traditional fantasy trappings here. Instead, we get a look at the lives of the characters in bits and pieces, slowly coming together to form a whole only seen from a distance. much like the mosaics that adorn the chapels and palaces. The themes and ideas presented are subtle, never obvious. This slowly building pace may put some off, but the whole is satisfying and richly told.
Not a traditional fantasy by any means, this may not be the best starting point for new readers of Kay. His Fionavar Tapestry would be the place to start. But once you are captivated by his sense of history and deft hand at storytelling, The Sarantine Mosaic is well worth reading.
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