Guy Gavriel Kay: Sailing to Sarantium (2002, Earthlight) 4 stars

Review of 'Sailing to Sarantium' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

It was remarkable, really, how a silence and silence could be so different.

Because of Tigana Guy Gavriel Key gets a pass. That book continues to shine as a beacon even after all these years. Because of how Tigana stuck to me I allow Guy Gavriel Key a bit more leeway than I may give other authors.

I read The Lions of Al-Rassan and struggled. This would normally be the time I move on from an author, but because of Tigana I am not deterred. My issue with Lions may have been the focus on the historical fantasy sub-genre that I didn't enjoy, so I equated my displeasure of the book to a "me, not you" situation.

Enter Sailing to Sarantium. The thought process I have with starting new fantasy books is similar, but more so with Kay. Here are some thoughts I had in the first two chapters:

I don't understand anything or anyone. None of this makes sense. The locations, characters and government factions are absurd. How is a Prologue an hour long? Geez!

Why is Kay writing in a way to confuse me? I miss one word in a sentence and I have to re-read the entire paragraph. Patience, remember patience. The prose is nice but I'm confused. Oh, that wasn't too terrible of an hour.

Okay, chapter one...and none of the characters are familiar and we're not only done a time jump but we're somewhere else now. Normal dialogue helps. Oh, there are some humorous quips. Hey, the dots are connecting. Man, Kay can really write a scene.

Yeah, I'm in to the book. I have no idea what is happening but I don't hate it.

From there on I was hooked and loved the book. On the surface it feels like very little happened, but this was a story in all meanings of the word. As a reader you are dropped in to the unknown and slowly learn about the characters, the world they live in, the political situation that surrounds them and a hint of magic and mystery.

Kay doesn't need to write a bombastic story with thrilling battles, he will write a subtle story that packs a punch. What is beautiful about his stories is the way they are written. The sentences can be long and descriptions can be a bit much, but I find that if I read at the right pace, absorb the visuals something wonderful happens.

A horse neighed in one of the faction stables by the Hippodrome, and a woman's voice could be heard through an open window over a colonnade nearby, singing the refrain of a song that was not at all devout. A man laughed, and then the woman did, and then there was silence there, too. The high screech of a cat in a laneway. A child cried. Children always cried in the darkness, somewhere. The world was what it was.

That paragraph allows me to feel the pulse of Sarantium, the way it moves and breathes. And in that little glimpse you get some haunting lines like: Children always cried in the darkness, somewhere. The world was what it was.

Once I found the right rhythm I was absorbed by Sailing to Sarantium. I found beauty in Kay's writing, enjoyed the slow burn of the characters, the political intrigue and all the while amused that I was reading a story about a mosaicist!

This is a different style of fantasy that I prefer, but it achieves the same escapism with mystery and a touch of magic as others in the genre but I felt that i experienced it in a completely different way.