Monday, April 25, 2016

Children of Earth and Sky

by Guy Gavriel Kay.

Danica Gradek lost half her family at a young age, when their village was destroyed by allies of the Osmanli Empire, and now all she wants is to join the famous Senjan raiders to kill Osmanlis, even if that means sometimes raiding the ships of the republic of Seressa instead. Leonora Valeri was her father's favored child until she became pregnant out of wedlock, and now all she wants is to escape from the holy retreat he consigned her to, even if that means becoming a Seressan spy in the rival republic of Dubrava. Pero Villani, son of a famous painter and a struggling artist himself, wants to make a name for himself with his art, even if that means accepting a dangerous commission to travel to the Osmanli capital to paint a Western-style portrait of the khalif. Their lives become entangled with one another's when the ship carrying Pero and Leonora from Seressa to Dubrava is boarded by Senjan pirates, Danica among them. Meanwhile, the younger son of the merchant family that owns the ship is ambivalent about the path laid down for him by his family; and far to the east, a young man taken captive as a child when his village was destroyed by allies of the Osmanli Empire is raised to be a soldier for the Osmanlis, destined to march to war against the people he was stolen from.

A bare plot summary rarely does justice to a novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. His greatest strengths, I feel, are his use of language and his brilliant characterization; I always run across passages that are just so beautifully written I want to read them out loud to somebody, and I care about his characters to the extent that I generally find myself sitting up until two or three in the morning to find out what happens to them. I nearly always hit at least one scene that makes me cry.

It's particularly fascinating to me the way Kay will take a real historical setting and turn it just a little bit sideways; some of his history-based fantasies are almost like straight historical novels, without the weirdness of co-opting real historical figures to serve a fictional plot. Children of Earth and Sky has more mystical elements than some of the others set in this same universe, but the Renaissance intrigue plot doesn't depend on magic. It depends on the characters--their background, their motivations, their personalities, and their individual reactions to their circumstances--and the characters are so beautifully drawn and so true to life that I sat up until two in the morning to find out what happened to them. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and the Berkley Publishing Group for providing an advance copy! The book will be out May 10, 2016.