All the Seas of the World

I've been foaming at the mouth ever since Guy Gavriel Kay announced the release of his upcoming novel, All the Seas of the World. Every two or three years, this Canadian speculative fiction author comes up with a new book that never fails to enthrall me. With such memorable titles as Tigana, The Lions of al-Rassan, Under Heaven, River of Stars, Sailing to Sarantium, and Lord of Emperors, Kay has set the bar rather high throughout his career. And if Children of Earth and Sky and A Brightness Long Ago are any indication, it appears that like a fine wine, Kay only gets better with time.

Simply put, All the Seas of the World showcases a master of the craft writing at the top of his game. This is one of those novels you wish just never ended. Alas, it does and now we have to wait a while for whatever comes next.

Some reviews claim that Kay's latest can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone work. While technically true, I would tend to disagree. Reading both Children of Earth and Sky and A Brightness Long Ago are somewhat essential for getting the most out of reading All the Seas of the World. The three works form a thematic trilogy of sorts and I feel that they should all be read in their order of publication. Moreover, I would say that The Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantine Mosaic duology should also be read prior to tackling Kay's newest. To jump into this book as a complete newbie would make you miss too many nuances and your overall reading experience wouldn't be the same. That shouldn't deter you, though. Believe you me: More Guy Gavriel Kay novels to read just means more hours of captivating reading that will fill your mind with wonders!

Here's the blurb:

Returning triumphantly to the brilliantly evoked near-Renaissance world of A Brightness Long Ago and Children of Earth and Sky, international bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay deploys his signature ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ to tell a story of vengeance, power, and love.

On a dark night along a lonely stretch of coast a small ship sends two people ashore. Their purpose is assassination. They have been hired by two of the most dangerous men alive to alter the balance of power in the world. If they succeed, the consequences will affect the destinies of empires, and lives both great and small.

One of those arriving at that beach is a woman abducted by corsairs as a child and sold into years of servitude. Having escaped, she is trying to chart her own course—and is bent upon revenge. Another is a seafaring merchant who still remembers being exiled as a child with his family from their home, for their faith, a moment that never leaves him. In what follows, through a story both intimate and epic, unforgettable characters are immersed in the fierce and deadly struggles that define their time.

All the Seas of the World is a page-turning drama that also offers moving reflections on memory, fate, and the random events that can shape our lives—in the past, and today.

All the Seas of the World is set a number of years following A Brightness Long Ago and around two decades or so prior to Children of Earth and Sky. Richly detailed as only a Kay book can be, his latest work will engross you from the very beginning. Guy Gavriel Kay has a knack for coming up with an amazingly evocative narrative and an arresting imagery that leaps off the page. Exile, loss, faith, identity, and love are just a few of the themes explored throughout this novel. Building on storylines and characters from two other books sharing the same setting, All the Seas of the World manages to surpass them both in terms of quality. Which is high praise indeed given that both were unforgettable reads.

I've said it in previous reviews. Kay's talent and imagination allow him to create a living and breathing environment that draws you in and refuses to let go. I don't know how he manages to do it, but Kay's worldbuilding is almost always a subtle thing. The setting never takes precedence over the story and he never relies on info-dumps and other such contrivances. Still, somehow, seemingly effortlessly, as the tale progresses Kay ends up with an elegantly crafted setting that never fails to dazzle the eye. Few authors can immerse readers in such a vivid manner, and Kay's eye for historical details and traditions imbues his latest book with a realism that is seldom seen in works of speculative fiction. All the Seas of the World is a more sprawling novel than its two predecessors. It's a big, meandering sort of book. Not as self-contained as what Kay has accustomed us to in the past. Vaster in scope, nearly all the kingdoms and locales of the Middle Sea are visited or play a role in this story.

Around the time when Children of Earth and Sky was about to be published, Kay told me that as much as anything, he wanted that novel to be about non-powerful (not same as ordinary) people on borderlands in a time of war, trying to shape their lives (very differently) in difficult times. They intersect, some of them, with power, but that isn't the heart of the story. It was also important for Kay to balance the five of them, not let one character take over the book. Add to that his usual desire to also balance awareness of history and themes against characters, narrative drive, etc, and you ended up with a complex and satisfying plot on your hands. For the most part, the same could be said of A Brightness Long Ago. The difference was that the protagonists were "less important" people in the greater scheme of things who get caught in the periphery of influential men and women whose actions will cause world-shaking ripples that will change the world as they know it. Once more, it appears that Kay used the same recipe for All the Seas of the World. Taking center stage in this one are two main protagonists. One is Rafel ben Natan, a Kindath merchant and sometimes corsair with various identities due to his faith. The other is Lenia, a young woman who was abducted by Asharite corsairs as a child and turned into a slave. Now that she has escaped, Lenia has vowed vengeance upon those who wronged her. Guy Gavriel Kay has always possessed a deft human touch and his past novels are filled with memorable characters. And once again, it's the superb characterization which makes this book impossible to put down. As is usually his wont, the author came up with a group of disparate men and women, whose paths will cross unexpectedly and whose fates will be spun into a vast tapestry of love and tragedy. The supporting cast is particularly good, chief among them Folco d'Acorsi and Raina Vidal.

Though the pace can be slow-moving at times, All the Seas of the World is never dull. Though meandering in terms of plot, with Kay's lyrical prose the narrative is a joy to read from start to finish. I for one wouldn't mind if the author revisits the lands of the Middle Sea for an encore. Or several encores!

This book deserves the highest possible recommendation.

The final verdict: 9.5/10

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1 commentaires:

Shroud said...

I'm always in awe of his ability and craftsmanship. Most authors would need 1000+ pages to tell half of the story he so brilliantly and--seemingly--effortlessly tells in half that length. He's become my favourite fantasy author, maybe even one of my favourite authors of all time. Jad's light be upon him.