A story about family, a story of impossible love made possible, a story about empires, and most of all, a story about small actions that can alter lives and change the course of history…or ‘near history’.
Canadian author, Guy Gavriel Kay is back again with another foray into the mists between fact and fiction in his latest release, Children of Earth and Sky. History buffs will recognize the Renaissance throughout these pages, but as a mythical parallel universe where the stories seem familiar; i.e, it’s not quite Byzantium, it’s Sarantium, it’s looks like Venice, but it’s Seressa.
Set in a alternate version of our world, in what we would approximate as as the late fourteenth to early seventeenth centuries, the book tells the stories of five central characters: Leonora Valeri, a Mylasian woman with a special task, Pero Villani, a young Seressini painter, Marin Djivo a dashing and clever Dubravaj merchant, Danica Gradek, a Senjani pirate, and Damaz, a young Asharite in the Khalif’s army. The story also takes place amid the backdrop of a never ending religious struggle between the western worshippers of Jad, the Sun God, and the eastern worshippers of Ashar, the God of the Stars, recognizable to historians as the destruction of Christian Byzantium by the Muslim Ottoman Turks in the fifteenth century.
Kay’s become well known for this niche genre, i.e., for putting a reimagined spin on history, blurring the lines between historical fiction and fantasy much to the chagrin of booksellers and publishers. The move is unintentional, as Kay said in his recently published article in Boing Boing, “This was an evolution for me, not a strategic concept…And I found that I liked what all this allowed me to do. I could work with history but tighten focus on themes. I could have my characters do and think and be what I wanted them to, because they were not the real people. Readers who knew the history would see the riffing involved, those who didn’t would either not miss it or – a bonus, for me – might be moved to do some non-fiction reading of their own, after.” The places and people that inspire his narratives are just starting points that allow Kay the freedom to mould a story while still offering a perfunctory nod to actual history.
Pero Villani has been tasked by Seressa’s Council of Twelve to embark upon a dangerous journey to the heathen Osmanli court of the Asharites to paint a western styled the portrait of the Grand Khalif, Gurçu the Destroyer. Of course, the scheming Seressini’s have other ideas in mind when they send this naive young man off to accomplish a task that will surely result in his death, but as he has no prospects, no money, and no family, Pero takes the commission, hoping that even if he does not live on, his name will.
Leonora Valeri has also been sent off on a secret task by the Council of Twelve. She travels to Dubrava in hopes of escaping a shameful past and the shackles of religious enclosure. Disowned by her family and sent away to a religious house, Leonora sees this dangerous opportunity as another chance at life, the ability to live in the world again and regain her autonomy.
Marin Djivo, the handsome son of a wealthy merchant, has been asked to escort Leonora and Pero to their destinations. Little does he know that this seemingly insignificant journey will change his life forever.
Danica Gradek, striving to make her mark as a Senjani fighter, has sworn revenge against the Asharites for destroying her family. She has also vowed to destroy the hated Seressini’s for starving her people and trading with the heathens. Discontented with village life and the prospect of being married off, Danica seeks to make her mark as a Senjani hero and take the fight to her enemies. Her plans, however, change when she crosses paths with Pero, Leonora and Marin.
Damaz, the hulking fourteen year old boy, is a skilled fighter in the Khalif’s Ahsharite army. Taken from his Jaddite home by Hajduk raiders when he was four, he is raised under the faith of Ashar to eventually become a fearsome Djanni warrior. His desire to move up in the army ranks is halted when certain truths are revealed to him and he is forced to come to terms with who he really is and if the Djanni path is truly right for him.
The lives of these characters all invariably intermingle and the repercussions of their interactions change the course of history. Along with well thought out supporting characters, such as Skandir, the Empress Eudoxia, the Grand Khalif Gurçu the Destroyer, and Drago Ostaja, Kay strikes the perfect balance between overwhelming the reader with too much detail and supplying just the right amount to offer a few more memorable characters, and flesh out the storyline.
“It happens this way sometimes, we can discover truths about ourselves in a moment, sometimes in the midst of drama, sometimes quietly. A sunset wind can be blowing off the sea, we might be alone in bed on a winter night, or grieving by a grave among leaves. We are drunk at a tavern, dealing with desperate pain, waiting to confront enemies on a battlefield. We are bearing a child, falling in love, reading by candlelight, watching the sun rise, a star set, we are dying…” ~ Pero Villani
Kay has once again managed to pull off an incredible story set in the fantastical past. It is a riveting book and beautifully written. Kay’s characters stay with you; they’re arresting, and good or bad, you’re invested in their every move. Their individual stories, personas, and motivations (more than the political machinations, or battles) make this story. Every character has a tale to tell and Kay is able to deftly cross both sides, Jaddite and Asharite, to avoid having any one dimensional, stock characters in his story. On a personal note, I am not one for “romance” but the romantic moments in this novel were well played out and avoided the usual tropes that many novels fall into, i.e, no woman needed to be “saved” by a dashing man in this novel. The women in Children… are strong, capable, and intelligent, and can wield as much power as men. There are not always happy endings in love. Sometimes, compromises have to be made to allow for happiness and love to occur on its own time, and the end result is not always what you had envisioned. Children… develops those relationships and encapsulates this concept exceptionally well.
Fans of historical fiction and fantasy alike will enjoy this latest book, while Kay’s long time fans will delight in this new world and its captivating chracters.
Guy Gavriel Kay is the bestselling author of twelve novels. He was named to the Order of Canada in 2014 and has won numerous awards for his writing. His books have been translated into over twenty-five languages.
For more information about Children of Earth and Sky, and Guy Gavriel Kay’s works, please visit his website: brightweavings.com
You can follow Guy on Twitter: @guygavrielkay