River of Stars

Monday, April 21, 2014


River of Stars
Guy Gavriel Kay, 2014

Premise: Sequel to Under Heaven. It is a different time for Kitai. The balance between the court and the army is finally tilted to the court’s satisfaction, but what will that mean when Altai riders from the steppe pour over the border? Into this time are born a few people who may affect the course of history. Or they may not. It is not given for mortal men to know.

It is hard to describe a book like this. I can describe the characters: subtle, passionate, vengeful, honorable, wise, foolish. I can describe the prose: meditative, textured, delicate. I can describe the themes: the place of men in history, the role of narrative in destiny, the secret small reasons behind the sweep of ages.

But somehow, all of this together is more than the parts. Kay's style of historically-inspired fantasy isn't for everyone, but I usually find it satisfying.

River of Stars is a book about an invasion and a war. It is also a book about extraordinary people and how they both shape the time and react to the time that is thrust upon them. It is also a book about a romance.

I need to speak a bit of Lin Shan here, Shan of the sharp mind and the careful words. On the surface, if I were to tell you all the things that make her special, you might think that she is a too-perfect character, an unrealistic attempt to cover the fact that women had very little public life in a time like this. However, she is perfectly balanced by the male lead, whose skills are near mythic.

And even if she didn't read as wonderfully grounded as she does, she is based (loosely) on a real person. A real person, who really lived, the greatest female poet of her age.

This isn't the kind of book I always enjoy. Much of it is almost a series of vignettes,many of the active scenes happen off-screen and you have to piece it together later.

But if you're in the mood for a rich, delicate visit to an ancient China that never was, then follow Ren Daiyan, Lin Shan and all the ministers, warriors and poets, and relish the journey.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

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