One of the best things about having a reading buddy like Aarti is that, on occasion, she’ll get me fired up about a new author or genre, which is exactly what happened when she introduced me to the wonderful works of Guy Gavriel Kay. When we decided to read The Lions of Al-Rassan together last year, I became intensely interested in Kay and vowed to read as many of his books as I could. I’m not that well-versed in fantasy, but after reading these two books, I’m coming to find out that this is a genre that I can really fall in love with. Despite the fact that I enjoyed Lions just a little bit more than this book, I found that the story kept me glued to my seat, with revelations and twists coming in fast and ferociously.
This was not an easy read. Kay engineers his books in way that maximizes storyline and characters in a dense bunch, with political and social machinations that will leave even the most careful reader dizzy at times. In his winding narrative, he creates a fascinating world where things are very different than the world we live in and provides his readers with such plausible backstory that it’s impossible not to buy into all the various conundrums and difficulties that his characters face. It was literally spellbinding to think about the time and effort that goes into these books, and in his creation of this far-off world, Kay brings to life a civilization that stretches the borders of his pages and goes on to embed itself in his readers’ consciousness and imagination.
There was a lot going on in this book, and from its humble beginnings, I wondered just where Kay was going to take me. As the narrative stretched forward, people and places coalesced into a dramatic frenzy that not only includes magic and sorcery, but war, politics, and even a few love triangles. There were also many themes running through the tale, such as revenge and control, annihilation and rebuilding, and power and weakness. Though there was one character that I didn’t care for very much (and I think Aarti agrees with me on this point), all of the them had credibility and dimension, and all of them kept me pondering over the repercussions that their actions would have. It was the type of story that’s easy to lose yourself in, and great swatches of plot served only to magnify the conflict and desires that each of these characters faced. Kay pulls it off brilliantly and keeps his readers in the perfect balance of suspense and watchfulness as he plays one character and set of events off of the other time and time again.
Divided loyalties, shifting balances of power, and heartbreaking revelations are only some of what this book has to offer. A few times while reading, I would shout out with realization and wonder when plot points intersected and gelled for me. This book also speaks of the powerful bonds that are formed when people become enmeshed together, fighting for the same cause. In several instances, I marvelled at the potency of Kay’s ability to permeate the boundaries between these very different people, and came to relish the power, subtlety and skill of his writing. There was one particular storyline that involved Brandin’s captive concubine that had me furiously turning pages, eager to find out what would transpire between the woman who came to kill the warrior wizard but found herself caught up in the most indescribable love for her captor.
If there are readers out there who haven't experienced Guy Gavriel Kay’s awesomeness, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend both this book and The Lions of Al-Rassan as some of the most entertaining and thoughtful historical fantasy out there today. It was a lush read, one that surprised me with its intensity and fluid plot, and I’m now even more committed to reading more of Kay’s work. A great read all around, and highly recommended!