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Werthead

Guy Gavriel Kay

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3 hours ago, Chaircat Meow said:

I'm interested in Children of Earth and Sky for the historical backdrop (I'm crazy about all things Byzantine).

You should probably also try the Sailing to Sarantium/Lord of Emperors duology that's set at the court of that world's equivalent of Justinian I.

Edited by williamjm

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6 hours ago, Chaircat Meow said:

I'm reading my first Kay book, A Song for Arbonne, now. It is ok, but I haven't got very far, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm interested in Children of Earth and Sky for the historical backdrop (I'm crazy about all things Byzantine).

A Song for Arbonne was my first GGK as well. I loved it, but his Sarantine Mosaic is my favorite of his so far. I'll second williamjm's recommendation.

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Woohoo Children of Earth and Sky is almost here :D 
It will be especially interesting to me since a part of it is based on Croatian history. I'm really interested in seeing how he'll capture Senj and Dubrovnik and Dalmatia in general.

Anyways, he has written 12 novels so far (with Children of Earth and Sky being the 13th). I haven't read Ysabel and the Fionavar Tapestry, but his other 9 novels are all at the high echelon of fantasy writing for me. The worst of the 9 is still fantastic.

I thought I might write a  guide for those who are trying to get into his books but aren't quite sure as where to begin. Hope this helps.



We could divide his 13 novels in 2 sets. The first is standard fantasy, while the second is what Kay is known for, so, essentially taking history and making it fantasy.

In this first category you have 4 novels. The Summer Tree; The Wandering Fire; The Darkest Road; Ysabel. The first three of those form a Tolkienesque trilogy called The Fionavar Tapestry, and should obviously be read in that order. Ysabel is a stand-alone urban fantasy novel but it is explicitly tied to the aforementioned and you can, but preferably shouldn't read it before the trilogy.

The other 9 are more-or-less standalone novels. They are, in order of publishing: Tigana; A Song for Arbonne; The Lions of Al-Rassan; Sailing to Sarantium; Lord of Emperors; The Last Light of the Sun; Under Heaven; River of Stars; Children of Earth and Sky.

A disclaimer first. Kay really likes subtly referencing his previous work but that doesn't mean those stories take place in the same world, so you can find a reference to Fionavar in Tigana and a reference to Tigana in Lord of Emperors, but, again, not the same setting.

With that out of the way:

Tigana; A Song for Arbonne; The Lions of Al-Rassan; The Last Light of the Sun, Under Heaven; River of Stars; Children of Earth and Sky. These novels are stand-alone, and can be read in any order you will fully understand the story, the characters, and the setting. On the other hand, Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors form a duology called The Sarantine Mosaic, with Lord of Emperors being a direct sequel. Obviously, don't read that one first.

But now it gets complicated.

Tigana (Renaissance Italy) and A Song for Arbonne (the Albigensian Crusade) are the only two truly stand-alone novels, with no explicit ties to any other story. Both take place in their own imaginary world.

Under Heaven and River of Stars take place in the same country called Kitai (think China in the 8th and 12th centuries), but River of Stars takes place 300ish years after the events of Under Heaven. While you don't have to read Under Heaven at all to understand River of Stars, I think it is more enjoyable to read that one first, since there are some clever and plot-relevant details that you'll appreciate that much more if you read Under Heaven first.

The Lions of Al-Rassan; The Sarantine Mosaic (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors); The Last Light of the Sun; and Children of Earth and Sky all take place in the same setting at different points of time, but this difference is more broad than the one with the Kitai novels. Whereas those two take place in the same country, these five novels take place on the same continent, and the time differences are in centuries. The main tie between them is religion with the god Jad being an important aspect of all of them. The in-universe chronology is slightly different then the publishing one, it being: The Sarantine Mosaic (equivalent to the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century) - The Last Light of the Sun (England in the late 9th century) - The Lions of Al-Rassan (Spain in the early 10th Century) - The Children of Earth and Sky (Venice and the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century). But despite that, I would still recommend reading these in the publishing order, because the main tie between them (Jad) is mostly fleshed out and explored in The Lions of Al-Rassan. The only really important thing is to read The Last Light of the Sun after the Sarantine Mosaic, because there is a bit of a spoiler and a nice callback in The Last Light of the Sun considering The Sarantine Mosaic.

To recap, there are really five reading orders you should follow for maximum enjoyment. You can start with any of the below five and intercut with any novel from any of the other lines, but don't switch places of novels in the same line.

1. The Summer Tree ---> The Wandering Fire ---> The Darkest Road ---> Ysabel

2. Tigana

3. A Song for Arbonne

4. The Lions of Al-Rassan ---> Sailing to Sarantium ---> Lord of Emperors ---> The Last Light of the Sun ---> Children of Earth and Sky 

An alternative that would work just as fine (but I prefer the above) would be: 

Sailing to Sarantium ---> Lord of Emperors ---> The Last Light of the Sun ---> The Lions of Al-Rassan ---> Children of Earth and Sky 

5. Under Heaven ---> River of Stars



Here is also my ranking of the above 7 (counting The Sarantine Mosaic as one, and Children of Earth and Sky isn't out yet), from worst to best, if you want to decide where to being using that. But, again, the worst is still amazing.

7. Under Heaven
6. A Song for Arbonne
5. The Last Light of the Sun
4. River of Stars
3. Tigana
2. The Sarantine Mosaic
1. The Lions of Al-Rassan


Hope this helped :)

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Just a reminder that Children of Earth and Sky is out. I'm almost halfway through am really enjoying it.

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Funny, I always assumed both Song for Arbonne and Tigana take place in the same world as most of the others, apart from Fionavar and Ysabel of course. The world with two moons, you know.

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15 minutes ago, 3CityApache said:

Funny, I always assumed both Song for Arbonne and Tigana take place in the same world as most of the others, apart from Fionavar and Ysabel of course. The world with two moons, you know.

There seems to be a significantly higher level of magic in those (particularly Tigana) than in the Sarantine world. They're also less based on European history, while a lot of events and characters from history appear in the Sarantine books (in slightly disguised form), there's no direct historical equivalent of a sorcerer/Emperor casting a spell to wipe a country's name from memory.

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1 hour ago, williamjm said:

there's no direct historical equivalent of a sorcerer/Emperor casting a spell to wipe a country's name from memory.

As far as we can remember, anyway.

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All of the books take place in the same universe, but not the same world/timeline. Fionavar is set in the First of All Worlds, and there are some hints that both Tigana and A Song for Arbonne take place in remote regions of the same planet. However, they could also take place on a different planet, or each in their own individual worlds.

The Sarantine Mosaic, Under Heaven, River of Stars, The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun and Children of Earth and Sky all "appear" to take place on the same alternate Earth. I'm pretty certain this world is 100% an alternate version of our world, and the maps appear slightly different because Kay is going for the same simplified style of the particular periods.

One issue with this is that the planet is noted as having only one moon in Under Heaven (I can't remember if this is still the case in River of Stars), compared to the two of all the other books. This is anomalous as the setting for UH and RoS, Khitai, is mentioned in many of the other books in this world and some of the western nations are mentioned in UH and RoS, so they seem to be the same planet. The one moon may either be a mistake or confirming that UH and RoS take place in a parallel universe version of the same planet.

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On 14-5-2016 at 7:08 PM, Lautrec said:

Just a reminder that Children of Earth and Sky is out. I'm almost halfway through am really enjoying it.

I am liking this one more than the previous one with the Asian setting, River of Stars, which ranks as the worst Kay novel for me.

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21 hours ago, 3CityApache said:

Funny, I always assumed both Song for Arbonne and Tigana take place in the same world as most of the others, apart from Fionavar and Ysabel of course. The world with two moons, you know.

I believe that maybe Kay once said that Tigana and A Song for Arbonne do take place on the same planet, but Tigana is in the southern hemisphere, as evident by the fact that north of the Palm is a desert-like environment and to the south is a colder one. But for narrative purposes these two novels have nothing to do with each other.

 

1 hour ago, Werthead said:

All of the books take place in the same universe, but not the same world/timeline. Fionavar is set in the First of All Worlds, and there are some hints that both Tigana and A Song for Arbonne take place in remote regions of the same planet. However, they could also take place on a different planet, or each in their own individual worlds.

The Sarantine Mosaic, Under Heaven, River of Stars, The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun and Children of Earth and Sky all "appear" to take place on the same alternate Earth. I'm pretty certain this world is 100% an alternate version of our world, and the maps appear slightly different because Kay is going for the same simplified style of the particular periods.

One issue with this is that the planet is noted as having only one moon in Under Heaven (I can't remember if this is still the case in River of Stars), compared to the two of all the other books. This is anomalous as the setting for UH and RoS, Khitai, is mentioned in many of the other books in this world and some of the western nations are mentioned in UH and RoS, so they seem to be the same planet. The one moon may either be a mistake or confirming that UH and RoS take place in a parallel universe version of the same planet.

The mention of the one moon in Under Heaven I took as a direct sign that it's not the same planet as the other novels, and it's referenced again in River of Stars that there's one moon. I also don't remember there being references to Kitai in the other novels, or references to stuff like Karch or Esperana or Sarantium in the Kitai novels. One anomaly I do remember is that in Lord of Emperors there is a mention of "arimondan leather", but Arimonda is the spain-like country from A Song for Arbonne, so I assume that was just a mistake on Kay's part.

 

 

45 minutes ago, Calibandar said:

I am liking this one more than the previous one with the Asian setting, River of Stars, which ranks as the worst Kay novel for me.

Really? What didn't you like about it? I thought the ending wasn't really as strong as his tend to be, but the overall writing was among his best and the characters are quite great too.

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Found it very hard to get into to start with, and just didn't connect with the characters in it the way I usually can with Kay's excellent novels. River of Stars seemed quite dull in comparison.

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I have to agree about River of Stars. The characters were flat and fairly one dimensional, the writing was overly purple and Kay completely indulged in some of his worst tendencies by constantly interrupting the narrative to tell the reader what he wants your takeaway to be. Sometimes his editor really needs to rein him in and tell him to focus on telling a story, not telling us why storytelling is important or how legends arise out of events. It's not my least favourite Kay book (I'm really not a fan of the Fionavar trilogy) but it was a big disappointment for me. I'm excited to hear that the new one is supposed to be much stronger.

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I just finished Lord of Emperors, and really enjoyed it.  It's unusual for an author to portray Justinian and Theodora as sympathetic, rather than very sinister, figures (probably thanks to Procopius).

The highlights for me were the chariot race, the assassination of the Emperor (the Emperor very nearly succeeds in playing off his assassins against each other) and the final conversation between Crispin and Styliane (her fate was truly appalling, but she did bring it on herself).

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On 4/16/2016 at 8:05 AM, Chaircat Meow said:

I'm reading my first Kay book, A Song for Arbonne, now. It is ok, but I haven't got very far, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm interested in Children of Earth and Sky for the historical backdrop (I'm crazy about all things Byzantine).

It's probably not much Byzantine as the backdrop is the 16th century and the Ottomans have long renamed Constantinople Istanbul.  The standins for the Ottomans are making their first try at Vienna.

 

 

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On 5/14/2016 at 7:16 PM, felice said:

As far as we can remember, anyway.

In actual political history the Prussian, Austrian and Russian alliance that disappeared Poland from the map, also did their best to eradicate Polish as a language and all the culture.  it was even illegal for woman to sing cradle songs in Polish and use their special Polish grain grinding boards.  This situation lasted until the re-establishment of Poland as a nation.

The rest of Tigana employs a great deal of Italian history and folklore.

 

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1 hour ago, Zorral said:

In actual political history the Prussian, Austrian and Russian alliance that disappeared Poland from the map, also did their best to eradicate Polish as a language and all the culture.  it was even illegal for woman to sing cradle songs in Polish and use their special Polish grain grinding boards.  This situation lasted until the re-establishment of Poland as a nation.

The rest of Tigana employs a great deal of Italian history and folklore.

 

Don't forget Carthage.

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1 hour ago, Astromech said:

Don't forget Carthage.

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam

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OK, so, I haven't tried to read any Kay since the 90s, but I have Last LIght of the Sun sitting here, because, VIKINGS. Is that book ok to read by itself first, kinda like Banks Culture, or do I need to read them in publication order?

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It's a standalone. They all are, pretty much, excepting the duology and trilogy. So giver. And, unlike many, I personally wouldn't rank Last Light amongst the lower tiered of his forays. I quite liked it. 

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