by Guy Gavriel Kay



346pp/$27.00/May 2016

Children of Earth and Sky
Cover by Larry Rostant

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In Children of Earth and Sky, Guy Gavriel Kay returns to his not-quite historical, not-quite fantasy world, this time with a Renaissance analog. He focuses on a party of travelers from the lagoon city of Seressa who have been tasked by their city government to travel to the cities of Dubrava and Asharias on various undercover missions. When the group leaves Seressa, the reader has a pretty good idea about the way the story is going to go.

Kay almost immediately subverts the plot he has set up. His major characters, warrior Danica Gradek, religious Leonora Valeri, artist Pero Villani, and merchant Marin Djivo each have their own goals and assignments, few of which will remain intact long enough to carry them out. Kay offers a wonderful series of surprises as his characters don't follow the standard paths of a fantasy novel, but instead find their own way in the world, often against their own expectations and desires.

The characters all have strong backgrounds which define who they are and their own motivations. Vengeance, or at least the desire for vengeance, against those who wronged them, is common, but it is rarely at the forefront. Although Danica desires to avenge her family on the Asharites who raided her village, which leads her to make decisions about her own destiny, Leonora's own desire to right the wrongs done to her doesn't take as central a place in her story, and when she finds a woman in a similar situation to the one which she once found herself in, Leonora's own past informs her actions in a way that surprises those who don't know where she came from, but makes perfect sense to the reader.

Although Kay's novels often have the feeling of fantasy novels, there is frequently little, if any, magic in them. Children of Earth and Sky, however, does posit a certain amount of magic. Early on, it becomes clear that the voice of Danica's grandfather, which she often hears in her head, is a manifestation of her year-dead grandfather. Similarly, when Leonora nearly falls overboard, she is rescued by the spirits of the dead. The magic is subtle, and nothing like the great magics worked in many fantasy novels, but it definitely exists.

As with his other novels, Children of Earth and Sky's setting is based on the history of our own world. This means that Kay's world comes with depth and background, made even deeper by his linking it directly to his Sarantium Mosaic (1998-2000), although set in that world's future. In Children of Earth and Sky, Sarantium has falled to the Asharites, just as our own worl's Constantinople fell to the Muslims in 1543. Kay's world is trying to deal with this new power, which has renamed Sarantium to Asharias and means that the Jaddite Empire now is bordered by a kindom that is not only in political opposition to it, but also religious opposition. The dowager Empress is living in exile and bands, such as those led by Rasca Tripon, are harassing the Asharites.

Children of Earth and Sky is a richly detailed tapestry exploring the lives of its characters and the (often unexpected) way the move and influence the world around them. Tied into Kay's earlier works, both in setting, and thematically, Children of Earth and Sky stands completely on its own, although it gains depth from being associated with Kay's earlier novels. Not quite fantasy, not quite historical fiction, and not quite alternate history, Children of Earth and Sky (and the rest of Kay's oeuvre) will appeal to fans of all of those genres.

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