Many of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels take place in a version of medieval/Renaissance Europe in which recognizable places and people are supplemented by what he calls “a quarter-turn towards the fantastic.” The first volume in his Sarantine Mosaic duology, Sailing to Sarantium, is no exception, with the magic even being a significant element of the plot.
I had previously read Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky, and while that novel stood on its own, Sailing to Sarantium shed additional light on some of its events. It also shows some hints of things to come, enriching the setting Kay has built.
Another similarity between the Sarantine stories and Children is that the protagonist is an artist. In this case, Crispin is a mosaicist who’s been commissioned to work on the largest and most magnificent temple to Jad the sun god in the world. Kay masterfully describes some of the technical details of mosaic-making without it becoming dry or boring. Activities like setting tiles and examining the angle of light through a window are invested with Crispin’s enthusiasm for his art and awe at the work of his fellow artists.
As with Kay’s other novels, there are complex political machinations going on. We see this maneuvering not just through Crispin’s eyes, but through those of various participants and bystanders. Much of what occurs in Sailing to Sarantium is setup, with the payoff presumably to come in the second half, Lord of Emperors. I’m looking forward to that book and eager to see what choice Crispin will make.