Sarantine Mosaic is Kay at his best. Review by Violet Kane

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Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay is the first book of a duology, collectively called The Sarantine Mosaic (the second half is Lord of Emperors). These two books are only the latest example of Kay’s unique and stunning skills as a storyteller.

Set in a fictionalized Europe shortly after the sacking of Rome, the Sarantine Mosaic follows the story of Crispin, a mosaicist with a hot temper working on small churches in the disorganized west. When Crispin is called east to Sarantium (read, Byzantium) to design a mosaic for the Emperor's new church, he decides to take up the charge. Sarantium takes Crispin through some cultures more traditionally used in fantasy (Germanic woodlands) but most of the duology takes place in Sarantium, which splendidly captures a Late Antique atmosphere (i.e. still a little Antique, but getting more Medieval). Later on, in Lord of Emperors Kay even explores Persian-like cultures to the east, foreshadowing the rise of an Ottoman-esque presence in this fant-historical setting. The story is lighter on magic than most fantasy, but its presence is felt in atmosphere, ambiance and intrigue, and will keep fantasy fans dazzled.

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I am a fan of Kay's writing—Sarantine Mosaic is no exception—because his stories are controlled and determined by characters, some of the best-drawn in fantasy. You will find no traces of fantasy genre stock characters, here, with the possible exception of Zoticus, the elderly wizard type. But I put the emphasis very definitely on "traces". In Kay’s writing such traces feel more like literary references. My only critique of this book is its fifty page prologue. The details and characterization explored in the prologue would have had greater relevance for me if I had read it after meeting the characters it describes (whom we meet in the latter half of Sarantium). As is, I found it a frustrating roadblock for getting to the main plotline.

Despite my frustrations at the prologue, The Sarantine Mosaic is a wonderfully engaging read and I cannot recommend it more highly.

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Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.

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