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Children of Earth and Sky


Children of Earth and Sky

With the release of CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY, bestselling Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay now has 13 books and a recent well-deserved Order of Canada to his credit. So, after more than three decades of admiring prose that will beautifully swallow you whole before you know it, and being able to read his work in at least 25 languages, worldwide fans should no longer have to look up where, or what, Toronto (his home city) is.

That’s generally regarded as beneficial in our day and age. We think it’s good to know where people, things and destinations are, although having such information poured over our senses 24/7 by the World Wide Web hasn’t done much to make the world a better place. We are literally choking on unprocessed data, but such wasn’t the case some 500 years ago. Perhaps that’s why the “slow” pre-technological civilization in which CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY unfolds a long but enthralling tale is so appealing, despite life in general being far shorter and even more dangerous than it is today.

"This is simply one great feast of a tale, served up in portions that capture the rich flavors of times long gone, but full of human immediacy."

Kay’s fictional world is a thinly disguised but impeccably researched reimagining of Renaissance Europe around the eastern Mediterranean, complete with conflicted city-states, bloody battles, internecine political intrigue, espionage, love, bravery, art, faith --- and a pinch of powerful magic. While drawn intentionally from a historical period familiar to those of us who studied it in school (and digitally accessible to those who didn’t), the world in which CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY is rooted has been subtly bent in space and time, relieving readers of any need to relate its events to actual truth or fact.

The slightly familiar environment, with slightly familiar competing religions (analogues of Christianity and Islam, with a brief nod to Judaism) and slightly familiar place names, is all part of the plan. From the beginning, Kay plays a deft game of imaginative literary counterpoint, an art he has honed meticulously throughout his career and only becomes more intricate, fascinating and elegant with each new work. The same can be said for the diverse characters he weaves into this alternate universe, this almost-Europe place. Any of them easily could have been real people, but are uniquely themselves, far deeper and more memorable than mere composites or copies.

Now one could argue, on a mentally lazy day in the middle of summer, that keeping track of nearly 60 individuals (all of which Kay lists as “principal” characters) over more than 550 pages is asking a bit much. But as the opening of CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY gradually builds momentum toward a long journey whose elements include ambition, vengeance, spying, soul-searching, profit, escape and a good helping of fear, a few distinct personalities emerge.Among them are a prominent merchant, a disgraced noble daughter, an impoverished but talented painter, a young girl with deadly archery skills, a child-soldier seeking his identity, an aging rebel commander and a powerful ruler --- all interconnected across vast geographical and emotional distances. Their narratives intersect and disperse in unpredictable rhythms and often with surprising about-turns; each is a story in himself or herself, yet none of them could satisfactorily stand alone.

In the midst of larger political, natural, mercantile and military forces that uncontrollably propel the lives of these constant literal and spiritual travelers, it is the small details, the vignettes, gestures, inspirations and end-of-chapter reflections that haunt the memory. Kay has perfected the art of blending them into the whole like particles of rare spice.Eventually the main protagonists all return “home.” For some, that can happen only through death. But for several of the least promising relationships in CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY, it happens, almost magically, through love. To elaborate further would be “spoilage.”

This is simply one great feast of a tale, served up in portions that capture the rich flavors of times long gone, but full of human immediacy. If you’ve encountered Guy Gavriel Kay before, he continues to surpass expectations. If you haven’t, be prepared to be swallowed whole.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on July 15, 2016

Children of Earth and Sky
by Guy Gavriel Kay