Children of Earth and Sky
Guy Gavriel Kay
Hodder & Staughton, 592 pages
Review by Benjamin Thomas
Game of Thrones shoving epic fantasy into everyone’s lives has provided both a positives and negatives for writers of the genre. On the plus side, epic fantasy is what people want; the taste is on their tongues and they’re salivating for more. Flip this though, and as a writer there comes the challenge of differentiating your work from the others in the sudden influx. How do you achieve this? Ask Guy Gavriel Kay, because he does it with ease in his novel Children of Earth and Sky.
The story follows a diverse cast of characters driven by a myriad of intentions, not all (not even close to all) being honorable. From the less-than-reputable city Senjan comes a female raider Danica. She is deadly with a bow and even deadlier with a pair knives. Driven by the desire for revenge and under the guidance of her deceased grandfather, she boards a merchant vessel that has set off from the glorious city of Seressa. Unbeknownst to her, on board the ship is a spy masquerading as a doctor’s wife, and a young artist on his way to paint the portrait of a violent, terrifying ruler who struck me as Kay’s rendition of Machiavelli. In fact, there is much in this novel that draws from our world but I will touch on that in a bit.
Shortly into the raid the doctor is slain and in turn the pirate who killed him is dispatched, only the pirate dies not by the hand of a crew member, but by Danica herself. Her actions, while noble, thrust her into turmoil. She cannot return home: the dead man’s family will slaughter her. Instead, she is forced to travel with the vessel and plead her case to the courts. Amidst all of this, through her grandfather’s guidance, she learns that her young brother is in fact still alive when she thought him dead, cut down like the rest of her family in a brutal onslaught. Once on land, deception and corruption take center stage. Numerous plots unfold, the end result never anything other than death, though not always for whom it was originally intended.
These events unfold through multiple perspectives. But rather than devote entire chapters to each character, Kay jumps in and out of their heads. He leaves the reader with a flavour of what each character is thinking and then seamlessly transitions across the ship, the room or the fight. While this may seem like it would be distracting, it is in fact one of the best uses of third person omniscient narration I have ever read.
As we travel with these characters across seas and into different cities and countrysides, we learn about the land and the political climate. While it is evident that a chunk of the world has been taken from our own historical timeline – The Byzantine and Roman Empires – Kay adds enough of his own magic to the realm to allow us to get lost in the world. Unfortunately, this can sometimes happen through pages and pages of backstory that can often read like info-dumps. Thankfully, this is only the case a handful of times. I thought this interesting, that the background of the world was laid on thick and heavy at times while little or no explanation is given to the subtle uses of magic or supernatural occurrences. Kay makes this work. He describes and utilizes these abilities with such ease that as a reader you take them as truth with no question. This, coupled with his complex cast of characters, adds immense depth to his novel.
Children of Earth and Sky was an enjoyable read throughout. I recommend it not only for anyone who is hungering for more epic fantasy, but for anyone who is intrigued by world building, a wide cast of characters, and political intrigue.
This review was originally published in Shoreline of Infinity Issue 4.