Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review | River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

River of Stars
Guy Gavriel Kay
Published 2 April 2013 by Roc (Penguin)
Historical fantasy
4 stars

In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

Bite-Sized Review
Guy Gavriel Kay has a wonderful way with words that is as beautiful in this book as in any of his others. With sweeping themes and characters that are painfully easy to fall in love with, River of Stars is  a masterpiece.

Chocolate (things I liked) 
-I have loved all of GGK's books, and in every case, one of my favorite things about them is the writing. GGK is an absolutely brilliant writer -- there's really no one better. So even the slower parts of the book are a pleasure to read and filled with meaning.

-In addition to being a spectacular wordsmith, GGK has the ability to bring broad themes to life. The pages of his books are filled with love and war, how things long past can affect the present, what duty people have to their rulers, and the difficulty of certain choices. It's especially brilliant because the conclusions the reader draws from the story seem completely natural and not forced at all, as they sometimes are in other books.

-It is heart-breakingly easy to fall in love with GGK's characters. In River of Stars, my favorites were Daiyan and Shan, who were both unorthodox and startlingly clever.

-GGK puts a lot of effort into making his novels historically genuine (which isn't necessarily the same as historically accurate), and it really shows. Especially after reading certain other books, it's really nice to see that much attention to detail in making so many aspects of the characters' lives fit into Song China.

-I loved the ending, though not everyone will.

Brussels Sprouts (things I didn't like)
-The only negative thing I have to say about River of Stars is that the first half was sort of slow. The plot didn't really start until the second half. Of course, I still enjoyed the first half, but I would have preferred if it had been condensed a bit.

Notes
River of Stars takes place about 400 years after Under Heaven. While it's probably helpful to have read Under Heaven, it's not at all necessary. I read Under Heaven several years ago, when it first came out, and have forgotten most of what happened, but I had no trouble at all following River of Stars.

Recommended for
Fans of historical fantasy, beautiful writing, and wonderful characters. People who have enjoyed the works of Brandon Sanderson and Neil Gaiman will probably like River of Stars as well.

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