Despite also being set in Kitai, Kay's slightly askew version of China, River of Stars is not a sequel to 2010's Under Heaven.
—Chadwick Ginther, reviewer
Guy Gavriel Kay is in a class all his own in the fantasy field.
He explores meticulously researched and detailed cultures filled with fascinating characters and then is capable of moving on--no other fantasy writer seems to have the leeway from either readers or publishers to do so. So rare in these days of delivering a book a year at minimum.
Neither has Kay's deliberate pace attracted the ire of a "shadow fandom" of complaints as George R.R. Martin's has. The Emperor of Kitai ruminates, composes, and creates in a garden manufactured to mirror his empire, while Kay does the same with our world's history in his latest historical fantasy, River of Stars.
"River of Stars" by Guy Gavriel Kay (Penguin Group)
Despite also being set in Kitai, Kay's slightly askew version of China, River of Stars
is not a sequel to 2010's Under Heaven
. Even should the reader know nothing of Shen Tai and his Sardian Horses, Kanlin warriors, or poets Sima Zian and Chan Du, River of Stars
may be freely read and thoroughly enjoyed.
The story begins with Ren Daiyan, living in a province on the western margin of the Empire of Kitai, now in its twelfth dynasty, and in decline. Kitai faces danger from factions within its borders, and from the steppe barbarians, the Xiaolu, beyond the ruins of the Long Wall.
It is a simple beginning, and one very familiar to readers of fantasy: a young boy from a small farming community, with big dreams who was "grimly, unshakably determined to be one of the great men of his time, restoring glory with his virtue to a diminished world."
A familiar beginning perhaps, but it calls to the nature of the heroic journey and how legends can be born from such simple beginnings. Deadly with sword and bow when it was shameful for men to have such proficiency, Ren Daiyan--first a student, and then a bandit, a soldier, a general--is destined to shake the world under heaven.
Chadwick Ginther (Rachel Himelblau)
Lin Shan is a woman out of her time: educated, a poet, and a deep thinker, when women are supposed to be none of these things. Shan's story, unlike that of the other characters, is told in the present tense.
In a lesser hand, Shan's difference would stand out poorly, but instead the device feels natural, not imposed. Her uniqueness and seeming loneliness in this stylistic choice serves to emphasize that in this dynasty, folk fear the past even as they long to reclaim its glories. Even the dynamic Ren Daiyan is pledged to "Never Forget Our Rivers and Mountains Lost."Read more of this review here. It was excerpted courtesy of The Winnipeg Review.
Related: Guy Gavriel Kay reminisces about growing up in WinnipegHear Guy Gavriel Kay on The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers