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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical book!
'Sailing to Sarantium' is the first ('Lord of Emperors' the second) of the Sarantine Mosaic 'duology' (?!). Together they provide you with a wonderful impression of life in a great city (modelled on Byzantium) and the people who live their lives there. We learn about the plans and desires of an Empress (though anyone who can figure out her husband and his plans should...
Published on 3 Jan. 2004

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Even a Fantasy Novel But Bad Historical Fiction
This "fantasy kingdom" is nothing more than thinly disguised historical fiction. Everything in here (with the exception of the three main characters) has a direct equivalent in the Byzantine Empire of Justinian. This goes for culture, characters, terms, events, everything. Just to show how utterly slavishly he sticks to this here's a brief list of names and their...
Published on 14 Jan. 2013 by Arch Stanton


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magical book!, 3 Jan. 2004
By A Customer
'Sailing to Sarantium' is the first ('Lord of Emperors' the second) of the Sarantine Mosaic 'duology' (?!). Together they provide you with a wonderful impression of life in a great city (modelled on Byzantium) and the people who live their lives there. We learn about the plans and desires of an Empress (though anyone who can figure out her husband and his plans should immediately apply to Mensa!) and a page later the hopes, fears and insecurities of a kitchen boy. The 'hero', the prime character, is a mosaicist - Caius Crispin. He has the opportunity of a lifetime and through his journey, relations to others, but primarily through his work, we get to know a wonderfully realised character.

There are intricate plans and plots by nearly everyone at court; there is thrilling, fast-passed action at the hippodrome where the chariots (which dominate every aspect of life in Sarantium) race; and there is the philosophical bent of the author who really does seem to be trying tell us something about human nature - though it feels like a discussion between author and reader.

One thing to note is the women! In Sarantium the women, as Crispin finds out, have just as much (or as little) control as the men do.

All of GGK's books are good, my particular favourites being The Lions of Al-Rassan and A Song for Arbonne - but the two novels comprising the Saratine Mosaic truly surpass his other works.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fine book, but not his best, 5 Aug. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
Amazon's synopsis wrongly states that "Sailing to Sarantium" continues the world Kay created in "Tigana". In fact it expands and enriches the world of "The Lions of Al-Rassan", especially the Jaddite religion which is moving towards schism similar to the medieval Catholic-Orthodox schism.
This is a well-told story with vivid and engaging characters, but the sense of place and of the real world around them is not as strong as in some of Kay's other works, such as the unforgettable "The Lions of Al-Rassan". The details of life are there, especially the technicalities of the mosaicist's craft and the charioteer's challenge, but the splendours and wonders of Byzantium's golden age can only be glimpsed amidst the petty intrigues of the court.
Well worth reading, but hardly the tour de force of "Tigana" or "The Lions of Al-Rassan".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Even a Fantasy Novel But Bad Historical Fiction, 14 Jan. 2013
By 
Arch Stanton (Nottingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This "fantasy kingdom" is nothing more than thinly disguised historical fiction. Everything in here (with the exception of the three main characters) has a direct equivalent in the Byzantine Empire of Justinian. This goes for culture, characters, terms, events, everything. Just to show how utterly slavishly he sticks to this here's a brief list of names and their historical equivalents:
Sarantium=Byzantium
Valerius II=Justinian
Hildric=Theoderic
Gisel=Amalasuntha
Pertennius=Procopius
hippodrome=hippodrome
Rhodias=Rome
Bassania=Sassanian Persia
Esperana=Spain
Thrakesia=Thrace
Varena=Ravenna

There are too many to list, but rest assured that even the ones I don't list here have their equivalents. Not only are these copies, but most of them are pretty obvious too (my favorite is Varena which is simply an anagram for Ravenna. Bassanid feels like a bad joke). These parallels exist in the narrative as well. The easiest way to show that is to summarize the plot using the real names, with the changed names in parentheses. Rome (Rhodias) ruled the original empire, but now the empire has converted to Christianity (Jaddism) from paganism and moved to Byzantium (Sarantium). Justinian (Valerius II) helped put his uncle on the throne, and now rules alongside his wife, the former prostitute Theodora (Alixana). After the Church of Holy Wisdom (Sanctuary of Holy Wisdom) is destroyed in the dangerous Nika Riot (Victory Riot, which is just the translation of the Greek word), Justinian orders it rebuilt. He summons artisans from all over the empire to help. In addition Justinian's preparing to send Belisarius (Leontes) off to reconquer Italy (Batiara) from the Ostrogoths (Antae). His reign is also known for a devastating plague. Every bit of this is in the book.

Now if I sound righteously outraged about this it's not intentional. Fantasy authors are allowed to steal from historical periods. They just shouldn't do so this directly. It makes the book boring for anyone with a background in the period. Here's an example: Game of Thrones is based off the War of the Roses. It takes a good deal of the setup and even obvious imitations of the names (Stark and Lannister vs. York and Lancaster) from that period. So why is that book original while this one isn't? Because while it might be inspired by the War of the Roses it created a new world for it (with additions from other periods and cultures) and set off in a direction of its choosing. Knowing how the War of the Roses ends doesn't mean I know how those books will end. Another example is The Foundation Trilogy. It features an empire based off Rome going into the Dark Ages (kinda like this book) and even has a character called Bella Riose who is obviously based off Belisarius and follows approximately the same narrative. Again, he makes changes and doesn't feel compelled to stick to real events. But I know exactly where these books will end, so why should I even finish reading them?

I'm annoyed at the sheer lack of originality and effort on display here yes, but what really gets me is that it's truly so close he could have just kept the original names and made himself a decent historical fiction. A mosaicist summoned from Italy to work on Justinian's Hagia Sophia would not be a bad plot for a novel. It's not even that implausible. The fantastical elements in here are so few and far between that they feel forced as it is. They could easily be excised from the plot without any noticeable effect. As it stands it's probably already more realistic than Conn Iggulden's Emperor series. Some might find it clever to create a fantasy world so identical to the real world (oooh there are two moons. So different!) but I don't see the point.

As far as the writing style goes, this guy has an extremely annoying quirk. He seems to dislike the conventional straight narrative and enjoys doing unusual things with it. For example, he'll start off a chapter talking about a chariot race, then go back and explain how there was a major riot in the city two years ago, then he's back with the race, then back to the riots again, only to conclude with a description of the race itself. Or he'll tell a story from one point of view before switching to another and telling the same story again. Many times these are characters who are irrelevant to the plot. Sometimes he switches characters numerous times simply to establish what everyone is experiencing at the same time. It's confusing and irritating. He also has a really nasty tendency to go on and on about what might have happened had only things gone another way. Like the following example: "Had he arrived back at the inn after the racing, as he had intended, had he spoken with Kasia and learned of her encounter with a visitor-the details of which would have meant rather more to him than they did to her-Crispin would almost certainly have conducted himself differently in certain matters that followed. This, in turn, might have occasioned a significant change in various affairs, both personal and of much wider import. It could, in fact, have changed his life and a number of other lives, and-arguably-the course of events in the Empire." He never explains what would have changed of course, merely gets all epic and self-important about it. It's meant to be portentous and foreboding but it just comes off as pretentious and silly.

Those who do want to see a good fantasy world based on the Byzantines should check out the Videssos Cycle. It also copies pretty slavishly from Byzantine history, but it doesn't stick to one specific time or narrative. It also put some actual thought into the changes it made instead of merely changing the name and hoping for the best. Changing God to Jad does not a new religion make, while Videssos' Phos was actually a well developed theology.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven Compared to Tigana, Arbonne and Lions of Al-Rassan, 25 Mar. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
I would have liked to have given this work higher praise, and based solely upon the prologue and second section of the work could have. However, part one of the narrative remains for me very uneven, in large part burdened by a journey that appears to accomplish little, other than bringing together several companions of the adventure and muddying the tale with religious and magical elements that at the book's conclusion remain attenuated and for the most part unexplained as to their relationship within the larger context of the story. Granted, these unresolved and only partially substantiated elements may find resolution in the second volume, but to date they remain incompletely integrated into the narrative, and only tenuous and apparently dangling story threads, and in the manner they have been introduced and followed here, I question that any further development will entirely be successful in fully incorporating them into the later volume. I hope I am proven wrong. However, for the moment this work seems to lack the tight plotting that was a strength in Tigana, Song for Arbonne, and The Lions of Al-Rassan, and seems in part a return to the often extraneous and wandering plot development present in The Fionavar Trilogy.
Nonetheless, in comparison to many works of fantasy currently available, this book remains far better than most, and the prologue is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself. I will await the release of the second and concluding volume--though I will wait until it's out in paperback--in the hope that its pages will do much to repair and restore the stumble that appears to occur in the early portion of the story. Despite my hesitation to fully applaud this effort, Kay remains among the handful of authors representing the best in fantasy fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy the sequel *before* you finish!, 26 Mar. 2001
By 
HLT (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
I have to disagree with the reviewer who felt this was an off-day for Guy Gavriel Kay; Sailing to Sarantium had me spell-bound as much as Tigana did.
I have no hesitation recommending this as an introduction to Guy Gavriel Kay, in fact I'd say it would be a far better starting point than the Fionavar Tapestry. The latter works were GGK's first, and I think he had matured enormously as a writer by the time he wrote Tigana and subsequent works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The world creator does it again! Superb!, 31 Mar. 2000
By A Customer
Since Tolkien created Middle Earth fantasy novelists have struggled to construct a fantasy society which is as detailed, well-rounded and satisfying to the reader. Guy Gavriel Kay hasn't struggled at all - he's succeeded, several times over. While the David Eddings and the David Gemmells of the fantasy scene revisit established settings in their shelf-hogging sagas, Kay gifts the reader with a new world to explore in each much-awaited novel - each one a multi-faceted jewel; the closest thing within the genre which resembles art. His latest work of art is 'Sailing to Sarantium' - a rare occurance in the realms of fantasy literature - a novel you can read without being completely familiar with the writer's previous volumes of prose. But this particular novel should carry a health warning : May utterly consume your attention to the exclusion of all other distractions until thoroughly read. With its superbly drawn cast of characters and intricate plot, its not a casual read - but worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All the best elements of GGK, 21 Oct. 1998
By A Customer
Guy Gavriel Kay is Canada's best kept secret. From Tigana on, his books have been miles above the average fantasy novel. Superbly written and intricately plotted, GGK's novels are a delight for the discriminating reader. Sailing to Sarantium doesn't disappoint, except that it's the first of a duology and it's hard to wait for the next one! Sailing to Sarantium, like Tigana, Arbonne and Lions, is thinly disguised history, this time the Byzantine empire (the title owes a debt to Yeats). Crispin, a master mosaicist, travels to Sarantium to decorate the emperor's new temple, a structure resembling Hagia Sophia. On the way he encounters mystery and horror; those familiar with Kay's heart-stoppingly sad set pieces will find another such in the forest on the Day of the Dead. And that's only half-way through the novel! I was sorry to finish this and highly recommend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars mix of history and fantasy in a full and rich epic, 8 Mar. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
One of the things I loved about this book, as a mediaeval history student was the inclusion of quirky historical details such as the description of Sarantium (based on Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire)including the rising throne and the secret weapon of Sarantine fire, which are both described as wonders of Byzantium in contemporary sources. But this descriptive scene-setting based on historical fact is blended with the wonderful characterisation so typical of Kay, which is very much grounded in real experience - a feeling difficult to find in many fantasy works. Readers who liked the pure fantasy of the Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, etc.) but who were not so keen on the sharper, more historically based recent works may like the spiritual element in this. Also of interest to anyone who has visited Istanbul of knows its history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, evocative, poetic, 5 Aug. 2005
By 
Louisa Hosafcioglu "louisa_icmeler" (Icmeler, Turkey) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
As one who has read and reread the Fionavar Tapestry, I was a little dubious of this 'historical fantasy' and couldn't actually finish the book on the first attempt. I have now tried again and read this book and its sequel with the same enjoyment (and speed) as I read the Fionavar trilogy.
The novel requires patience as Kay builds his characters and sets his scene and then steadily raises the suspense as the story progresses. Characters are wonderfully drawn, the plot is intriguing and there is a level of art, poetisism, spirituality and romance that are rarely found in 'fantasy' novels.
I loved these books and will no doubt reread these again and again in the years to come.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant as usual, 28 Dec. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) (Paperback)
Kay does it again. I have always loved his books from his start with the Fionavar Tapestry (still my favourite). He has the ability to create characters who are fallible and uncertain but always intelligent and likeable. In Crispin, he has created another such. Unfortunatly he ends the book on a mystery, so I am wondering how long I'll have to wait for the sequel in paperback! Highly recommended.
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Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight)
Sailing to Sarantium (Earthlight) by Guy Gavriel Kay (Paperback - 6 Sept. 1999)
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