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on 3 January 2004
'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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on 5 August 2000
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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on 25 March 2000
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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on 26 March 2001
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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on 31 March 2000
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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on 21 October 1998
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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on 8 March 2000
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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on 5 August 2005
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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on 28 December 1999
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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on 29 October 1999
This is a richly drawn and carefully plotted book. The action takes place in the same lands Kay previously referred to in a previous novel - The Lions of Al-Rassan - but the books are otherwise separate. The story revolves around the adventures of a mosaicist Crispin, who travels to Sarantium to work on a huge Sanctuary being built by the current Emperor. As usual Kay builds real characters who you come to care about, and a political 'situation' full of the usual court intrigues. The descriptions of the chariot races are excellent and it is easy to imagine being a part of the action. I look forward to the second and final book, the only disappointment was the ending - I expected much MORE of a cliffhanger but there is enough to make you want the next book as soon as possible. Whilst I don't think this is quite as good as 'Lions' it is still a fine read. Kay's 'Fionavar Tapestry' trilogy seems to rate highly with his fans but personally I prefer his stand alone novels. Fans will not be disappointed with his latest offering.
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