CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY — DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1) Readers of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic novels, Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, will recognize the setting of Children of Earth and Sky. (This is also the near-Europe of The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Last Light of the Sun.) If you’re familiar with those books, what are your thoughts on returning to this world, especially to Sarantium, 900 years later? How has it changed in political and religious terms? How does this novel reflect or change the themes of the earlier novels? Kay has said he wants these works to be ‘entirely accessible’ to readers who have never read earlier works of his but also to offer ‘grace notes’ to those who do look back. Do you think he succeeds in this?
2) This novel draws inspiration from the fall of the Constantinople (in 1453) and the subsequent realignment of political power among major powers. How does your understanding of the historical inspiration for the setting affect your reading of the novel? Kay has said one reason he uses a ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ is to cause readers to look at known events a little differently, with fresh eyes. He’s also said he loves when readers use his novels as gateways to their own reading about history.
3) Even though the novel presents a world similar to Renaissance Europe, how does it also reflect or comment on contemporary political and religious issues?
4) The novel explores the lives of great leaders, common villagers, and souls in between, truly all the “children of earth and sky.” Discuss the ways in which the novel explores differences and similarities among in such a range of social classes. Would you say the major characters are ‘important’ people in their world? If not, could the author be making a point with this?
5) The reader is also shown a number of leaders at different points in their careers. The Grand Khalif Gurçu, for example, is still at the height of his power, while Duke Ricci contemplates retirement, and the burdens of ruling. Skandir, having lost the lands of his ancestors, now survives as a guerilla leader, no longer young. Leonora takes on power within a religious retreat, and is first thought too young for that position. Compare these characters and their roles as leaders and as individuals.
6) The idea of ‘borderlands’ is prominent in the book, how boundaries shift, and how people living on borders might have attitudes (such as converting from one faith to another) that differ from those of those that rule them. This also emerges when the book considers trade – also across borders – as men and women seek ways to survive, and flourish, even in a time of war. Do you think this ‘split’ between higher religious and piolitical demands, and the needs of ordinary people is persuasive as a theme? Might it also apply today?
7) Several characters leave their former identities behind when they embark on journeys. Kay even uses a phrase ‘sailing to Sarantium’; to mean that one’s life is about to be altered – whether a ship is involved or not. Consider how journeys serve as catalysts, not just symbols, for personal change.
8) Which character did you find most interesting? How did that character’s story and fate reflect the themes of the novel? Children Of Earth and Sky seems to have five main protagonists (Danica, Pero, Marin, Leonora, Damaz), pursuing very different goals – and directions. Kay has said one of the challenges he set himself was to keep them in balance for the reader. Did he succeed for you?
9) The novel is written in a realistic style befitting historical fiction, but with some subtle supernatural elements. Discuss the influence of Danica’s grandfather on the story. Given that this was a period in which the supernatural was very much a part of peoples’ worldview? Kay writes that we must not think we understand everything about our world. Does the presence of her grandfather (or the unseen singer in the roadside chapel at night) succeed, for you, in underscoring that thought?