There is an old line, oft-spoken in the book world, about publicists or publishers pulling a fake quote from a bad review. It doesn’t happen much any more, that I know of, though it is still fairly common in the film industry.

I’m talking about where a reviewer wrote, “The awkwardness of the language here is remarkable.” and the book jacket shows: “Remarkable!”

As I say, not too common these days, best I can tell. But there is an art of sorts to pulling short quotes from long reviews and I enjoy watching what publicists do it, and playing the game with them, sometimes. The phrase an author likes most may not be what a publisher judges will appeal most to possible buyers.

Which is all a back door way in to saying that the last few days – and the week ahead – are very much about the earliest responses to River of Stars, pending ‘official’ release on Tuesday. I will confess to a personal awkwardness (‘Remarkable!’) in relaying reviews, here or elsewhere. If they are negative (gods forfend!) why would I post them? If they are positive, even though the nature of the process suggests I broadcast them widely, I feel self-conscious. I’m proud of the novel, and truly delighted (sometimes moved) by an intelligent response to it, but I’m happiest when the publishers do most of the heavy-lifting on getting word out as to reactions. And they do, and will.

At the same time, this Journal is supposed to be about the process of a book coming into the world, and – as the header here suggests – reviews are a big part. So I will say that the early assessments this week online, and this morning’s Globe and Mail (which remains Canada’s pre-eminent books page) have been wonderful.

I am not going to do full links here (forgive me!), I just don’t like it. But you can chase a few down at, Fantasy Book Critic,, Fantasy Literature, a website called Beauty in Ruins, and the Globe and Mail website. The Globe review is by the novelist Robert Wiersema, someone whose careful reading through many reviews over the years I greatly admire – which makes a strong review even more rewarding, obviously.

What I will do, after hesitating for awhile (I admit), is show here what has been ‘pulled’ in anticipation from a few of these by the publicists. Quotes like these go out right away to other media, to the sales force (gives them ammunition and motivation to have strong reviews in hand). They also end up in ads, and on later editions of the book – or other books by the author.

How much do reviews matter? Really big, unresolved discussion topic in the industry. One study suggested that the main two elements affecting sales are word-of-mouth (friends recommendations, mainly, but that may be shifting to sites like GoodReads) and book covers. (Covers do matter, it seems.) Price has an impact (that’s why bestsellers stay bestsellers – they are often discounted.) And reviews do for some readers. My instinct (feel free to comment on all this, by the way!) is that a lot of good reviews, 2-3-4 pages of them inside a paperback have a cumulative impact on a possible buyer. A single quote saying ‘Terrific!’ (‘The pleasure I derived from throwing this across the room was terrific.’) may not mean much, unless, perhaps, if written by a superstar figure. The discussion continues, all the time, as publishers try to sort out how to get word of a book out to the world. (Hint: social media is it, these days.)

In any case, here are some quotes that have been circulating among the Team River of Stars (as Elena named them) this week. You can chase the original reviews down and see if you’d have chosen differently.

‘River of Stars is the sort of novel one disappears into, emerging shaken, if not outright changed. A novel of destiny, and the role of individuals within the march of history, it is touched with magic and graced with a keen humanity.’ (Globe and Mail)

‘I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Kay is the greatest fantasist of our generation… I’m still reveling in the post-read trance, but I think even with time this will prove to be among my favorites of his works…’ (Fantasy Book Critic)

‘…graceful, lyrical prose, beautifully drawn characters, moments that stab the heart, a masterful sense of structure and pace, and an overall elegance and skill that denotes a novelist in complete control of his creation.’ (Fantasy Literature)

‘Kay on a bad day remains many times more absorbing than the vast majority of other genre authors, and I dare say River of Stars chronicles him on a great day. This is stunning stuff from one of fantasy fiction’s finest. From one of fiction’s finest, frankly.’ (

‘Kay has the uncanny ability to depict the grand sweep of historical events through the eyes of those living through them…What’s even more amazing is how through his careful rendering of character and environments we are drawn into this history…River Of Stars is an exceptional piece of work.’ (

Honestly, I look at these and feel immensely grateful. After a number of years, each time, I send a novel into the world, and it is deeply rewarding to see it responded to in this way. Too early for another drink, but …



6 thoughts on “Reviews

  1. I’m most struck by the TOR quote up there. First called a “genre author”, and then “one of fantasy fiction’s finest.” And finally “… one of fiction’s finest, frankly.”

    There has been a lot of discussion (more on BW than here) in regards to what was once a certain lack of credibility ascribed to the fantasy genre in general. That has changed a great deal, but do reviews like this one help give a sense that a line has been crossed? Or will soon be crossed? That an author will be lauded for being a good author, first, rather than a good fantasy author?

  2. Simon, as I have said before, my instinct is that borders or barriers are eroding. Too many ‘mainstream’ writers are making use of the elements of the fantastic (or sf) and too many genre-defined writers are working with increased ambition as novelists. This doesn’t mean a lot of genre won’t be purely commercial, or pumped out fast (and this is in many genres, not just sf/fantasy), or that some literary readers/critics will simply refuse to even look at a book labeled fantasy, but I think the overall picture is promising.

  3. As regards to links, you can see linkbacks to the reviewer websites as a form of thank you. Incoming links are a chief factor in their ranking on Google, and deep links to specific articles are even more valuable, in Google”s view. Since their clientele is visitors, ranking will be one of their top concerns.

    Congratulations on those great quotes. Well deserved. 🙂

  4. At the risk of sounding like a corny blurb (not that those above are in that category), I am about 500 pages into the novel and could not wait to express how wonderful this novel is so far….just beautiful and completely absorbing. It’s really difficult to explain why a novel, at least to me, is the most important art form. I guess all I can say to people is “just read this, please…”

    Regarding reviews, I wonder if the Washington Post will do one. There is this critic at the Post named Michael Dirda and he is usually a great champion of works of fantasy. He is extremely well read and does not at all discriminate based on genre. I have discovered so many great so-called “genre” authors because of him. He was very complimentary of Under Heaven.

  5. In chosing a new book, the main thing for me is loyalty to the author. If a good author (like you!) puts out a new book, then I will buy it.

    Otherwise, browsing through an actual bookstore, I look at dustjackets, read the blurb on the back then read the first few pages (and if it’s good, keep reading until my husband drags me away to buy the book and move on). I am skewed towards female authors as I think they have a harder time in some genres.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *