Sweet words

No pun this time in the header. Crossing everyone up.

As longtime surfers of these journals will know, I started way back when with the underlying intention of sharing some aspects of ‘how books get made’. Not the writing (so much) as the author/publisher process whereby a title is edited, produced, promoted, sold.

The stage we’re at right now with River of Stars is preparing the paperbacks, in all major English language markets, which means three different houses, of course. (And three covers in the spring, as I discussed last post.)

Shima Aoki, who handles the paperbacks for Penguin Canada, has hit me on the edge of holiday season (hers, writers never rest, you all know that!) with their drafts for cover copy, an author question and answer (to go online when the book appears), a readers’ guide (ditto), and what is called the Praise Sheet.

The Praise Sheet is not the same as blurbs. Blurbs come before a hardcover is released, when an author or publisher tries to solicit advance comments from ‘influencers’. The quote sheet reflects actual critical response to an already-published book.

This sheet is what gives rise to the review quotes that appear inside a trade or mass market paperback on the initial pages (sometimes called ‘front material’). The quotes that say, in various ways, ‘better than borscht and beets!’ to interest a buyer holding the book in his or her hands. These days, in addition, quotes are also added by the publisher to the book’s online page on Amazon, B&N, Indigo, as well (though fewer of them, usually: online moves faster).

The number of quotes that get used in a book is dictated by the final page count, because that determines how many ‘free’ pages there are at the front to work with (and sometimes backlist titles are promoted at the end of a novel so pages are needed there, too).

The sequencing of quotes will vary by market. Obviously each country will foreground its own reviewers, unless there is one so universally respected (The Washington Post, in this case) that it may go first everywhere. Canada will put a line from the Globe and Mail on the front cover, and lead off with the Washington Post inside – and maybe a line on the back, too.

In the meantime, this morning I just emailed my Chinese publishers, at their request, the quote pages for both Under Heaven and River of Stars as they will be releasing them both in 2014. I have no idea which media sources or comments will be most useful there. You have to trust your publishers.

So with all this in mind, and having been really touched as I read  these over (I don’t normally see clips all assembled in one place) I’ll share some of them. The full sheet is way too long to post all, and I’d actually feel embarrassed. I’ll leave you with a question. Does reviewer praise help steer you to consider a book? If you are reckless enough to dive in below, which of the ones here would make you stop and think: that’s pretty extreme love, I should try this book.


Praise for RIVER OF STARS by Guy Gavriel Kay

 “From whatever angle you approach it, River of Stars is a major accomplishment, the work of a master novelist in full command of his subject. It deserves the largest possible audience.”

The Washington Post

 “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 … As sumptuous and sprawling as River of Stars is, it is, foremost, a keen example of the storyteller’s art.”

The Globe and Mail

 “River of Stars: Picture Game of Thrones in China: Guy Gavriel Kay’s exquisite Asian-inspired epic fantasy offers a fresh twist on intrigue and adventure.”


 “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. History has never felt or been more real and reading about it such a pleasure.”

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

 “There’s a reason that each new fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay is met with so much excitement by a core of devoted readers. These are books in which everything happens–epic battles, forbidden love, violent deaths–yet the threads of story inexorably tangle us in something that goes much deeper. Each book is a journey for the reader, compressed so that the level of intensity remains at the highest setting even in its quietest moments; and what happens on that journey can challenge your perceptions of the world and break your heart . . .With River of Stars, Kay transports readers to a dazzling court and the ravages of war, with language almost impossibly multilayered in its nuance and tone, offering a series of insights that exquisitely build on each other. Even more than in previous books, each sentence seems shaped to further enhance the book’s themes, recalling the craftsmanship of the man-made peony blossom that is a recurring image throughout. Here, too, emotional intensity is amped up more than ever, the shattering catharsis even more complete… one of Kay’s richest creations to date…”

Huffington Post

“It’s a relief to escape into a Guy Gavriel Kay novel and be reminded of the values of honour, valour and sacrifice for one’s country. River of Stars, Kay’s latest epic, is a captivating and beautiful story of an empire on the verge of destruction. Kay’s portrait of court intrigue and the strings the plotting prime ministers pull to orchestrate events is a marvel of craftsmanship…Reading River of Stars is a treat for the language alone. Kay is also a poet, and his writing is as lyrical as his themes of heroism, the power of legend and myth, and the vilification by history of those who deserve better.”

Toronto Star

 “River of Stars finds its greatest success in that it is both a vast, grand portrait of an entire culture, and also a very specific, personal story…each personality in River of Stars is flawed and full of friction, awful and lovely by turns, like the Emperor who loves his garden so much he cannot see the terrible human cost of keeping it perfect. While the densely woven and ever-shifting web of intrigue is masterfully managed and often brilliantly surprising in all its complexities, and the sumptuous, poetic language are also highlights, it’s the connection to the characters that captures the reader’s attention, digs hooks deep into their heart…”

National Post

 “River of Stars exhibits all of Guy Gavriel Kay’s many strengths as a writer: characterization, plotting, dialogue, poetry, the intricacies of the imperial court, and exciting battle scenes.”

Vancouver Sun

 “This is stunning stuff from one of fantasy fiction’s finest. From one of fiction’s finest, frankly.”


 “An elegant, imaginative inhabitation of Song-dynasty China of 1,000 years ago by prolific historical novelist Kay … Lucid and lyrical, and skillfully written…”

Kirkus Reviews

 “It is indeed an accomplishment when a fantasy novel pulls its inspiration from the real world so closely that we may feel that it’s real, that we wonder whether it should be found in an actual history book. Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel River of Stars accomplishes this feat. His book is one of the best fantasy epics of the past few years.”

—Ars Technica

 “The master of the historical fantasy has found a canvas large enough for his ambitions. Guy Gavriel Kay’s second novel based on the Chinese past is his finest work so far, a vision of tremendous scope, achieved through precise, intimate observation of a brilliant culture in the throes of disintegration and rebirth…a book you don’t want to be over.”

Locus Magazine, review by Cecelia Holland

 “Mirroring the glittering, doomed Song Dynasty of China, it portrays a world of changing traditions, casual cruelty, and strict codes of honor and respect … A powerful and complex tale told with simplicity and elegance…”

Library Journal

“Endlessly graceful, perfectly attuned to time and place and character and mood, never a line out of place; the prose in River of Stars is beautifully crafted at the sentence level: lyrical, but in a muted fashion, beautiful but not clamoring for attention, and often bearing the burden of sorrow… River of Stars is a beautifully crafted, moving novel and one I can’t recommend highly enough.”

—Fantasy Literature

 “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Kay is the greatest fantasist of our generation …It’s hard for me to quantify how much I enjoyed River of Stars, but I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.”

—Fantasy Book Critic

 “I wrote in my review of Under Heaven that I was actually reluctant to read River of Stars, since it was all but unimaginable that an author could manage to capture such lyrical magic twice in a row, but Kay has done just that.”

—Beauty in Ruins

 “Every two or three years, Guy Gavriel Kay releases a new novel which never fails to amaze me…Spanning decades, River of Stars is a novel about destiny and how individuals and their actions can shape the course of history. Beautifully crafted and complex, populated with well-drawn men and women, it should stand on its own as one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s signature works…I’m aware that it’s still early in the year. But as things stand, River of Stars is now in pole position and will be the speculative fiction title to beat in 2013.”

—Fantasy Hotlist

 “[River of Stars] may be the finest work of a major novelist – and a pretty thrilling adventure tale to boot…Kay is precise and judicious in his selection of scenes to dramatize, in his skill at finding the key moments that define a character or a culture, and in his carefully restrained yet crucial deployment of fantastic elements…This is no innocent Middle Earth threatened by Mordor, but a highly problematical society in which such honor is hard to locate. It’s one of Kay’s recurring themes, and it’s never been handled with such complexity, scope, and insight as it is in River of Stars.”

Locus Magazine, review by Gary K. Wolfe

“Kay maintains the verbal opulence he is famous for… River of Stars is a worthy follow-up to the gorgeous Under Heaven, while still standing strong on its own…readers will appreciate the meticulous hand by which the world of Kitai is crafted, both in the present moment of the story and from the perspective of history. Guy Gavriel Kay’s lush prose brings Kitai to life and keeps him firmly situated as one of the top fantasy authors of our time.”


 “Impermanence, and our attempts to defeat it either through great achievements or the building of legend, is the theme that serves as a foundation for Guy Gavriel Kay’s majestic River of Stars…Kay is less a traditional fantasist than a cryptohistorian, and if the genre can be said to have a great one, Kay’s the man… Kay writes battle scenes with much the same sense of poetic grace as his characters’ more personal, introspective moments. There’s a tangible sense of sorrow over humanity’s march of folly. His narrative is always aware of the bitter ironies, as well as the fantastic good luck, that life’s many moments of pure chance present us. Fate can turn on the most minor occurrence. An empire’s fall can begin when a man is heard weeping in a garden.”

—SF Reviews

“This world lives and breathes. River of Stars reads like historical fiction. . . Once you get involved, you can’t stop reading. . . Emperors, assassins, bandits, poets, soldiers, ghosts, spies, barbarian hordes, courtly machinations, battles, intrigue, love, sex, betrayal, destiny, characters to cheer for, despair with, cry over – what more could you want?”

—Revolution SF

 “The beauty of a Kay novel, to me, is that the stories are so very real…He makes you feel for the characters in such a way that you root for them throughout the novel, and feel those emotions right alongside them…I was immersed in the story until the end, and then felt that subtle form of sadness that only the ending of a terrific book can bring.”


 “…A gorgeous novel. If you aren’t reading Guy Gavriel Kay yet, you’re missing out on some of the very best writing you can find inside or outside the fantasy genre.”

—Far Beyond Reality

 “It is, for me, wonderful escapist fiction. Except that, it’s not. Or not entirely. In fact, I think Kay might actually be, in his own way, a damn fine historian. The difference between Kay and some other fantasy novels, is two things: his historical sensibility, and his writing style. When I read novels by GGK I am constantly struck by how he is able to make the ideas of academic history come to life in a fictional world.”

—Everyday History

“Who is this Guy Gavriel Kay and how does he hijack my imagination so easily?In my review of Kay’s Under Heaven, the 2010 American Library Association Best Fantasy Novel, I asked, “How is he ever going to top this book?”  The answer, with as much certainty as I can express, is River Of Stars...

—Fantasy Matters

River of Stars is a poetic meditation on duty, compromise, politics and power that has an epic, historical sweep grounded in a host of intensely personal, well-realized stories. Fans of George R.R. Martin’s popular “Song of Ice and Fire” books – or the Game of Thrones TV adaptation – who are looking to scratch that itch in the years between new books will find a lot to like here, as Kay’s book is every bit as in-depth a piece of political fantasy as Martin’s work…joining Kay’s early epic Tigana as well as ambitious later works like The Lions of Al-Rassan and Sailing to Sarantium in putting forth a very strong argument that suggests Kay as, quite possibly, the greatest fantasy writer working today.”

—Luxury Reading

 “River of Stars is a success on just about every level. The story is powerful and engaging, the characters are complex and well realized, and the greater themes of the novel such as heroism and man’s role in society are thoughtfully treated. Kay’s prose is poetic without being overwrought or melodramatic. Overall, River of Stars is joy to read.”

—Booked Solid

“River of Stars is an epic of immense scope, covering the rise and fall of empires over decades, with many genuinely surprising twists and turns. But ultimately, it recognizes the familiarity of any human story, and so frees itself from trying too hard to avoid (or slavishly live up to) the rhythms of history and legends repeating themselves. Kay is more concerned with how you tell a story…the novel resonates because of its consistent recognition that it is inhabited by humans repeating history that has already repeated a thousand times, and its confidence that their story is still worth telling. Many of Kay’s characters are based on historical figures, again bringing to the fore the hall of mirrors that is human narrative, seamlessly connecting across fact and artifice, history and legend…Not only are Shan and Daiyan wonderfully drawn characters, so is everyone else in the story, no matter how significant or insignificant…each one’s worldview is explored with such balanced, unbiased attentiveness that empathy is always within reach of the reader, even when we’re in the heads of bloodthirsty warlords or unrepentant assassins. Every action holds a weight that has the capacity to be surprisingly moving or tragic, because we feel like we know the aspirations and fears behind them. By the end of the novel, Kay’s evident mastery over plot and character is nothing short of astonishing. In six hundred plus pages, not a word of this novel feels gratuitous, and Kay’s lyrical prose retains a sense of contemplative calm even in the midst of brutal, heated battles, sieges, and ambushes.”

—Strange Horizons

“I’ve always maintained, and will likely continue to maintain, that Daniel Day-Lewis is among the greatest actors of all time. While he doesn’t always pick roles that have a wide-ranging mass appeal, he only picks roles that meet his incredibly high standards. His dedication to research and to method acting, completely burying himself in a role in a way that few people can even really understand, is what has led to him being the only person to win three Best Actor academy awards. His rate of appearances in movies is low, only twelve films in twenty-four years, but I’ve yet to see a performance that didn’t utterly blow me away. I include the above to really communicate what I am saying when I compare Guy Gavriel Kay to Daniel Day-Lewis. He is similarly non-prolific, with twelve novels in thirty years, and similarly dedicated to his craft in a way that few people seem to be. Each of his books contains an afterword which talks about the research conducted, works referenced, and experts consulted, and it just flabbergasts me. I’ve read his entire bibliography and not only was I not disappointed, I was hard pressed to find a single thing to complain about. You should read this book if you have an appreciation for expertly crafted, character-driven fantasy of the highest order; if you want to really get to know characters, to get a deep sense of them, and their place in their society and their role therein; if you want to close a book’s back cover, take a deep breath, set it down, and not even consider picking up another book until you’ve had time to just appreciate the raw artistry you’ve just witnessed.”

—The Ranting Dragon

The second of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Chinese novels is as enthralling and thought-provoking take on classic historical events as the first, Under Heaven… It’s a hugely enjoyable read and more than just a romp thought the past… Whether you’re feeling philosophical or not, River of Stars is a whole lot of fun, exciting and substantial.

­­––”That’s Beijing” Magazine



Cover up

Well, the cover is up online, so the title of the post works, right? Right?

At least it is a better pun than one I saw today in the National Post: ‘For Whom the Bell Tolkiens’. Meh. Up with that I will not put!

Here is the new Penguin Canada trade paperback cover, for the edition that will be released in the spring. They did a reveal on their website this morning.

Penguin Canada paperback cover

Penguin Canada paperback cover

I have been very lucky with River of Stars in my English-language covers. (We’ll start seeing some of the foreign language cover roughs soon. Cross fingers with me.) I loved the blue court figure for the Canadian and US hardcovers (and the US will adapt it for their paperback) and I loved the beautiful UK cover as well (they are also staying with a variant of this for their pb).

I think this new effort by the Penguins in Canada is terrific. My publisher/editor, Nicole Winstanley had some  strong ideas about what she wanted to try for, but of course it becomes the task of the (long-suffering?) art director and department to find visual ways to achieve this. I know, because they made a point of telling me (!) that a lot of work and fine tuning went into this look. I saw it in next-to-last version and had only one note, which they agreed with, and smoothly incorporated.

In the final version, the yellow for title and name will be gold, and the black tree will very likely be embossed/raised.This will be strong on the shelves, and online, I think. It feels classy without being forbidding, and the red and gold and black work very well – classically, to my mind.

I imagine people will have favourites among the three that have so far appeared. I don’t think that’s an issue at all because obviously our aesthetic tastes vary. There is probably someone out there who loves the Hungarian cover for Ysabel. (Actually, I don’t think there can be. I take that back.)

Covers for books also have to incorporate awareness on the part of the publishers as to the nature of their specific market, the writer’s readership base (and possible expansion of that) and the dictates of a given format. A hardcover isn’t a trade paperback which isn’t a mass market paperback, among other issues.

A website a while back was going to put the US/CDN and the UK hardcovers up online for a preference vote, I don’t think it has happened yet. I’m as intrigued as anyone by the results of such comparisons, but in the end, they can tell us something about aesthetics, but less about effectiveness. There is a famous story of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood first coming out in the US with quite stylish covers – and bombing. They were pulled, reissued with more downmarket ‘gore’ covers – and took off.

I remain a gore-free cover zone, and am entirely happy to remain so.