Guy Gavriel Kay is a true craftsman. His work is incredibly expansive and rich in detail. And, as is often the case with great artists, it takes Kay some considerable time to develop his masterpieces.
It’s been two years since Sailing to Sarantium appeared to rave reviews. In that first book of The Sarantine Mosaic, Kay began the tale of Crispin the mosaicist and Emperor Valerius. Lord of Emperors now concludes the story.
However, Guy Gavriel Kay is by no means satisfied continuing the tale only with the cast of characters introduced in the first volume. In fact, readers can be excused if they think, at first, that they may have picked up a different novel altogether. Lord of Emperors starts thousands of miles from Sarantium with an entirely new cast of characters, and it is some time before we rejoin the familiar tale begun in Sailing to Sarantium. As might be expected, Lord of Emperors teems with colourful plots and subplots. Kay serves up assassinations, mobs, romance, a climactic chariot race, fabulous dinners and a dizzying cast of characters. All of this is tied up with Crispin’s mosaic work on Emperor Valerius’ sanctuary, as the Emperor continues his efforts to leave his mark on history.
Lord of Emperors begins with the introduction of Rustem of Kerakek, a physician who saves the life of Bassania’s King of Kings. His reward is far different than he might have expected and Rustem soon finds himself “sailing to Sarantium.” From the very moment Rustem sets foot in the fabled city, he is caught up in that ingenious web of intrigue introduced in Sailing to Sarantium. The story advances at a dizzying pace with the various characters stepping onto and off of centre stage as Kay continues to lay the pieces that make up his own literary mosaic. The twists and turns are cunningly laid out and pretty much impossible to describe without giving away the story and the ending. Suffice it to say that Crispin does eventually complete his mosaic, if perhaps not the one the reader first expected.
Kay exhibits rare talent, both with realistic, three-dimensional characters and an incredibly complex setting. All of the many characters, from lowliest foot-soldier to high priest, from Alixana to Valerius, are rich and complex. Seldom does the reader encounter a character, however minor, that seems flat or misplaced. Similarly, Sarantium itself comes to life within the pages of the novel. The reader is drawn into the tale and lives the rivalry of the sport factions of the Greens and the Blues, listens in on the intrigues of the court and watches from the shadows as foul deeds are committed and heroes step forth.
Upon finishing Lord of Emperors, I could only sit back, catch my breath and try to imagine what wonders Guy Gavriel Kay will treat us to next time out….