Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay

Rating 9.5/10
One of the very best examples of alternate history merged with fantasy.

Forming the first part of Guy Gavriel Kay’s duology The Sarantine Mosaic and inspired by ancient Byzantium, Sailing to Sarantium tells a magnificent, sweeping story of empire, conspiracies and journeys, both physical and spiritual. First published in 1998 it was followed by Lord of Emperors in 2000.

Rumoured to be responsible for the ascension of the previous Emperor, his uncle, amid fire and blood, Valerius the Trakesian has himself now risen to the Golden Throne of the vast empire ruled by the fabled city, Sarantium.

Valerius has a vision to match his ambition: a glittering dome that will proclaim his magnificence down through the ages. And so, in a ruined western city on the far distant edge of civilization, a not-so-humble artisan receives a call that will change his life forever.

Crispin is a mosaicist, a layer of bright tiles. Still grieving for the family he lost to the plague, he lives only for his arcane craft, and cares little for ambition, less for money, and for intrigue not at all. But an imperial summons to the most magnificent city in the world is a difficult call to resist.

In this world still half-wild and tangled with magic, no journey is simple; and a journey to Sarantium means a walk into destiny. Bearing with him a deadly secret, and a Queen's seductive promise; guarded only by his own wits and a bird soul talisman from an alchemist's treasury, Crispin sets out for the fabled city from which none return unaltered.

As previously mentioned, Kay's fictional Sarantium is inspired both by 6th century Byzantium and also by the portrayal of it within of the poems of W. B. Yeats.

I have long enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay's work and I would place Sailing to Sarantium up there with Tigana and Under Heaven as the stories I have enjoyed the most, although of course I have enjoyed them all. It is simply beautifully written and from the very beginning I was completely invested in the story, the world and the characters. The author's love for words, and for telling stories, shines from every page - there is a precision, care and subtlety to each and every sentence.

Despite being the first book in a two book series the author does not find it necessary to utilise a cliff-hanger, or to leave many loose-ends, to tempt the reader into purchasing book two. Sailing to Sarantium can easily be treated as a stand-alone novel, such is the feeling of satisfaction upon completion as the final page turns. You could just leave the story there, should you be so inclined, but I'd be surprised if anyone did not wish to discover what further awaits Crispin in fabled Sarantium.

If you want to read one of the very best examples of alternate history merged with fantasy then this is the book for you. I cannot recommend Sailing to Sarantium highly enough.

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