Mmm. Reading River of Stars was like having a fantastic meal with good wine. I feel replete.
Guy Gavriel Kay (GGK) seems to do that well. He also almost always makes me want to visit the places his novels are set – he does such a beautiful job of describing them with an appreciative eye that you feel like booking a ticket to go see the real-world version that inspired them. Right now. Maybe we could organize a charter tour of locales? Anyone else in?
Despite the fact that GGK insists that River of Stars is not the sequel to Under Heaven, I think you will enjoy it more having read Under Heaven first. They are set in the same world, albeit a few hundred years later, and reference is made more than once to the events of Under Heaven as history.
Under Heaven was based on the Tang dynasty, which was a time of glittering society, ultimate artistry, the pinnacle of sophistication. And then it fell. River of Stars is an homage to that old cliche – those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – but also a twist on it where you can cling to the past too tightly, so that you can’t go forward because you won’t let go.
Regular readers of Kay will see this as a recurring theme in his work, how the past, and history affect us, and how the past and history change over time, and things are forgotten, or purposely rewritten. He seems to view poets and musicians as vital to both remembering and rewriting the past as well as changing the future – a recurring theme, and one I greatly enjoy. It makes me feel a little subversive every time I read a book or listen to a song.
I’m not sure this is the GGK book I would start with, if you’ve never read his stuff before. I would go with either Tigana or A Song for Arbonne, and go with Under Heaven and River of Stars after – he writes so differently from almost everyone else out there that you need to ease into it . Kay writes beautifully, like Monroe or Shields, but with a can’t put down story, like… I don’t know, no one. He’s not like anyone. Cross a best-selling political thriller with poetry and you get Kay.
As always, I feel you can’t go wrong with GGK – I hope you enjoy his books as much as I do.