Children of Earth and Sky | Guy Gavriel Kay | a review

‘Villages or farms on a violent border divided by faith didn’t become peaceful because of pen strokes in courts far away.’

Children of Earth and Sky is inspired by Renaissance Europe and follows a range of characters: an angry woman pretending to be someone she’s not, an artist travelling to a dangerous city, a boy training to be a soldier, an apathetic merchants son  and a young woman who is out to avenge her family. These characters come together and apart to weave a wonderful tale of loss, war, love and loyalty. Kay does not disappoint.

I really took my time with this one, time to savour Guy Gavriel Kay’s sumptuous prose. Let’s not beat around the bush, I absolutely loved Children of Earth and Sky. I particularly adore his writing style, it is so powerful and emotive and he doesn’t shy away from switching up sentence structures as the pace picks up/slows down. Kay writes alternative histories with a twist toward the fantastic. I wouldn’t class them as full fantasy stories, but the lands his characters inhabit, while heavily influenced by our world, are fictitious. There is, of course, a small element of magic, in this story we have the ability for spirits to linger in their descendants minds for a time (although this is only really applicable to one character). But largely, it reads like historical fiction, but with new, made-up characters and place names. Children of Earth and Sky looks at the history between Venice and Dubrovnik, the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottomans. It spans years, multiple character perspectives and several cities and roads. Yes, roads.

I find it incredible how easily Kay moves from one character to the next in an omniscient narrative and is able to go from one small event and then almost zoom out to describes how this event ripples across time and distance to affect greater changes. Seamlessly. I was so caught up in this world and its characters that I was shouting when bad things happened, cheering at the good parts and nearly in tears at other, quieter moments of the story. It was great to see all these different character journeys meet up, separate and come together again in wonderful clarity and emotion. I know I’ve stressed this, but the writing is incredible. I have tabbed many sections and even read some aloud because I needed to share the experience. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, there are a lot of commas but I like how that makes you ‘speak’ the sentence in your head when you’re reading it. It’s wonderful.

GGK explores big themes in his books and this one is no different, we explore the endurance of love and friendship, national pride, faith, the toll of warfare/invasion, the fall of cities, how sometimes the right path/choice creeps up on you… and he weaves them all together masterfully. There are moments when I just sat back and thought about what I’d just read. He makes it easy to sympathise with all sides and demonstrates how easy it is to be blinded by faith/ignorance. Nothing felt forced and the ending was great.

My only criticism is that the beginning was a teensy bit slow. But only the very beginning. The character we follow in Rudolfo’s court in the first few pages is a little dull. We pick his story back up again much later in the book and it was equally as unexciting in comparison to the rest of the story. I feel like those scenes could have been taken out and it wouldn’t have changed the story. They did have a point and the outcome of those scenes was included in the ending well, but still. Overall though, I absolutely adored it, and will be one of my favourites for a long time.

‘We live among mysteries. Love is one, there are others. We must not imagine we understand all there is to know about the world.’

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