This book had been on my library wait list for so long I forgot exactly how I came across it. What I do know is that I had really been looking forward to it; I’d been wanting to get into another historical fiction and I had heard a lot of great things about this author.
Set in a fictional world based on Renaissance-era Europe roughly 25 years after the conquest of Constantinople, the events of the novel are shaped by two particular conflicts. The larger and most influential of these conflicts is the ongoing religious strife between the Jad-worshipping countries of the west and the Osmanli empire in the east. Looming over the events of the book is a large Osmanli army marching westward with the intent to capture key fortresses from a powerful Jaddite emperor. The secondary conflict is that the prosperous merchant city of Seressa is trying to gain support in wiping out the Senjans, a formidable band of raiders preying upon ships bound for Seressini ports. These conflicts unfold and are explored through the lives and adventures of four main point of view characters; Pero Villani, a struggling artist from Seressa, Danica Gradek, a Senjan raider, Damaz, a young Osmanli foot soldier, and Merin Djivo, a merchant from Dubrava, a smaller trade-based city and semi-rival to Seressa. As their lives and work thrust them into these great events, each character is taken on an adventure that will forever change their lives.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and thought it was well worth the wait. The world depicted within was beautifully complex, believable, and populated by a host of interesting characters. There was a lot of warmth, adventure, and mysticism relayed through the telling of this story that really drew me in. I also had fun piecing together the real-world locations fictionalized in this narrative. I will admit though that I’d never heard of the uskoks, Croatian raiders that operated in the Adriatic Sea, who served as the inspiration for the Senjans, nor did I realize that the Jaddite emperor’s domain was based on a Prussian court (thank you author’s notes). You didn’t really need to know any of this to enjoy the story, but I appreciated having a mental map and additional context to work with even though the name changes freed me from worrying too much about how events fit into the actual historical record. For these kinds of books I like to do outside research either during or after my reading, and certain types of inconsistencies can bother me and detract from the experience. This fictionalized world also allowed the author to introduce a few fantasy elements into the story without them seeming out-of-place or forced. I thought these were a nice touch as they added an extra element of wonder and mystery to the world and were applied quite sparingly so as not to drastically reshape or alter the larger narrative.
Having completed this book I am now quite interested in reading more from Guy Gavriel Kay. While it might not fit snugly in either the fantasy or historical fiction genres, I enjoyed the writing style, subject matter, characters, and most of all, the story.