I've always been a Guy Gavriel Kay fan, but this is by far his best work yet. And the narrator was perfect. This was one of those books I didn't want to end.
It took me a bit of time to get into this book. There isn't sweeping action and the number of characters & cultures introduced can be confusing. But, as I let go and let the story roll over me, I understood the beauty of the words, the subtle strength of the story and the delightful interpretation of Simon Vance. As I told my brother, realize the story is based on Asian culture and view it through that lens and you'll see the story as a lotus flower slowly unfolding into something wonderful. Might not be your cup of tea, but it certainly has become one of my favorite books.
This was my first GGK novel and I absolutely loved it. Those reviewers who said nothing happened must have been listening to a different book. It held my interest from start to finish. It is well worth the credit.
I'm a big fan of Kay's. He peoples his worlds with some of the most fully human characters in the fantasy field. There's not much action but a great deal of tension and subtlety, which is a rare and enjoyable thing. The world is fully realized and believable as are the motivations of the characters.
The reader is both brilliant and a bit off. The narration is beautiful holding a consistent and appropriate melancholy throughout. Where he's a bit off is in attempting to give some of the characters Chinese accents. Those don't quite work. That's a minor niggle, though. I very much enjoyed the story.
This book should have been fascinating: an elaborate overview of court intrigue, backstabbing, and grabs for power in a long-ago empire of China. Very much like Game of Thrones, including the shifts of protagonist perspective from one chapter to the next. And indeed the scheming and layers of politics are well-wrought and believable. Unfortunately the storytelling is tortuously drawn-out and belabored, making me wish I could just skim the pages as with a printed book.
For example in one scene there's a nicely detailed description of a tribal shaman, with mirrors and bells on their costume. Good so far. In another chapter the characters go in search of a specific shaman, an old woman, who is then described thoroughly with all the same details over again. Then in the next chapter they reach her farm, and they don't see her, but they see horses belonging to the enemy. The protagonist sees a fresh mound of dirt in the yard, about the length and width of a body, as though somebody was buried there recently. So he digs around in it, only to find... a body! Digs some more, and it appears to be an old woman! And he keeps digging, and finds what seems to be mirrors! Who could it possibly be? He keeps digging, and finds... bells! Oh. My. God. Mirrors. Bells. An old woman. He had found the shaman, and she was dead! This last set of sentence fragments is nearly a direct quote from the book, by the way. Obviously we had already figured out what the guy would find, about two paragraphs earlier.
The narrator also made this book difficult to listen to. He has a posh British accent, which he then twists into a corny fake Chinese accent, with poor results. I am sure this was a difficult job for any narrator, to balance intelligibility for the average English-speaking listener, with Chinese characterization appropriate to the story, without sounding like a racist caricature. So I don't mean to put the narrator down too much, it may have been impossible to do well. But even so, his voice is ridiculous and this made it hard to believe in the characters and the story overall. Perhaps someone like Keone Young could have pulled it off.
At any rate, the book was a noble effort, and it does offer a lot of meat for anyone who likes medieval court dramas. I just didn't enjoy it as an audiobook.
I'm a huge fan of this author and I did enjoy this novel, however it was a slow read and felt over-written and redundant at times. Still, the story was intriguing, it was refreshing to read a fantasy novel with a unique setting (not European Renaissance) and I would recommend it to others.
I'm a huge fan of both Guy Gavriel Kay and Simon Vance so this audio book was a treat! I wish Vance would read more of Key's books. If you like historic fantasy (light on the fantasy) these books are amazing.
This whole novel feels as if it was a poem, and every word of it is in its place. If the author had a mind to write a phone book, I can easily imagine enjoying every page even irrespective of the story itself.