Crispin is a mosaicist, a layer of bright tiles. Still grieving for the family he lost to the plaque, he lives only for his arcane craft. But an imperial summons from Valerius the Trakesian to Sarantium, the most magnificent place in the world, is difficult to resist.
In a world half-wild and tangled with magic, 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 talisman from an alchemist's treasury, Crispin sets out for the fabled city. Along the way he will encounter a great beast from the mythic past, and in robbing the zubir of its prize, he wins a woman's devotion and a man's loyalty - and loses a gift he didn't know he had until it was gone.
Once in this city ruled by intrigue and violence, he must find his own source of power. Struggling to deal with the dangers and seductive lures of the men and woman around him, Crispin does discover it, in a most unusual place - high on the scaffolding of the greatest work of art ever imagined....
©1998 Guy Gavriel Kay (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
I held off on reviewing this until I had listened to both books in the series. With that being said, I found the series really enjoyable.
The story itself is mainly focused on Crispin, an artist trying to fufill the accomplishment of his life time, the Sarantine Mosaic. The story, much like Crispin's art, is a mosaic of many different characters. Guy will often go off on wild tangents with seemingly random characters in an effort to build the story as a whole. This effect is powerful in the hands of a great story teller, which Guy certainly is.
I've read a few reviews that claim Berny Clark was a bad narrator. I'll admit it caused me to hesitate in purchasing book one. I'm glad I still went through with the purchase because I found no real fault in Clark's performance. If you are unsure I suggest you listen to the sample provided by Audible.
I will also comment that Guy REALLY likes to put these little twists in the last few pages of his books. I take it with a grain of salt and choose to ignore the cases where he demeans the overall story, see Song for Arbonne.
Overall I highly recommend this series if your a fan of Guy Kay, and even if you haven't read any of his works before.
Kat at FanLit
The new emperor in Sarantium has a lot to atone for, so he’s building a grand chapel to his god and calling the most famous artisans in the surrounding regions to come work for him. Crispin, a mosaicist from a neighboring country, is one of these. Unhappy since his wife and children died, Crispin doesn’t think he has much to live for anymore, and he doesn’t want to go to Sarantium. But when his young queen, who sits her throne precariously, asks Crispin to carry a secret proposal to the already-married emperor of Sarantium, Crispin is duty-bound. Now he is “sailing to Sarantium,” which means that he’s leaving everything behind to start a promising new life. Along the way, he befriends an alchemist with strange powers, a young woman who’s about to be sacrificed to a god, and a foul-mouthed army officer who loves to watch the chariot races. When Crispin gets to Sarantium, he finds that decorating the biggest dome in the world isn’t the hardest part of his job — it’s navigating Sarantium court politics.
Sailing to Sarantium, the first book in Guy Gavriel Kay’s duology THE SARANTINE MOSAIC, is a historical fantasy loosely based on the Byzantine Empire. It’s a well-written slow-moving character-driven novel that’s full of the violence, sex, political intrigue, passion, and beauty we expect from Kay. If you’re a fan, you’re bound to enjoy this story. I particularly admired the focus on the art of mosaic — both the technique and the way Crispin and his fellow artisans love beauty and are attuned to the play of light, shadow, and color in their environment. I also loved the alchemist’s craft of creating birds of leather and metal and instilling them with personalities (there’s more to it, and it’s cool, but it’d be spoilery to explain further). This was not only a beautiful idea, but it added a nice touch of humor. I also loved the chariot races.
There are several likeable characters in Sailing to Sarantium but they spend more time thinking than doing and they’re really hard to believe in. Like most (maybe all) of Kay’s lead males, Crispin is brilliant, strong, brave, blunt and uncompromising (even when he knows he might be killed for it). The women are even more unbelievable. We’re told that they’re powerful, clever and dangerous, but mostly they go around looking beautiful and haughty, teasing men and speaking in arch tones, and using sex as a weapon. Almost every woman we meet in Sailing to Sarantium, other than Crispin’s mother, tries to seduce Crispin as soon as she meets him, though I’m not sure why.
The political intrigue is a bit over the top, too. As soon as Crispin arrives in Sarantium, he’s somehow unwittingly in the middle of all the maneuvering, with all the important people wanting to talk to him privately, seduce him, or murder him. We are repeatedly told how clever, subtle, and nuanced all these people are, but I’m not convinced. It’s not clear why they are scheming. Most of the interesting intrigue seems to have happened in the past and we never feel the immediate significance of it all, which just makes it feel overdramatized.
Overall, Sailing to Sarantium is a pleasant story if you’re willing to believe in the characters and the significance of the plot. This was hard for me, but I like Crispin and some of the other characters (e.g., the army officer, the famous chef and his apprentice, and the charioteer) and I’m interested in the mosaic and the birds, so I’m going to move on to the second SARANTINE MOSAIC novel, Lord of Emperors, and hope for a bigger pay-off.
I’m listening to Berny Clark narrate Audible Frontier’s recent production of THE SARANTINE MOSAIC. He has an agreeable voice and his dialogue is truly excellent, but some of his narration is slow and lacks inflection. I actually didn’t mind this because I thought it served to tone down the drama, but readers who’ve enjoyed other audio productions of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, which have had more dynamic readers, may feel differently. I suggest listening to a sample.
Originally posted at FanLit.
Interesting characters. I did not always know what was going to happen.
I like low magic books with deeper plots. This book was worth the credit and I look forward to the next book.
Tell us about yourself!
A mosaicist goes to the big city, the most magnificent city in the world, the capital of the neighboring country which is incidentally intent on invading his war-torn homeland. Here he discovers or should it be rediscovers life, with all its intrigues.
He says all he wants to do is practice his craft, his art, but he is pulled into so much more by the beautiful empress the former dancing girl, her sworn enemy the gorgeous noble woman and of course there is the Queen of his own about-to-be-invaded country. It is not a love triangle by any means, for these are powerful and inhumanly intelligent women, but let???s just say that Guy Gavriel Kay does not by any means shy away from describing them as lovely.
These books are more than the story of one man that goes to the city though, we are introduced and follow other people as well, and unlike many other books where the viewpoints shifts around from person to person we never really lose sight of what it is all about. For like any event in history it is all made out of different bits, many people with many different stories come together in a city in one place in time and together their stories and lives are placed next to each other like pieces of glass or stone a ceiling. It is only when we as the reader see it all from a distance that we see the mosaic it has become. Funny that.
If you haven't read Guy Gavriel Kay, he does not pack his books full of physical action or high-fantasy magic systems. But his characters are rich, the plots are intricate, and the interpersonal, political, and mythical struggles are captivating.
I returned to him after a binge of YA that left my brain rotten and I am glad I did.
This is a rich and interesting story, told at a somewhat leisurely pace. I am on book two and I am still enrapt with the broad colorful story opening wide in this series.
Many would prefer Tiganna which is good but i like "Sailing to Sarantium & Lord of Emperors" GG Kay works I believe are Literature and will stand the test of time.
Guy Gavriel Kay is a master. His character and world building are fantastic and the plot takes unexpected and engrossing turns. If I have one complaint it is that Kay can get a little too deep and dramatic. The narrator does a fine job and captures Kay's intentions very well.
I was not expectiong anything special from this book. Well I was wrong, this is a fast moving, well written book. I look foreword's to the rest of the series.
Though I continue to struggle with Kay's understanding (or use) or religion, his allegorical approach to history is fantastic & his story telling is excellent. Great characters and great time sweeps. Very compelling.
This book makes me want to know more about Roman/Byzantine history. If you don't get that this is about the Roman/Byzantine Empire under the reign of Justinian and the building of the Hagia Sophia, you may want to read about that before you read this book.
GG Kay is the best Author for me, alive and writing today. I have read and now listened to all his work and it gets better and better. Favorites: Tigana can't be beat and Under Heaven is Heaven.
Musr admit Simon Vance reading would have been Perfect.
"Such a disappointment..."
I have been waiting for ages to see some Guy Gavriel Kay on Audible UK. He's a wonderful author and his books are full of intelligence, character, depth, action, heartfelt emotion, verve and commitment. What a shame the narrator couldn't convey any of these qualities!
Every sentence drones on, as flat and monotonous as a metronome. Frustratingly, there are signs of life when he delivers some of the dialogue between characters, but this just makes it more agonisingly disappointing when he drops back into description. The director of this audiobook production failed abysmally.
I had to stop listening after less than an hour. What a waste of my monthly credit!
Certainly in the top ten at this moment.
The wry and dry humour really came through on the audible version of this book. I don't think I would have picked up on this if reading the actual book.
This book would have been a fabulous five but I didn't realise that it was the first of a series so was caught short at the end. It was an unexpected bonus that this was set in the same world as the LOAR. The detailed world building and the character development is just remarkable. The side characters of the birds and the soldier were great additions. One of the best things about Mr Kay's books is that the protagonists are mature been-there-done-that type of people. Highly recommended
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