All the Seas of the World

Written by Guy Gavriel Kay
Review by Ray Thompson

Rafel ben Natan and his business partner, Nadia bint Dhiyan, have been hired by two ‘fiercely dangerous’ corsairs to help assassinate the khalif of Abeneven. This sets in motion a series of events, which culminates in the capture of the corsairs’ city by a combined fleet from the cities and nations upon which they have mercilessly preyed during their savage careers. How this happens is revealed by following the progress of Rafel and Nadia as they struggle to negotiate, and survive, the perils they encounter.

This is historical fantasy, set in a world similar in many respects to the Mediterranean Sea and its bordering states. Kay has explored it in earlier eras, starting with his equivalent to the early Byzantine Empire in Sailing to Sarantium (1998); here events are set later, just after the fall of Constantinople in the late 15th century. Spain and its Inquisition, rival Italian city states, an aggressive Ottoman Empire, Janissaries, corsairs raiding from North African ports, persecution of Jews: all have their readily identifiable equivalents, and this approach to the material allows Kay to explore the wider political context with greater freedom.

This is an involving novel, full of thoughtful insights, particularly into how coincidence can influence the outcome of events. Stylistically, it tends to be discursive as a result, but the focus upon Rafel and Nadia (or Lenia Serrana, when she reclaims the name she bore before her abduction and slavery) not only provides a helpful narrative link to guide us through a complex world, but also shows the impact of these wider issues upon ordinary people, those innocents who suffer from wars, raids, religious prejudice, abduction, slavery, repression, and harsh punishments. It was a cruel age.

Highly recommended, and a timely reminder of the need to oppose injustice and oppression whenever it emerges.