Children of Earth and Sky

Written by Guy Gavriel Kay
Review by Ray Thompson

This is a historical fantasy. Though of Kay’s own creation, the world is closely based upon Eastern Europe in the late 1400s, after the fall of Constantinople. The Grand Khalif of the Osmanli (Ottoman Turks) desires his portrait painted by a western artist, and so Duke Ricci of Seressa (Venice) sends Pero, who is young but talented. His journey sets in motion a series of encounters with others on their own life-changing journeys: Leonora, an angry young woman sent to spy on another republic; Marin, an accomplished younger son of a merchant family; Danica, a young archer seeking revenge for her lost family; and Neven, a boy training to become a soldier in the khalif’s elite infantry (Janissaries). The impact of these encounters will reach beyond the personal level to affect important events within and between nations.

The interweaving of these lives recalls the interlacing technique of medieval prose romance, as the focus shifts from one character to another, but the story remains absorbing. This is a harsh world, where innocence offers no protection from pride and political ambition, from revenge and casual cruelty. Against this dark backdrop the virtues of honor and heroism, of love and friendship, shine the more brightly. Few expect to survive long on the dangerous paths they have chosen, but sometimes loyalty to friends, mercy to foes, and honesty in one’s dealings bring unexpected rewards.

Whether dealing with plots or ambushes, arduous travel or ferocious battle, the scheming of ambitious lords or the struggle of vulnerable peasants to survive, Kay is in masterful control of his material, and the prose is elegant. This is writing of the highest order. Very highly recommended.