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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.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
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.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
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!
8 of 8 people found this review helpful
Where does Sailing to Sarantium rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Certainly in the top ten at this moment.
What does Berny Clark bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
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.
Any additional comments?
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
I really love Kay's books, his worlds are very well realised and feel familiar while still retaining their fantasy element, due to their strong ties to historical fiction. This one suffered slightly from his bad habit of "all the women are drop-dead gorgeous and all the men are irresistibly shaggable even when they're supposedly unattractive" but it wasn't so overwhelming that my eyes rolled out. There were plenty of quite emotional moments too. This is part one of a duology and of course ended on a cliffhanger but that's ok, I went straight in to the next one. The audiobook read by Berny Clark started out a bit off because he read the prologue in this weird sing-song voice which otherwise lacked inflection but past the prologue it got better. His female voices are *very* quiet which made it hard to hear sometimes while driving and he switched pronunciations of some words (like "Inici", one of the tribes) back and forth but mostly it was very good.