Reviewing a Guy Gavriel Kay book is a tricky thing. The reason for this is when I review a Kay book, I am not assessing whether or not it is good, but more how it stands in comparison to the rest of his work. If you want to know if Children of Earth and Sky is worth reading, the answer is yes it is. I firmly believe that Kay has never written a book that isn’t worth reading, and this will probably hold true for all his work to come. But how does Children of Earth and Sky stack up to works such as Tigana, Under Heaven, and Sailing to Sarantium? Read on and find out.
Children of Earth and Sky is a story set in the same universe as the Sailing to Sarantium duology, but after an enormous amount of time has passed. The story takes place after Sarantium’s fall to a horde of conquerors (presumably representing Attila the Hun and his conquest of Constantinople). The book follows five main points of view, and a few minor ones, of spies hailing from different city states as they all conduct spycraft for their countries in different ways. There is a painter, a nun, a merchant, and two warriors who all pursue different agendas for different parties. What I found most interesting is that Children of Earth and Sky focuses much more on the individual POV’s than the political parties behind them. While Kay always tells the story of the person not the people, this story seemed to focus more than usual on the lives of the characters more than greater happenings in their nations.
The first thing I will say about Children is that it had the fastest introduction out of any Kay novel I have read. It usually takes a while for me to fully immerse myself in a Kay novel, but with Children is was easy to dive right in and feel invested in the various point-of-views. Each of the characters is someone undergoing massive change in their lives and thinking about their future, and I cannot imagine a reader not being able to relate deeply to at least one of them. The writing, as always with Kay, is absolutely gorgeous with some of the best prose around. I also think this is one of Kay’s most fast-paced books (which is like saying you have found a particularly fast turtle). With so many POVs, you tend to get bounced around from one exciting event to another. Despite the numerous POVs, I felt that each individual character got a very full and fleshed out story.
However, due to the number of POVs, transitions can sometimes be very jarring and confusing. I said there were five major perspectives, but honestly there were more like eight as we spend a lot of time in the minds of the leaders of city states in the story. In the end I do not think this plethora of characters detracted from the storytelling, but it did slow down the pace of the book considerably. On the other hand, this slower pacing allows you to really get the feel for the characters and come to know them. One thing I did not like was the enormous amount of nods to Sarantium in the novel. I was looking forward to a few references but the sheer quantity was overwhelming. By the end, I felt like you would have had to read Sailing to Sarantium and The Lord Emperor to fully appreciate Children of Earth and Sky.
Like all Kay books, it has taken me a long time after completion to understand how I felt about it. Children did not excite and thrill me, inspiring me to read in every second of spare time. Instead, Children is a slow and contemplative piece of work that will make you think about many of its scenes and ideas long after you complete it. On this note, I feel as though the messages in Children of Earth and Sky are much more subtle and quietly spoken than Kay’s other books. This is a book that I think could be read several times and you would find more hidden in its pages every time. While I do not think this is Kay’s best novel, I certainly think it is in his top five and is a book anyone can enjoy.
Rating: Children of Earth and Sky – 9.0/10