From the small coastal town of Senjan, notorious for its pirates, a young woman sets out to find vengeance for her lost family. That same spring, from the wealthy city-state of Seressa, famous for its canals and lagoon, come two very different people: a young artist traveling to the dangerous east to paint the grand khalif at his request—and possibly to do more—and a fiercely intelligent, angry woman posing as a doctor’s wife but sent by Seressa as a spy.
The trading ship that carries them is commanded by the accomplished younger son of a merchant family, ambivalent about the life he’s been born to live. And farther east a boy trains to become a soldier in the elite infantry of the khalif—to win glory in the war everyone knows is coming.
As these lives entwine, their fates—and those of many others—will hang in the balance when the khalif sends out his massive army to take the great fortress that is the gateway to the western world....
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It was with a sinking heart that the newly arrived ambassador from Seressa grasped that the Emperor Rodolfo, famously eccentric, was serious about an
The emperor liked experiments, everyone knew that.
It seemed the ambassador was to perform a triple obeisance—two separate times!—when finally invited to approach the imperial throne. This was, the very
It was also, the courtier added thoughtfully, how the great eastern emperors had been approached in long-ago days. Rodolfo was apparently now
It did not, at all, was the ambassador’s unvoiced opinion. He had no idea what this alleged effect was supposed to be.
He smiled politely. He nodded. He adjusted his velvet robe. In the antechamber where they waited he watched as a second court official—young,
Rodolfo, Jad’s Holy Emperor, had sat the throne here for thirty years. You wouldn’t ever want to call him foolish—he had many of the world’s foremost
This made him dangerous, of course. Orso Faleri, Ambassador of the Republic of Seressa, had had this made clear to him by the Council of Twelve before
He regarded the posting as a terrible hardship.
It was formally an honour, of course. One of the three most distinguished foreign posts a Seressini could be granted by the Twelve. It meant he might
He was an emissary—and an observer. It was understood that all other considerations in a man’s life were suspended for the year or possibly two that he
Two years was a distressing thought.
He hadn’t been allowed to bring his mistress.
His wife had declined to join him, of course. Faleri could have insisted she do so, but he wasn’t nearly so self-abusive. No, he would have to
Orso Faleri was willing to simulate an interest in discussing the nature of the soul with the emperor’s philosophers, or listen as some alchemist,
If he performed his tasks, both public and secret, badly it would be noted back home, with consequences. If he did well he might be left here for two
And now, the Osmanli triple obeisance. To be done twice. Good men, thought Faleri, suffered for the follies of royalty.
At the same time, this post was vitally important, and he knew it. In the world they inhabited, good relations with the emperor in Obravic were
For the Seressinis, the idea of peace, with open, unthreatened commerce, was the most important thing in the god’s created world. It mattered more
Patriarchs came and went in Rhodias, thundering wrath in their echoing palace or cajoling like courtesans for a holy war and the need to regain lost
Faleri knew it well. He was a merchant, son and grandson of merchants. His family’s palace on the Great Canal had been built and expanded and
The grand khalif liked trade, too. He had his palaces and gardens to attend to, and an expensive army. He might make war on the emperor’s lands and
Which meant that Signore Orso Faleri was here with missions to accomplish and assessments to make and send home in coded messages, even while filled
His first priority, precisely set forth by the Council of Twelve, had to do with the savage, loathed, humiliating pirates in their walled town
It was also desperately delicate. The Senjani were subjects, extremely loyal subjects, of Emperor Rodolfo. They were—the emperor’s phrase had been
And Seressa wanted them destroyed like poisonous snakes, scorpions, spiders, whatever you chose to call them.
They wanted them wiped out, their walls destroyed, boats burned, the raiders hanged, chopped to pieces, killed one by one or in a battle, burned on a
It was a vexed issue.
No matter how aggressively Seressa patrolled, how many war galleys they sent out, how carefully they escorted merchant ships, the Senjani raiders found
One small town, perhaps two or three hundred fighting men inside its walls at any given time—and oh, the havoc they wreaked in their boats!
Complaints came to Obravic and to Seressa, endlessly, from the khalif and his grand vizier. How, the Asharites asked in graceful
Indeed, some of the letters queried, perhaps Seressa was secretly pleased when Osmanli merchants, pious followers of the teachings of Ashar,
It was, the Council of Twelve had impressed upon Faleri, his foremost task this autumn and winter. He was to induce a distractible, erratic emperor to
Rodolfo needed to understand that Senjan didn’t only raid over the mountains against godless infidels or seize their goods on ships. No! They
Those towns and cities were Jaddite, the emperor knew it! In them dwelled devout worshippers of the god. These people and their goods were not to be
The vile, dissembling raiders claimed that they only took goods belonging to Asharites, but that was—everyone knew it!—a pose, a pretense, a bad, black
The Seressinis knew all about masks.
Faleri himself had lost three cargoes (silk, pepper, alum) in two years to the Senjani. He wasn’t any worshipper of the Asharite stars or the two
“The emperor has received the gifts you brought,” the tall official murmured, smiling. “He is much taken with the clock.”
Of course he was taken with the clock, Faleri thought. That’s why they had chosen it.
The clock had been half a year in the making. It was of ivory and mahogany, inlaid with precious stones. It showed the blue and white moons in their
The device made a steady ticking sound when properly adjusted. Faleri had brought a man with him who knew how to achieve that. He believed this man was
Orso Faleri felt as if the moments of his life were passing swiftly, to that ticking sound. His mistress was beautiful, young, imaginative, not
His unhappiness was extreme—and would need to be concealed.
The two great doors swung open. Servants in white and gold appeared, more tall men, standing extremely straight. The court official (he needed to begin
They entered a large, long room together. There was a throne on a carpet most of the way towards the far end. There were fires lit, but it was still
The clock had been placed on a table beside the throne. It was ticking. Faleri heard it when he rose heavily after the second set of obeisances. He
If he had to do this every time he was presented for a year—or two!—it would kill him, he thought. He might as well die now.
Rodolfo was looking at the clock. He lifted a vague hand, in what might be construed as a greeting to the newest ambassador to his court. Or it could
The clock ticked loudly in a silent room.
Rodolfo, Jad’s Holy Emperor, King of Karch, of Esperaña in the west, of the northern reaches of Sauradia, laying (disputed) claim to parts of
No one replied, though there were forty or fifty men in the room.
No women, Faleri realized. In Seressa there were always women at times such as this, adornments of life, often sublimely clever. He shifted his legs.
The emperor was taller than expected. Rodolfo had the beaked nose and receding chin of the Kohlberg dynasty. He was pale-skinned, fair-haired. His
The chancellor finally broke the ticking stillness. “Excellency, I have the honour to present the distinguished emissary from the Republic of Seressa,
Twenty-five years ago. It was still difficult to grasp that it had happened. They lived in a sad, harsh world, Orso Faleri often thought. There was
The emperor finally looked at him. He actually turned from the ticking gift-object and regarded the ambassador of a power wealthier than he was, which
Rodolfo said, quietly, “We thank the Republic of Seressa for its gifts, and for sending Signore Faleri to us. Signore, it is our pleasure to see you
And with that he turned back to the clock. He did add, by way of explanation as he looked away, “We are waiting to see the man with the mace come out
He was, thought Faleri, said by many—including their last ambassador—to perhaps be going mad. It was possible. Faleri might spend two years of his life
For one thing, Orso Faleri had never met the emperor before.
Our pleasure to see you again . . . ?
Was this a damaged mind, lost to alchemy and philosophies, or was it the empty pleasantry of a ruler not paying attention to what he said? Faleri might
There came a chiming sound. Everyone regarded the clock.
A warrior of Jad, armoured in silver with a sun disk on his chest and bearing a golden mace, came forth on a curved track from doors on the left side
Jad’s Holy Emperor laughed aloud.
Later that afternoon, as a cold rain fell, the chancellor of the Holy Jaddite Empire, a man greatly burdened by the demands of his office, closeted
The emperor was, at this moment, on a higher level of the palace—in a tower, in fact—where the latest attempt to alter the state of being of lead was
In this room the discussion was more prosaic. It concerned the Seressini ambassador. There was a vigorous dispute taking place. Chancellor Savko’s tall
The chancellor pointed out that the Seressinis had not become the power they were by employing fools in important offices. He differed with their
“Nothing about this,” he said, lifting a necessary cup of warmed, spiced wine, “requires or is assisted by speed.”
He drank slowly, as if to make a point. He set his cup down and looked out the streaked, barred window. Rain and mist. Red-roofed houses barely visible
“He asked about women,” his secretary said. “Where the most desirable courtesans might be found. It could be a weakness?”
The chancellor made a note. “That is better,” he said. “Bring me information, not judgments.”
“What did you think of him?” his secretary asked.
“I think he is Seressini,” Savko replied. “I think Seressa is always dangerous, always to be watched, and they sent this man to us. Did he say anything
“Little,” the secretary said. His name was Hanns. “A remark about pirates, the shared need to deal with them.”
“Ah,” said the chancellor. He had expected this. He made another note. “That will be about Senjan. He won’t wait long before making a submission
“What will we say?” his lover asked. Vitruvius was from Karch. He was pale-blond, blue-eyed, broad-shouldered, as many were in the north, and
The chancellor tugged at his moustache, a habit. “I don’t know yet. It depends on the Osmanlis, somewhat.”
“Most things do,” Secretary Hanns said.
He, as it happened, was too clever for his current position. There was a need to consider promoting him to a state office this winter. A useful man
Savko favoured him with a rare smile. “You are right, of course,” he said. “Pour yourselves wine, both of you. It is a miserable afternoon.” His mood,
He’d kept a challenging emperor seated and secure, hadn’t he? Well, largely secure. Money remained a vast, intractable problem, and the Osmanlis had
He’d be receiving the report on the state of their fortifications soon, since the campaign season had now ended. He wasn’t look ing forward to reading
“I still think this new man is a fool,” Vitruvius said, pouring wine. “Let’s set about finding out, shall we?” the chancellor said mildly.
He would think about the border forts when proper information arrived. A portion of his skill lay in not addressing matters until he had the facts he
Looking out the rain-blurred window as a wet evening descended, he gave quick, exact instructions concerning Orso Faleri, who appeared to like women,
It wasn’t as if seressa was sunny and warm in late autumn. Indeed, if he was being honest he’d have to say his city on its lagoon could be colder than
Even so, even so. You felt the cold more when you were away. Men were like that, the world was. An unfamiliar house among strangers, darkness having
When he was younger he had done his share of travelling for the family, journeying east on their ships (his father’s ships, then), enduring what came
He had made a point of going once into the desert of Ammuz, an escorted journey inland from the port of Khatib, before sailing home with grain. He had
If there was any pleasant aspect to growing older, it was that he’d reached a point where others made those journeys for him. He didn’t regret tasting
It made you appreciate what you had at home.
He was appreciating for all he was worth tonight. The afternoon’s rain had not eased. He’d thought it might turn to snow, which would at least be
They might have prepared a banquet for him, he thought. His first formal evening as ambassador, documents presented and accepted. They might have
Instead, he was in the ambassadorial residence, below the palace but on the same side of the river, alone except for servants. The clock-winder had
He had, however, enjoyed another passable meal. The cook appeared to know what he was doing. An unexpected blessing. He had drunk very good wine—his
He was in a room furnished as a study on the ground level. A sturdy desk, a writing chair, daybed, south-facing terrace with a view of the river, for
Viero Villani was dead. Earlier this same year. Coughing blood, it had been reported, but not the plague. A good artist, in Faleri’s view. Not one of
Not everyone could be a master. You could shape an honourable life somewhere below that level of accomplishment. It felt like an important thought. He
He missed Annalisa already. She’d have seated him by the fire, poured another cup for both of them, listened sympathetically as he told of those six
Then she’d have come upstairs to bed and unpinned her splendid hair and warmed him with the miracle of her youth while the sun god drove his chariot
Faleri drained his wine. Poured another cup. He wondered where she was tonight. If she was alone. He hoped she was alone. He heard a knocking at the
Faleri sent the woman home afterwards. It was difficult, as she had been warm and accommodating in his bed, but this was a game of courts, not desire,
It was too transparent a device, in truth. Almost an insult, insufficient subtlety. Or perhaps just northern clumsiness. He had mentioned women to a
Her name was Veith, she said. Yes, it was a bad night. Yes, wine would be much appreciated. She had a low, appealing voice.
He’d given her the wine in his bedchamber (best to get into the habit of not letting girls into the ground-floor room where there would be papers). He
He told Gaurio to be generous, though she’d have been paid by the court. She’d earned his coin, he judged, if not theirs.
He went to bed.
In the middle of the night Orso Faleri woke suddenly, even urgently, with a thought out of nowhere, or, more properly, out of the depths of a
He’d been standing with his father by the lagoon near the Arsenale. The slap of water against the stones. A great imperial ship was docked, a royal
The previous emperor’s oldest son, Rodolfo, was with his father. Walking behind him, hands clasped behind his back, looking about with
But they had seen each other that day. Almost forty years ago.
It is our pleasure to see you again
Faleri felt chilled, and not from the cold.
He adjusted his nightcap over his ears. It would be a grave mistake, he decided, wide awake in a black night, to decide that this emperor, however
He hoped they’d make that sort of mistake judging him. It might be possible to behave in such a way as to encourage it. That could even be amusing.
The rain had stopped. It was quiet outside now. He wished he’d kept the girl, she’d have been warm. And the court might have drawn some conclusions
He lay in bed and thought about the pirates of Senjan, the raiders behind their reefs and walls. His first task here. He was to induce this emperor—who
He’d been authorized to offer money outright, not just loans. The emperor needed money. The Osmanlis would almost certainly be coming back against him
She hadn’t intended to bring the dog when she went out on a moonless night to begin the next stage of her life.
Problem was, Tico jumped in the boat while she was pushing it off the strand and refused to leave when she hissed a command at him. She knew that if she
So her dog was with her as she began rowing out into the black bay. It could have been comical, except it wasn’t because she was here to kill people, and
It was time, Danica thought.
The Senjani named themselves heroes, warriors of the god defending a dangerous border. If she was going to make herself accepted as a raider among them,
No one knew she was out tonight in her family’s small boat. She’d been careful. She was unmarried, lived alone now in their house (everyone in her family
The raid leaders might punish her after tonight, the emperor’s small garrison almost certainly would want to, but she was prepared for that. She just
Nor did she find it distressing that the men she intended to kill were fellow worshippers of Jad, not god-denying Osmanlis—like the ones who had destroyed
Danica had no trouble summoning hatred for arrogant Seressa across the narrow sea. For one thing, that republic traded greedily with the infidels,
For another, Seressa had been blockading Senjan, keeping all the boats pinned in the harbour or on the strand, and the town was hungry now. The Seressinis
A good-sized overland party of twenty raiders had gone east through the pass into Asharite lands a week ago, but end of winter was not a time to find much
It was too early to know if the Osmanlis were advancing towards the imperial fortresses again this year, but they probably would be. Here in the west, the
Everything carried risks for ordinary people these days. The powers in their courts didn’t appear to spend much time thinking about the heroes of Senjan—or
The triple border, they called it: Osmanli Empire, Holy Jaddite Empire, Republic of Seressa. Ambitions collided here. These lands were where good people
The loyal heroes of Senjan were useful to their emperor. When there was war with Asharias they’d receive letters of praise on expensive paper from Obravic,
An emperor, reading that, needed to be more honourable, more aware, Danica thought, rowing under stars. Didn’t he understand what they needed from him?
If you lived on stony land or by a stony strand you still needed to feed yourself and your children. Heroes and warriors shouldn’t be named savages so easily.
If the emperor didn’t pay them to defend his land (their land!), or send soldiers to do it, or allow them to find goods and food for themselves, asking
If Senjani seafarers boarded trading galleys and roundships, it was only for goods belonging to heretics. Jaddite merchants with goods in the holds were
Why do they ignore us in Obravic?
You want honourable behaviour from courts? A foolish wish
It had taken her mother, too, which is why Danica was alone now. There were about seven or eight hundred people in Senjan most of the time (more took
There were no assurances in life, even if you prayed, honoured Jad, lived as decently as you could. Even if you had already suffered what someone might
Her mother didn’t talk to her in her mind. She was gone. So were her father and older brother, ten years ago in a burning village. They didn’t talk to her.
Her grandfather was in her head at all times. They spoke to one another, clearly, silently. Had done so from the moment, just about, that he’d died.
What just happened?
She had screamed. Wheeled around in a mad, terrified circle, she remembered. Those beside her had thought it was grief.
How are you here?
Danica! I don’t know! You died!
I know I did.
It was impossible, appalling. And became unimaginably comforting. She’d kept it secret, from that day to this night. There were those, and not just
It defined her life now, as much as the deaths of her father and brother had—and the memory of their small, sweet little one, Neven, the younger brother
So she talked in her thoughts with a man who was dead. She was as good with a bow as anyone in Senjan, better than anyone she knew with knives. Her
She wasn’t, Danica knew, an especially conventional young woman. She swung her quiver around and checked the arrows: habit, routine. She’d brought
It was a mild night, one of the first of a cold spring. Little wind. She couldn’t have done this in a rough sea. She dropped her cloak from her shoulders.
Tico was motionless at the prow, facing out to sea as if he were a figurehead. She wasn’t able to put into words how much she loved her dog. There was no
Wind now, a little
She heard him laugh softly in her head, at the too-swift reply. He’d been a fighter, a hard, harsh man to the world. Not with his daughter and
She knew he was worried, didn’t approve of what she was doing. He’d been blunt about it. She had given him her reasons. They hadn’t satisfied. She cared
She didn’t like it either, in truth, though there were times (when she was with men, for example) when it was useful and extremely necessary. She was alone
I did know it was changing
The freshening wind was north and east, could become a bura, in fact, which would make the sea dangerous, and almost impossible for a bow. These were her
You weren’t supposed to be angry with the god, it was presumption, heresy. Jad’s face on the domes and walls of sanctuaries showed his love for his
And the proud and glorious Republic of Seressa, self-proclaimed Queen of the Sea, traded with those Osmanlis, by water routes and overland. And because of
The Seressinis hanged raiders when they captured them, or just killed them on board ships and threw the bodies into the sea without Jad’s rites. They
The wind eased. Not about to be a bura, she thought. She stopped rowing. She was far enough out for now. Her grandfather was silent, leaving her to
The only thing he’d ever offered as an explanation for this impossible link they shared was that there were traditions in their family—her mother’s family,
Anything like this?
She’d never experienced anything that suggested a wisewoman’s sight in herself, any access to the half-world, anything at all besides a defining anger,
That last was the other thing that made tonight possible. It was black on the water, only stars above, neither moon in the sky—which was why she was here
Two war galleys, carrying three hundred and fifty oarsmen and mercenary fighters, with new bronze cannons from Seressa’s Arsenale, had been blocking the
The galleys were too big to come closer in. These were shallow, rocky, reef-protected seas, and Senjan’s walls and their own cannons could handle any shore
The republic had tried to blockade Senjan before, but never with two war galleys. This was a huge investment of money and men and time, and neither ship’s
The blockade was working, however. It was doing real harm, though it was hard for those on the galleys to know that yet.
In the past, the Senjani had always found ways of getting offshore, but this was different, with two deadly ships controlling the lanes to north and south
It seemed the Council of Twelve had decided the raiders had finally become too much of a nuisance to be endured. There had been mockery: songs and poetry.
Danica offered a thought to her grandfather.
Yes, a thorn in the lion’s paw
The Seressinis called themselves lions. A lion was on their flag and their red document seals. There were apparently lions on columns in the square before
Danica preferred to call them wild dogs, devious and dangerous. She thought she could kill some of them tonight, if they sent a skiff into the bay,
He wasn’t going to say he loved her or anything like that. That wasn’t the way the world went on Hrak Island. But Danica Gradek did drift into his
She was unsettling, Danica. Different from any of the girls on Hrak, or in the town when he made his way across to trade fish or wine.
You had to trade very cautiously these days. Seressa had forbidden anyone to deal with the pirates this spring. There were war galleys. You’d be flogged or
Danica was younger than him but always acted as if she were older. She could laugh, but not always when you’d said something you thought was amusing. She
She handled a bow better than any of them. Better than anyone Mirko knew, anyhow. It was unnatural in a woman, wrong, ought to have been
Danica was tall. Her mother had been, too. She had yellow hair and extremely light blue eyes. There was northern blood in the family. Her grandfather had
She’d kissed him once, Danica. Just a few days ago, in fact. He’d been ashore south of the town walls with two casks of wine before dawn, thin blue moon
It happened he had learned something not long before and—on an impulse—he’d asked her to walk a little away from the others. There had been jokes, of
He told her that three days earlier he’d been part of a group supplying the war galley in the northern channel. He’d overheard talk about sending a boat to
He thought if she was the one he told she could reap the benefit of reporting the tidings to the raid captains and she’d be happy with him for that.
Danica Gradek kissed really well, it turned out. Fiercely, even hungrily. She wasn’t quite as tall as he was. He wasn’t sure, remembering the moment, if it
“Good lad,” she said, stepping back.
It never occurred to him she might be lying.
She was protecting the boy, she’d explained to her zadek. Mirko wasn’t a boy, but she thought of him that way. She thought of most of the men her age that
The heroes of Senjan, devoted equally to Jad and independence, also had a reputation for violence. That last, in the eyes of the world, included their
Foolish beyond words. But useful. It was a good thing to have people afraid of you if you lived in a dangerous part of the world.
But Senjan didn’t think it good for a woman, not long out of girlhood, to believe—let alone seek to prove—she could equal a man, a real fighter.
At least she wasn’t strong with a sword. There was someone who had spied on her throwing daggers at targets outside the walls and, well, according to him
Some reckless, very brave man, the general view became, needed to marry the ice-cold, pale-eyed Gradek girl and get a baby into her. End this folly of a
One of his sons had died with him; the other, a child, had been taken by the hadjuks in the raid on Antunic, their village. He was likely a eunuch by now
It happened. One of the old, hard sorrows of the border.
The girl did want to join the raids, it was no secret. She spoke of vengeance for her family and village. Had been talking that way for years.
She’d openly asked the captains. Wanted to go through the pass into Osmanli lands on a raid for sheep and goats, or men and women to ransom or sell. Or
Danica knew the talk about her. Of course she did. She’d even let Kukar Miho watch her practising, thinking himself cleverly unseen behind (rustling)
This past winter the clerics had begun speaking to her about marrying, offering to negotiate with families on her behalf since she had no parent or brother
She was still mourning, she’d said, eyes lowered, as if shy. It hadn’t been a year yet, she’d said.
Her mourning year would end in summer. They’d chant a service for her mother and grandfather in the sanctuary, along with so many others, then she’d need
She was perfectly happy to sleep with one when a certain mood overtook her. She’d discovered some time ago that cups of wine and lovemaking could ease her
But being with a man by the strand or in a barn outside the walls (only one time in her own house—it had felt wrong in the morning and she’d never done it
In any case, she’d told her grandfather the truth: she was protecting Mirko of Hrak by not reporting his information to the captains or the
If she’d revealed Mirko’s story she’d have been asked who told her, and it would have been impossible (and wrong) to not tell the captains. She wanted to
No, doing this alone was the prudent approach, she’d told her grandfather, choosing the word a little mischievously. Unsurprisingly, he had sworn at her.
Everything in the world was. Danica wondered sometimes why the god had made it so.
She really did have good eyesight. She saw a flame appear and vanish to her right, north, on the headland that framed that side of the bay. She caught her
Jad sear his soul! What pustulent, slack-bowelled fucking traitor is that?
She saw it again, quickly there and gone, moving right to left. A light on the headland could only be there to guide a boat. And to do that in these deadly
Tico had seen it too. He growled in his throat. She silenced him. It was a long bowshot to that headland at night. Too long from a boat. Danica began
Quietly, girl! I am.
Nothing to be seen yet. The Seressinis would have a long way to go past the island from where the galley blocked the channel. But that light on the
She gauged the distance, shipped her oars, took her bow, nocked an arrow.
Too far, Danica.
It isn’t, zadek. And if he’s up there they are on their way.
He was silent in her thoughts. Then said, He’s holding the lantern in his right hand, guiding them left and right. You can tell where his body is by how—
I know, zadek. Shh. Please.
She waited on the wind, the small boat moving as the breeze moved the sea.
She was still watching two ways: that headland light, and where the channel opened, by the dark bulk of the island.
She heard them before she saw anything.
They were rowing, not silently. They were not expecting anyone out here and they were coming towards her.
Splash of oars in water, Tico stiffening again. Danica hushed him, stared into the night, and then it was there, clearing the dark bulk of the island, one
There was anger in her, no fear. She was the hunter tonight. They didn’t know that. They thought they were.
I don’t need to kill him
He needs to die.
Later. If we take him alive we can ask questions.
In truth, it might have been hard for her, killing that one on the headland: whoever he was, he was going to be someone she knew. She had decided it was
I ought to have realized they’d need someone to guide them in. Might have been with them in the boat
Might still be someone with them. They tend to be cautious.
She couldn’t resist. Like me?
He swore. She smiled. And suddenly felt calm. She was in the midst of events now, not anticipating they might happen. Time had run, after almost ten years
She could see the shape of the approaching craft, dark on darkness. They had one light, would mean to douse it when they came nearer to shore. She heard a
“Over other way, he’s saying. Rocks just there.” Speaking Seressini. She was glad of that.
Jad guide your arm and eye
Danica stood up, balanced herself. She had trained for this, so many times. The wind was easy, and the sea. She fitted an arrow to the string, drew the
She loosed her first arrow. Was nocking the second as that one flew.
Excerpted from "Children of Earth and Sky"
Copyright © 2017 Guy Gavriel Kay.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1) Readers of Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic novels, Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, will recognize the setting of Children of Earth and Sky. (This is also the near-Europe of The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Last Light of the Sun.) If you’re familiar with those books, what are your thoughts on returning to this world, especially to Sarantium 900 years later? How has it changed in political and religious terms? How does this novel reflect or change the themes of the earlier novels? Kay has said he wants these works to be 'entirely accessible' to readers who have never read earlier works of his, but also to offer 'grace notes' to those who do look back. Do you think he succeeds?
2) This novel draws inspiration from the fall of Constantinople (in 1453) and the subsequent realignment among major powers. How does your understanding of the historical inspiration for the setting affect your reading of the novel? Kay has said one reason he uses a 'quarter turn to the fantastic' is to cause readers to look at known events a little differently, with fresh eyes. He's also said he loves when readers use his novels as gateways to their own reading about history.
3) Even though the novel presents a world similar to Renaissance Europe, does it also reflect or comment on contemporary political and religious issues? Or the challenges faced by ‘ordinary’ men and women in the midst of dramatic times?
4) The novel explores the lives of leaders, villagers, and souls in between, truly all the “children of earth and sky.” Discuss the ways in which the novel explores differences and similarities among a range of social classes. Would you say the major characters are 'important' people in their world? If not, is the author making a point about this?
5) The reader is also shown many leaders at different points in their careers. Grand Khalif Gurçu, for example, is at the height of his power, while Duke Ricci contemplates a quiet retirement, leaving behind the burdens of ruling. The rebel, Skandir, having lost the lands of his ancestors, now survives as a guerrilla fighter, no longer young. Leonora takes on power within a religious retreat, but is at first thought too young for that position. How does this range affect a reader’s response to the novel?
6) The idea of 'borderlands' is prominent in the book: how boundaries shift and how people living on borders might behave in ways (such as converting from one faith to another) that differ from the expectations of those that rule them. This also emerges when the book considers trade - also across borders - as men and women seek ways to survive and flourish, even in a time of war. Do you think this 'split' between higher religious and political demands and the needs of ordinary people is persuasive as a theme? Does it also apply today?
7) Several characters leave their former identities behind when they embark on journeys. Kay even uses a phrase, 'sailing to Sarantium', to mean that one's life is about to be altered - whether a ship is involved or not. Consider how journeys serve as catalysts, not just symbols, for personal change in the book and in our own lives.
8) Which character did you find most interesting? How did that character’s story and fate reflect the themes of the novel? Children Of Earth and Sky seems to have five main protagonists (Danica, Pero, Marin, Leonora, Damaz), pursuing very different goals. Kay has said one of the challenges he set himself was to keep them in balance for the reader as the story unfolds. Did he succeed for you?
9) The novel is written in a realistic style befitting historical fiction, but with some subtle supernatural elements. Discuss the influence of Danica’s grandfather on the story. It appears that this was a period in which the supernatural was very much a part of peoples' world view. What effect is achieved if a novel incorporates it? Kay writes in Children of Earth and Sky that we must not think we understand everything about the world. Does the presence of Danica’s grandfather (or the unseen singer in the roadside chapel at night) succeed, for you, in underscoring that thought?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a terrific read and I loved the fact it was set in the Renaissance period, one of my favorite historical periods. The world is beautifully imagined with numerous characters, both political and regular citizenry - military and religious leaders, priestesses, farmers, and many, many more. Because of the number of characters, it required a bit more concentration to keep track of them, and I did not bond well with any of them, but the storytelling and plot overshadowed this fact to make the book well worth reading. The author's writing is flowing and easy to fall into, seamlessly moving from one scene to another. The plot brought out my emotions as I read - shock, sadness, anger. The story is definitely plot driven rather than character driven, with plenty of action and twists. This was the first book by this author that I have read, and I definitely am interested in reading more. Definitely recommended for fantasy lovers. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog, http://greathistoricals.blogspot.ca, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit http://www.historyandwomen.com.
I really liked this book, though I'm not exactly sure what it is that I liked so much. It didn't waste any time getting into the story or giving too much background information, and though it took me a while to get all of the locations/people/language straight, I have no complaints about anything. The book was well-written, for a more mature audience, and I personally thought some of the connections it made between characters and such were clever. I liked the whole "everyone is a spy" aspect; it's very different from what I normally read. The book began wrapping up some of the characters' stories fairly early on, 60 or so pages from the end, which I thought was odd, but actually worked out very well. It told what happened with each individual character, not just from where they were last seen in the story, but the most important things they did in the remainder of their lives. By the end, I was entirely satisfied, and I'm definitely glad I read this. Note: I received this book for free from Goodreads Giveaways.