A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay's latest work is set in a world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offers an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition. In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man looks back on his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's int...

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Title:A Brightness Long Ago
Author:Guy Gavriel Kay
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Edition Language:English

A Brightness Long Ago Reviews

  • Nicholas Eames

    A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO is, like all of Kay’s work, exquisitely crafted and deeply moving. By turns beautiful and bittersweet, it tells the story of small people caught in the current of world-shattering events, and of the ripples they make that are sometimes—but not always—lost in the flow of history. His most compelling characters are those found lingering near the frame of a famous portrait, or rendered, almost as an afterthought, in glass and stone. Guy Gavriel Kay has written a masterpiece, y

    A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO is, like all of Kay’s work, exquisitely crafted and deeply moving. By turns beautiful and bittersweet, it tells the story of small people caught in the current of world-shattering events, and of the ripples they make that are sometimes—but not always—lost in the flow of history. His most compelling characters are those found lingering near the frame of a famous portrait, or rendered, almost as an afterthought, in glass and stone. Guy Gavriel Kay has written a masterpiece, yet again.

  • Robin Hobb

    This will be longer than my usual review because I have a lot to say. And I will attempt not to do spoilers.

    First of all, this book comes out in May. I received a free advance copy. I don't think that affects my review. I virtually know Guy Gavriel Kay and hope to someday play cribbage with him.

    So, to start with, in the intro in the ARC, Kay observes that our brightest and most lasting memories are usually from our late teens and early twenties. Which sent me to research that right away. If you

    This will be longer than my usual review because I have a lot to say. And I will attempt not to do spoilers.

    First of all, this book comes out in May. I received a free advance copy. I don't think that affects my review. I virtually know Guy Gavriel Kay and hope to someday play cribbage with him.

    So, to start with, in the intro in the ARC, Kay observes that our brightest and most lasting memories are usually from our late teens and early twenties. Which sent me to research that right away. If you know my books, you know I have a fascination with memory, and with information stored in our brains and yes, in our blood. So the articles on memory that I read supported what Kay said, and I plunged enthusiastically into the story.

    Fantasy is a genre that is a huge umbrella. In my opinion, fantasy is the umbrella that covers all fiction. In this case, this fantasy is set in a world somewhat like Italy, with characters somewhat like historical persons in a time rather like the Renaissance. If you love those times, it will add to your enjoyment of the book. If you knowledge of that place and time is limited or non-existent, don't worry. It doesn't matter.

    This is a book about people. The fantasy element is a subtle flavoring, as in a delightful cake where you can't quite identify what you are tasting, but you enjoy it. Some of the people you will meet may seem trivial to the plot. "Why are you telling us about this shoemaker?"

    Because Kay knows that, at heart, we are all little people in the greater story we live in. Even the most puffed up and important of us will be a tiny note in history, a few hundred years from now. Yet each of us (as my Fool would remind us all) changes the world every day. So it is with these characters. Painted vividly, these characters are each the main characters in their own stories. Each of them diverts the sequence of events into a slightly different track. Chance encounters become fate.

    Of these characters, Guidanio is arguably the most important. He is our guide to that brightness long ago, although he is not always the speaker in the tale. Like the bits of glass in a kaleidoscope, each character shakes the tube, and we see the brightness shine through their opinion of what really happened. Events turn and spin as we regard them from multiple angles.

    And finally, my favorite pages in the ARC are 240-243. I don't know if the pages will have the same numbering in the final hardback, but I suspect most of you will know what I loved when you encounter it.

    If you've been reading Guy Gavriel Kay for years, then this book will bring an added richness to that experience. IF this if your first book by Kay, don't hesitate to dive into the tale at this point. You will not feel confused nor excluded from the larger story lines that others will see.

  • Paromjit

    Extraordinarily profound, complex, lyrical and moving storytelling that deserves far more than the five stars I am able to award it. I have never read Guy Gavriel Kay before, so this was my first read, a historical fantasy, where the term fantasy is misleading because it is deployed to throw the most brightest and insightful of spotlights on the complexity of history and the chaotic reality of the contemporary world we live in. It mulls over the nature of power and memory, of how the future is s

    Extraordinarily profound, complex, lyrical and moving storytelling that deserves far more than the five stars I am able to award it. I have never read Guy Gavriel Kay before, so this was my first read, a historical fantasy, where the term fantasy is misleading because it is deployed to throw the most brightest and insightful of spotlights on the complexity of history and the chaotic reality of the contemporary world we live in. It mulls over the nature of power and memory, of how the future is shaped and turned by choices and decisions by repercussions that are unforseen, where the tiniest and the most apparently insignificant and minor person, and their interactions, play their part. The author gives us a multilayered story of what at first appear to be a disparate set of characters and their lives that emerge to give us shifting perspectives with an interlinked and overlapping web of connections, in this story of love, ambition, the rise and fall of influential characters, human impulses and fate.

    This is set in Batiara, a version of Italy in the early Renaissance, evoked through a richly textured, subtle and delicate world building. The novel opens on a explosive note, Danio Cerra is now an old man, reflecting on his memories of his earlier youth in the most turbulent of times. Danio was a tailor's son whose intelligence secured him entry to a school of privilege and mixing in circles that would ordinarily be out of reach for those of his social status, and which is to place him in a powerfully dangerous milieu. This leads him to the court of the Count, the beast, and his fateful encounter with the feisty and noble Adria Ripoli, on the verge of assassinating the beast. Adria challenges her role and expectations of her to live and do what she wants to do. He comes to find himself in close contact with Teobaldo Monticola and Folco Cino, intense rivals and mercenary commanders. Vibrant pictures of minor and fringe characters, such as that of Jelena, the healer, have their own unexpected importance.

    Gabriel Gavriel Kay's epic and expert storytelling makes the kind of impact that left me admiring his considerable talents as a writer. He is astute and remarkable, compassionate in his humanity in capturing an era and a place, with insights that can be applied to our world today. He spins a thought provoking tale that is more than the sum of its parts, creating an enthralling, compelling and charismatic set of characters, the important, yes, but the greater focus on the more marginal people, that cannot fail to capture the reader's interest. This made for an indelible, exhilarating and memorable reading experience which I recommend highly to those looking for something different with depth. Many thanks to Hodder and Stoughton for an ARC.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    On sale May 7, 2019! This is really an excellent historical novel, with light fantasy elements. If you haven't read one of GGK's recent novels, you owe it to yourself to give him a try. Final review, first posted on

    :

    Guy Gavriel Kay writes magical books. Not magic in the sense of mighty wizards and spellcasting with unicorn-hair wands and cauldrons bubbling with potions best not tasted. The magic in Kay’s novels is a more elusive thing. He takes a plot and cast of characters, o

    On sale May 7, 2019! This is really an excellent historical novel, with light fantasy elements. If you haven't read one of GGK's recent novels, you owe it to yourself to give him a try. Final review, first posted on

    :

    Guy Gavriel Kay writes magical books. Not magic in the sense of mighty wizards and spellcasting with unicorn-hair wands and cauldrons bubbling with potions best not tasted. The magic in Kay’s novels is a more elusive thing. He takes a plot and cast of characters, ones that would be interesting enough even in the hands of lesser authors, and turns them into something extraordinary through his lyrical and profoundly thoughtful storytelling, his insights into human character and motivations, and his musings on life and its meaning.

    , like most of his recent novels, is what Kay aptly describes as “history with a quarter turn to the fantastic.” It’s a prequel of sorts (though a stand-alone read) to his equally excellent 2016 novel

    , set some twenty-five years before the events of that novel, in a slightly fantastical version of Renaissance Italy, here called Batiara. (I spent more time than I should have, researching to figure out the real-life counterparts of all the cities and historical characters that play a role in this story. Seressa is Venice, Rome is Rhodias, Sarantium is Constantinople, and so forth.) Inspired by the feud between historical figures

    and

    , two great military leaders, Kay tells of the clashes ― both military and personal ― between Folco Cino, lord of Acorsi, and Teobaldo Monticola, lord of Remigio. Their lives, and that of Folco’s niece Adria, a rebellious duke’s daughter, are seen through the eyes of Guidanio (Danio) Cerra, the son of a tailor.

    Danio, who narrates most of the tale as the reminiscing of an older man, is chosen to receive an education with the children of nobility because of his intelligence and quickness, raising him far above his humble beginnings. After finishing his schooling he obtains a position in the palace of Count Uberto, known as “the Beast” for his violent and even murderous sexual proclivities.

    But Falco (admittedly for his own self-serving reasons) and his niece Adria have concocted a scheme to bring Uberto down. They set Adria up in a farmhouse outside of the city and eventually, almost inevitably, word of the attractive farm girl comes to Uberto and she is summoned to his palace. When Danio sees Adria being brought to Uberto’s suite of rooms and recognizes her as the duke’s daughter who once visited his school, that recognition could be deadly to either Danio or Adria. Or it might prove of immeasurable benefit to both of them.

    follows Danio and Adria, Folco and Teobaldo, and others through the next year or two, as their lives touch and separate and then interweave again. Adria is a particularly bright spark, a spirited and courageous young woman who is doing her best to live a life outside of the normal restrictions on noblewomen, though she knows the freedom she’s found can only be for a limited time. Doors of opportunity open and then close. Her participation in a particularly unusual horse race in Bischio is a high point in the story, where multi-layered plans and schemes of various characters collide in a truly spectacular way.

    In his narration, Danio frequently comments on “the random spinning of fortune’s wheel” and how chance occurrences can affect the entire direction of our lives. Our lives aren’t always in our control. But he realizes that personal choices have an equal impact on the path of our lives.

    Kay weaves a pleasurably complex tale with a large cast of characters, but these characters are so vividly drawn and memorable that I never got confused. Kay’s storytelling evinces understanding and sympathy for even deeply flawed characters, even those who served the Beast and were aware of the terrible things he did to innocent youths.

    In his later years, Danio recalls the unforgettable characters from this time in his youth, who still shine as bright torches in his memory. Their brightness will linger in mine as well.

    Content notes: A few scattered F-bombs; a mildly explicit sex scene; attempted sexual assault.

  • Elyse Walters

    This is my first time reading Guy Gavriel Kay. I learned a little about GGK, when I was in Canada. The employees at Pages book store in Calgary all raved about his books. Kay was speaking at the new Public Library in Calgary- a night I missed due to being sick - ( which I later learned was a sold out event anyway).... but I purchased this book - taking a chance - basically not knowing what the heck I was about to read other than the inspiring encouragement from Mike —- ( smiling face Mike), and

    This is my first time reading Guy Gavriel Kay. I learned a little about GGK, when I was in Canada. The employees at Pages book store in Calgary all raved about his books. Kay was speaking at the new Public Library in Calgary- a night I missed due to being sick - ( which I later learned was a sold out event anyway).... but I purchased this book - taking a chance - basically not knowing what the heck I was about to read other than the inspiring encouragement from Mike —- ( smiling face Mike), and reviews from Paromjit and Tadiana.

    I honestly have NEVER read a book like this...and I’ll never do justice in this review - NEVER...but wow....this book - (hard to pigeonhole and contextualize all that it is)....

    grabbed me by my shirt - excited and horrified me at the same time. I was so ‘not’ confident of what I was reading - I had to read parts of the beginning twice to make sure I wasn’t making shit up myself. I wasn’t. But shit was happening fast!

    Not a moment wasted....

    I lost hours of sleep - transported in this fantasy world ( Batiara/ Renaissance Italy), with ongoing turbulence uproar.

    My friend Angela says.....”sometimes books are all about the writing”.....

    Well....the writing of this epic fantasy historical fiction is gorgeous!!!! Much to reflect on - and be in ‘aw’.

    This book is adventurous- emotional on every human level - reflective - powerful - tragic - political - violent- romantic- with many characters- but a few of the key characters really stand out.

    Right away I felt ‘attached-at-the-hip’ - with Adria ( daughter of Duke Ripoli in Macera)....so much so I missed her when she wasn’t in scenes.

    The other female I loved was a healer named Jelena.

    The main character Guidano Cerra is well educated - a tailors son - we follow his life through his distinguished school - to a job he takes in the court of a duke - known as The Beast.

    We also meet Danio Cerra.....evil and holy....he is looking back on his youth.

    The storytelling is non-stop and complex - so beautiful with much admiration for the author’s accomplishments.

    Filled with boundless imaginative energy!!!

  • Bradley

    To be perfectly candid, I wasn't a huge fan of Kay's earlier work and I left off reading anything else by him, thinking I already got his measure. Two books in an early trilogy. They were pretty good but it left a not-so-pleasant taste in my mouth.

    So why did I come back? Give him another try?

    I can't really say. I don't know. I just remembered how lyrical his prose was in places and thought, perhaps, he had grown into an even better writer since then. That maybe I judged him a bit too harshly. M

    To be perfectly candid, I wasn't a huge fan of Kay's earlier work and I left off reading anything else by him, thinking I already got his measure. Two books in an early trilogy. They were pretty good but it left a not-so-pleasant taste in my mouth.

    So why did I come back? Give him another try?

    I can't really say. I don't know. I just remembered how lyrical his prose was in places and thought, perhaps, he had grown into an even better writer since then. That maybe I judged him a bit too harshly. Maybe I just didn't like the rape scenes in his early work. Something like that.

    So what happened? How did my second chance go?

    Amazingly, so it seems. :) I loved this book. From start to finish, the characters came to life, always interested me, and the place so reminiscent of Renaissance Italy simply shone and shone and shone through these pages.

    The fantasy elements were totally understated. The world and the characters were not. I was enraptured by one of the most gorgeous, lush tales of youth, discovery, and independence. Of how he grew to admire and respect two men who were old, bitter enemies, of how he sidestepped and played his own role between their conflict. Of a non-traditional love with a woman who would always, by any means possible, remain independent.

    If I sidestep some of the most beautiful scenes, it's not because they were not memorable. Indeed, a certain assassination and a certain race will be scenes I will never forget.

    Far from having to push myself through this book, I found that I never wanted it to end.

    This is one of the highest praises I can ever bestow. :)

  • Chaima ✨ شيماء

    It felt unsettlingly disorienting to turn the last page of this book and be back in the noisy, bustling world. I struggled from the webbing of the story, and a deep melancholy that would not lift for many days begun to settle around me. Each word I tried to put down was one word further from what I meant to say. There was, in me, such a simmer of emotions; and I was tempted to read the book again, to go back and relive those moments, open them up and stretch them out full length to see what it w

    It felt unsettlingly disorienting to turn the last page of this book and be back in the noisy, bustling world. I struggled from the webbing of the story, and a deep melancholy that would not lift for many days begun to settle around me. Each word I tried to put down was one word further from what I meant to say. There was, in me, such a simmer of emotions; and I was tempted to read the book again, to go back and relive those moments, open them up and stretch them out full length to see what it was that had left this story so indelible upon my psyche.

    is the tale of those who will not be arrayed in glory, whose images will not be painted on the walls of great houses, and whose names will not be enshrined in history. Those who will not be extoled for what they’ve done, nor will they be cursed either, because no one will remember their courage, or their tenacity, or their humility, and the last vestiges of their lives will simply be swept from the floor with the dust and the lint.

    , the only son of a tailor, is such a person, and

    is the tale of his youth and the few things still snarling in the rapidly fraying cobweb of his memory.

    Danio’s life would have been replaced by a tyranny of indistinguishable days, if it weren’t for a happenstance, a venturesome choice and something perilously akin to fate, that fixed him to a world he felt only halfway inside of. Across worlds, his life collides with that of Adria Ripoli when, as a young man, he was serving as a court official's assistant and recognized her, the daughter of a duke, when she came to assassinate The Beast—a count known for his perverse whim of summoning children to his room to hurt them. The night

    begins, instead of shouting alarm, Danio stiffens into silence and helps the fearless Ripoli heir flee.

    Danio and Adria are not apart long enough to know the shape of each other’s absence. Some months later, Danio winds up in the company of men whose glory could scrape the stars hard as granite, one of which is Adria’s uncle, Folco d’Acorsi, a feared mercenary leader, and the other is his fierce enemy, Teobaldo Monticola. Danio is a child of Batiara—a dangerous place then, where you met monsters as often as friends—and he knew a boast of power when he saw it, but nothing could have divulged how these encounters would awaken a dimension in him he never knew existed, that he would be hurled unwary into a tale far more ambitious than he would have been allowed in life had he timorously traced his way back home and let Adria Ripoli become nothing more than a fragmented image flittering at the edge of his memory.

    With his invigoratingly hard-to-classify new novel,

    , Kay has crafted something audacious: he, refreshingly, tells delicate, fervent, small human stories about names whose significance would be otherwise meaningless, lost in the annals of history, those whose lives would burn onto the shadows like an afterimage of the sun. And I loved it.

    The novel breezes by at a leisurely pace, and the story takes its sweet time getting to the good stuff. The unhurried pacing could be frustrating for readers who require propulsive plots, but where the novel lags, the writing more than makes up for it.

    coasts past its minor weaknesses on the strength of Kay’s evocative storytelling. His prose is exquisite, yet never extravagant—the kind of potent, poetic writing that you hardly notice for how it flows across the page.

    Kay is also skilled at conveying place and people, and while the reader is only privy to the small corners—distant and blurred—that the author introduces us to through his characters, the sheer amount of history, the sense of scope, and the shadow crumbs he summons for us to creep after—they all unveil a vicious grace, and a deft, sure hand. The author’s depiction of Batiara—his analogue of Renaissance-era Italy—is shadowy and lush, and the way he embroils his characters within its sweeping, brutal, imposing political realities is progressively gripping and suspenseful. It left me very keen to read more of his books in order to catch more glimpses of his whirling imagination.

    The latter section of the book, especially, overflows with life. Kay slowly, smartly braids his multiple storylines right up to the rattling conclusion. A chain of mishaps and revelations ensues, which shook the foundation of the story, and rendered me speechless, shaking my head back and forth like a weight on a string, my heart beating in alternating hope and despair.

    Kay’s infallible ability to assume his characters’ voices, to slip into their skins, brings the melancholy undertow of the novel into a sharper focus. The author peoples this tale with a dizzying range of characters, and his biggest triumph lies in the manner in which he renders each antecedent event an unfamiliar terrain made anew by every new perspective he introduces, giving each character an opportunity to capture the reader’s allegiance and making the definition of “good” and “evil” even harder to pin. My only qualm, however, is that the frequent, delirious swapping between characters, often multiple times mid-chapter, was markedly hard to get used to. Danio and Adria are two of multiple narrators, and with the exception of Danio—who speaks in the first person—their stories are told in alternating third-person narratives without any signposting of who they are to help the reader discern their voices.

    Luckily, the way

    revels in its subversion, and Kay’s choice to interrogate the tropes used to define what a “hero” is—as well as our underlying need to ask it—is enough to forgive. It’s also doubtless a testament to the quiet sureness of his voice and vision. This novel is, in many senses, a statement about how heroes don't always fit our definitions, nor should they, and that's what sung to me the most.

    Danio tells the story of Adria, Folco and Teobaldo as they had been in the mists of his memory—two proud men, fractious and unyielding, each certain the world would fail without them, and the woman who had desires and defiance and powers more than others thought she ought to have—and the events that not only changed him, but transmuted him, transporting him to a parallel world with an altered gravitational axis. One would argue that, in the story of their lives, Danio is nothing more than a figure drifting on its edges.

    This is the story of the people who were still learning the world and their places in it when they found themselves entangled in these lies and games of power. It’s the story of courageous women who dared to break the mold of what’s expected of them, and the upright young men with fire in their bones. It’s about choices that are like the leap from a waterfall, events with a fierce kismet feel—a little too coincidental to be entirely coincidences—and “

    ” It’s about the quiet, tremulous achievements of the people whose names will not persevere against the relentless onslaught of time, but who nonetheless left a mark upon the face of the world. The author allows his storytelling to invest these tales with greater and greater vitality, which culminates in a deeply thoughtful and contemplative work of fiction.

    is an incredibly rewarding read, and I suspect readers will not only be riveted by the book’s genre-bending structure, but its boldness in telling the necessary stories of those who, even when they are brave, their experiences important, are often relegated to the sidelines, the shadowlands.

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  • Celeste

    I received this book electronically via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

    This is only the second book I’ve read from Guy Gavriel Kay, but I feel secure in stating that I’ve never come across another author wh

    I received this book electronically via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

    This is only the second book I’ve read from Guy Gavriel Kay, but I feel secure in stating that I’ve never come across another author who has his way with words.

    This novel is somewhere between historical fiction and low fantasy, and Kay straddles that divide with great finesse.

    Danio is one of the lucky youths who, despite low birth, are chosen to attend a school with noble children. Because of this education and a compelling personality, Danio finds himself in the midst of history in the making throughout his life, whether in the form of being present during an assassination or witnessing a horse race that will live on in legend or standing on the sidelines as mighty men made war or truces.

    While Danio was the only first person perspective character, we did have other perspective characters. A pagan healer, a wealthy second son with no head for politics, an important daughter who wants nothing more than to escape the life that is expected of her and live life to the very fullest, a mistress yearning for legitimacy. There are others, as well, but these are the lives that most often intertwine themselves with Danio and the two powerful men who seem to dominate this part of the world.

    The one thing each character seemed to have in common was a preoccupation with sex, but from what I gather that is a common theme in Kay’s work.

    The setting for this book is very heavily inspired by Italy, as is apparent by the names of people and places given. The land is made up of city-states who often find themselves at war with one another. So often, in fact, that springtime has become synonymous with war. I’ve read very little set in Italy outside of

    , so I found the setting very thought-provoking. There was a horse race, briefly mentioned above, that was one of the most amazing sequences I’ve read.

    There are two reasons that this book didn’t receive a perfect rating from me, and they’re both incredibly subjective. First, the central themes of the story were war, romance, and politics. Two out of these three themes are topics that I often find myself lost in, unable to focus on the intricate political movements and patterns of war. While these are areas I can read past, I have a difficult time enjoying a story that is made up in such large part by these components. Second,

    I won’t explain why, but I’m positive that there are plot points that would have brought me to tears if I had already developed a bond with Sarantium.

    Once again, Kay crafted something incredibly beautiful with this story. While it might not be an immediate favorite, it definitely enticed me into trying more of Kay’s work, and soon.

    remains my favorite book my Kay, and among my favorite fantasy novels period, but I now believe that

    won’t be the only of his works that I will come to love and cherish.

  • Kelly

    To be honest, I had a lot of trouble slipping away into the world of this one. It took far far longer for the usual Kay incantation to take effect, mostly because it took far, far longer for him to start chanting it. As he’s grown older, Kay has developed an insistence on showing the teller’s hand that I don’t particularly care for or agree with. He wants us to be aware of him there, all the time, and gets more insistent on it as time goes by-he’s gone beyond insisting on the importance of the i

    To be honest, I had a lot of trouble slipping away into the world of this one. It took far far longer for the usual Kay incantation to take effect, mostly because it took far, far longer for him to start chanting it. As he’s grown older, Kay has developed an insistence on showing the teller’s hand that I don’t particularly care for or agree with. He wants us to be aware of him there, all the time, and gets more insistent on it as time goes by-he’s gone beyond insisting on the importance of the individual humanity and everyday reality of the great heroes and legends he’s retelling. Now, while that is still there, it isn’t enough for him. He seems to be desperately intent on focusing our attention on the chanciness of fate and the choices of storytelling.That was always an element of his books- and a powerful one when well deployed in some of them (Arbonne and Tigana both come to mind)- but he’s obsessed with it now, and frankly it’s getting in the way. It’s boring, repetitive and unimpressive. This sort of thing made the latter part of Under Heaven and most of River of Stars pretty unreadable for me. He pulled way back in the last one, but now we’re back on this horse again and I nearly threw up my hands and gave up when I figured that out. I don’t know why he’s doing this: whether he’s too tired to make magic with the faith or energy he once did or feels like he needs to be the one to give us this message he’s learned and feels it urgently enough to push other concerns aside- I don’t know. I don’t know how to be clearer about this but he is not good at direct lecturing (those italicized bits, ugh) and should stop doing it.

    But. But. He’s too good for there not to be a but. When he stopped being concerned about structure and being too good to do what he’s good at doing- he still had it. His Carnival sequence, when we finally got there, was wonderful- as they always are. Kay loves Carnival, the delicious interruption to the wheel and rules of the year, the possibilities of it- there’s always a Carnival in his best ones. And he let himself write one and it was fantastic (he undercut it right after with the worst of those dreadful italic interludes though but c’est la vie). He also still writes some of the only action sequences I care to read, as well. I skip through battle scenes in almost every book but his because they’re about character choices and suspense and really do turn on a knife’s edge when he gets going. Again- he let himself do something he’s good at and it sang again. Shocking! But there’s more here than the best of his old tricks. He made a surprising choice with a the fate of the major female character- something he hasn’t done in awhile for me- and I was quite moved by it. He wrote a successful Catriana- a better one. A more measured one. I respected that. I liked that the book focused on a minor character who stayed that relatively that way- not a hero to be discovered to save us all. This is at most a medium-stakes story told by a low level functionary and bystander. I don’t see a lot of those written in the high octane genre of high fantasy and I thought it was a strong choice that made some of his points better than any direct lecture would. I wish he had trusted that. I also liked that although sometimes he took it to almost an absurdist extreme here that affected the pacing, he was still concerned, as he has always been, with etching out the 3D humanity of other minor characters as well. And telling it in the voice of a secondary character gave us a real reason for him to remember to do that, to a fault. He also did a good job with bringing the story full circle by the end back to the tone of where he started. The final unspooling of the thread was realistic, quietly compelling, and sounded like exactly what it was meant to be- a man lost in powerful memories- older, but not old enough that he can’t still feel what it was like to be inside them. And we get good, interesting reasons why he won’t want to let any part of it go.

    I will say this, also. I currently do not like how he is trying to make his structural points, as I said. I still think he’s better at adding depth to the magic than he is at deconstructing it. But...this was a better attempt at it than either of the China books or Ysabel. And it’s clearly what he’s interested in writing on. So if this is where he’s going regardless, I’d certainly encourage him in this direction- in the direction of that last chapter, in the direction of choosing this smaller story, in the direction of recollections and memory and trying to live in spite of it. I think there’s a way to remix these ingredients, take some out and make it work. And I do admire evolving. This is closer to where it needs to be. But it’s not there yet. I’d like to vanish inside one of his worlds completely one more time, though. I miss it. So I hope he gets there.

  • Violet wells

    My first experience of fantasy historical fiction. (Though arguably you could say all historical fiction is fantasy.) The author states this book was inspired by his reading about the feud between the Montefeltro and Malatesta families in fifteenth century Italy. And this is the world he recreates which he achieves in an authentic though superficial way. Thus Rimini becomes Remigio, Florence becomes Firenta, Venice Seressa and so on.

    There's a very good depiction of Siena's Palio.

    This novel ha

    My first experience of fantasy historical fiction. (Though arguably you could say all historical fiction is fantasy.) The author states this book was inspired by his reading about the feud between the Montefeltro and Malatesta families in fifteenth century Italy. And this is the world he recreates which he achieves in an authentic though superficial way. Thus Rimini becomes Remigio, Florence becomes Firenta, Venice Seressa and so on.

    There's a very good depiction of Siena's Palio.

    This novel has a slick accomplished surface and is a fun read but one of my criteria for rating books is the level of anticipation I feel during the day for snuggling up with the books I'm reading and I can't say I was ever impatient to rejoin the adventures of Danio Cerra. Probably because it's a book bereft of those underlying layers of meaning that makes a novel a truly edifying experience. But I did enjoy its escapist exuberance and palpable love of Italy. 3+ stars.

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