Monday, September 9, 2013

River of Stars

River of Stars
Guy Gavriel Kay

It must be said that River Of Stars is one of the most unusual fantasies I have ever read—mainly because it's partly not a fantasy. And it is that very aspect which makes it such a fun book.

Most fantasies that become popular nowadays are Westernized—the characters have Western habits, eat Western food, dress in Western clothes. In his latest novel, Kay shies away from this trope to create an Easternized world based heavily on Chinese history.

Chinese history itself is almost a fantasy novel. It's full of dramatic wars and stern kings, lyrical folktales and absolutely stunning artwork. It fascinates because it's so different from what the average Westerner knows of his or her own history.

In River Of Stars, Kay creates his own world, the realm of Kitai, and fills it with Eastern superstitions and idiosyncrasies. Much time is spent dwelling on the importance of calligraphy, poetry, music, and other high arts. Clothes are intricately described as well--far from the typical tunic and cloak, Kay's characters wear elegant robes woven of the finest fabrics. Eastern beliefs are incorporated as well, from spirit trees to the capricious fox folk. A memorable encounter between a character and a fox woman is one of the high points in the novel.

Though the book does drag at times, it still remains a wonderful introduction to Eastern culture and history for those who have never read about either; those who have will recognize representations of
particular ceremonies and events.

In short, River of Stars is
an unusual novel that happily demonstrates that fantasy is still capable of challenging the accepted strictures of the genre, and that going outside the box is not only acceptable, but positively embraced.

- Robert Green

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