Adrienne's Reviews > Sailing to Sarantium

Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gavriel Kay
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Mar 31, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: book-count-08, historical-fiction
Read in April, 2008

Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium was really fascinating. The back of the book calls it a “historical novel,” but I don’t agree. The book is set in the city of Sarantium, which is obviously supposed to be the city of Byzantium (later it was called Constantinople; now it’s Istanbul). There are echos of the Byzantine and Roman empires, a religion kind of like Christianity, allusions to the ancient Greeks, the barbarian tribes in Europe, and even the Muslims. But the book is not set in Byzantium, and all of these things are just allusions. So in that sense, it’s a fantasy, not a historical novel, even though it does feel like one at times.


Kay does borrow a lot of concepts from history, but they serve to make the story more believable, and are helped by a large cast of interesting and complex characters. The main character, Crispin, is an artist, specifically one who works with mosaics. He is from the country of Rhodia (that world’s version of Italy) and he lives there, making mosaics, until he is summoned to Sarantium by the emperor to help decorate the big new temple being built (which reminds me of the Hagia Sophia). The story follows Crispin’s journey, and is told from his point of view, and the points of view of the people he meets along the way. I particularly liked Crispin and also Vargos, who befriends Crispin on the road to Sarantium. The descriptions of Sarantium were fascinating, and I really enjoyed the chariot races and the descriptions of the fans of the races. It made me think of the movie Ben Hur (which is really good, and you should set aside an evening to see it).
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