SAILING TO SARANTIUM is Guy Gavriel Kay’s alternative take on the Byzantium of the Emperor Justinian (482-565 CE.) In Kay’s novel this emperor is referred to as “Valerius II” and his wife as the “Empress Alexana.” But it is clear that the reference is to the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, who, like Alexana, was originally a dancer, and whose marriage to Justinian caused a scandal (so much so that various laws had to be changed to allow that marriage to go ahead.)
As in his Chinese novels UNDER HEAVEN and RIVER OF STARS, much of this novel consists of court drama, in which calm, well-bred aristocrats delicately play deadly games of chance with each other. This might sound deadly dull (pun intended) were it not for the character of Crispin the Mosaicist, and the fantasy elements of this novel
Crispin the Mosaicist, is a Rhodian (read Roman) who is summoned from the quiet backwater of Verena by the Emperor himself, to work on a new sanctuary for Jadd, (read the Hagia Sophia in what is now Istanbul.) Crispin is a curmudgeon of a fellow with a talent for swearing, who refuses to tone his rough edges down, even as these sharp edges in his character increase his chances of assassination.
Then there are the fantasy elements, which I absolutely loved. *SPOILER ALERT* How wonderful to have a talking bird as your companion, especially one with an acid wit! The bird and Crispin make the perfect couple, and I was so disappointed when she had to leave him. Five stars. #guygavrielkay #sailingtosarantium