It is 1478. The great city of Sarantium (Byzantium/Constantinople) was sacked 25 years ago by the Ashurites (Muslims) and is now called Ashuria (Istanbul). The Council of Twelve of the Republic of Seressa (La Serenissima/Venice) are sending a spy to Ashuria, in the shape of a young artist, who is ostensibly painting the portrait of the Caliph in the Western Style, and two spies to Dubrava (Dubrovnik) in the shape of a soi-disant married couple, a doctor and his “wife.” The doctor will be ministering to patients in Dubrava. His “wife” will be working for the council of twelve.
These plans seem suitably devious & Machiavellian. Until it becomes obvious that they fool no-one, including the owner of the ship they are using to travel on to Dubrava, and the young painter.
Of course, there are adventures. The ship is a couple of days from Seressa, when it is boarded by sea-pirates, including an angry young woman seeking vengeance for the destruction of her village. Enter Danica Gradič. A thousand miles to the East, in Ashuria, a young warrior called Davos kills another trainee by devilish cleverness. He is elevated, at age 14, to the ranks of the Janneys (Janissaries.)
And so our characters, painter Pietro, fake wife Leonora, warrior Danica, her brother Davos/Nevin and the merchant (whose name I cannot spell as I only HEARD this on audiobook) join forces for a dark adventure that criss-crosses the Balkans, the land between Venice and Istanbul.
It will seem strange to say that this is a quiet novel, as a lot of it is made up of various fights. But it is so. Guy Gavriel Kay’s characters appear one by one, they interest us, and then they fade away. As is typical for a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, there is a good deal of philosophizing on the meaning of life and the role of chance. Near the end of this volume, the characters die, mostly peacefully. The ending is serene. Four stars.