Sailing to Sarantium, by Guy Gavriel Kay breaks the pattern of the previous books. It focuses on one character, Crispin, a skilled but flawed mosaic artist. He travels to Byzantium, I mean Sarantium, apparently in the same world as Al-Rassan, but centuries earlier, there’s no war at the end, and not a word about Fionavar.
I like Crispin, but this book has the slowest start ever. The first two-thirds are taken up by his journey to the City. He meets people and has semi-mystical adventures along the way. One in particular threatens to derail the book, as it seems like afterwards, every fifty pages, one of the characters reflects on what happened in the Aldwood.
When he finally reaches Sarantium, the chapter where he is presented to the court is filled with twists and verbal parrying. Crispin swiftly finds himself in over his head, making friends and enemies at every word without knowing who is the best friend or enemy to make. I like the Emperor and Empress, Valerius II and Alixana, best. They have a great relationship, and they’re very sharp. Though after a while, it begins to look like all the woman in Sarantium are very sharp and know far more about Our Hero than he does himself.
Just when things are getting interesting, the book ends. Clearly this is really the first half of an extra-large novel. I enjoyed it, but it doesn’t quite stand on its own.