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Book Review: ‘River of Stars’ A sweeping saga of a swordsman and a poetess

19 Apr

Friends,

ROSOccasionally, I come across a book review written so well, that it causes a curiosity within me so strong, that I must let my fingers do the “walking” to my favorite website & purchase the novel & read it immediately.(Note that such a review need not be favorable to be well-written per se, although this one is.) Author, editor & book reviewer for the Seattle Times Nisi Shawl has written such a review and I wanted to share it with you all. I have shared here, on my website & throughout social media my thoughts on the importance of book reviews, so I’m always excited to share great ones, as I look for new books to spend my hard-earned money on & read.

This book’s plot is fascinating to me because I love the overall fantasy genre but get tired of the same old archetypes. I’m always looking for books to read, that don’t have elves, a dark lord, a farm boy who doesn’t realize he’s “the one” or talking non-human characters, so I am so looking forward to this. The review is of Guy Gavriel Kay’s RIVER OF STARSGuy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian author of fantasy fiction. Many of his novels are set in fictional realms that resemble real places during real historical periods. Kay has written over 10 novels and numerous shorter works. His works have been translated into 22 languages, and have sold over two million copies. Nisi Shawl has been reviewing fiction for the Seattle Times for nearly 12 years & I thoroughly enjoy her erudite analysis of the works of so many authors. Here is the review:

Why would a white man want to write an epic fantasy based on Chinese history? Why would he do so twice?

In the case of award-winning Toronto author Guy Gavriel Kay, the answer could be, “Because he can.” “River of Stars,” (Roc, 576 pp., $26.95), the follow-up to Kay’s acclaimed “Under Heaven,” takes place in Kitai, a land closely modeled on China. Set during a period mirroring the centuries-long Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE, as “Under Heaven” mirrored the Tang Dynasty of 618-907 CE), “River of Stars” tells the intertwining stories of a swordsman and a poetess. Not the most iconoclastic pairing for this milieu, but Ren Daiyan and Lin Shan are fully realized characters rather than the shadows those labels suggest.

Beginning with Ren’s sudden understanding that the bandits he confronts as a boy may hold the key to his future — that he needs to live in their midst rather than fight against them — the novel takes several surprising turns. Yet though the plot is blessedly unpredictable, its hero is no inscrutable warrior type: Ren is motivated by understandable emotions born of a culture well described. Brilliant, stubborn, loyal, daring, he does what he must. But his tasks are often determined by chance and other elements beyond his control, elements he as a character and we as readers recognize only in hindsight.

Lin Shan is a woman brought up by her idealistic father to break the far-too-­restrictive mold defining her sex. Through his characters’ unobtrusive reflections, Kay carefully differentiates the ways changing eras affect the roles of upper-class women. Whether she and her father travel to take part in a far city’s celebrated peony festival or to visit a country gentleman, the mores of the Song Dynasty dictate that Lin must stay in their destination’s women’s quarters; she must dress so as not to incite lust, must remain virgin till her wedding night and so on. Her literacy, while not forbidden, is viewed as eccentric.

To continue reading this review, please click HERE.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Book Reviews, Fictional Writing

 

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