Hello everyone and welcome back to my blog! Today I’m attempting to write another review of a book (shock and awe for that) that unexpectedly became very important to me. I believe that everyone has some sort List of important books where all those special, very dear to your heart, life changing, or just special because of reasons books go. Those books can special because you read them at a very difficult time in your life and helped you get through that period, and because of this that particular book will always have a place in your heart. Or perhaps that book helped you change or form an opinion on a particular subject, or a whole genre of literature, or influenced and inspired you to do something you thought you couldn’t do.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky, the book I’m writing about today, went on the List of important books because of a combination of the abovementioned reasons; and I’ll get to those reasons a bit later in the text. I first heard about Children of Earth and Sky in an interview that Kay did with io9, which is apparently my usual way of discovering books and stuff in general. In his new books Kay returned to the familiar world of his fictional Mediterranean, familiar to readers from The Sarantine Mosaic series and The Lions of Al-Rassan, but this time the setting of the book was not in fictional Spain, or Byzantium, but at the (fictional) eastern Adriatic coast in the 15th century. The setting alone was reason enough to draw me to this novel, but when words like Senjan, uskoks, Seressea and Dubrava appeared in the book’s summary I just exploded from inner joy and excitement.
If you’re a wee bit puzzled why I would be excited about a few words, please allow me to explain. When people ask me about my profession I often jokingly reply that I’m a historian’s apprentice 🙂 because I’m in the process of finishing my master thesis in Croatian history of the 18th century. The thesis deals with a small village in Ravni Kotari, Dalmatia, the region that at the time was a part of the military frontier between the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. Since my professional interests concerns Croatian military frontiers from the 15th to the 19th century I am quite familiar with the Triplex Confinium or the triple border that Kay refers to in the book and frankly I was darn curious to see how he will approach this subject. Needless to say I was not disappointed, not that I was ever in doubt mind you. Kay had dealt with some similar topics in Lions of Al-Rassan.
Before I move on, let me just shortly touch upon the 4 abovementioned terms that got me so excited about this book. 🙂 The fictional town of Senjan from the book and its inhabitants are based on the Croatian town of Senj located at the upper Adriatic coast on the foothills of the Velebit Mountain. The town is best known for (some would even say it was notorious for) the warriors called uskoks that came to live in Senj after the fall of Klis fortress. Seressea and Dubrava represent Venice and Dubrovnik respectively.
Not only does Children of Earth and Sky deal with the clash of East and West, along with fluid and uncertain borders between empires and cultures, it deals with other themes, that reoccur in Kay’s writing (not that I mind a pattern when it’s done right, and Kay does it right) – identity, how society treats women in that time period. One of the best parts of the book is how society treats woman’s sexuality, unwanted pregnancies, how women view their own sexuality and how they, in their own way, circumvent the social norms and expectations of their time and find happiness for themselves. The characters are interesting, very well thought of; some you like instantly and are drawn to immediately, on some you reserve judgement. I don’t believe there’s any truly repulsive or vile character that you would immediately hate. Oh all right, maybe one, or two, but hate would be such a strong word for that, perhaps the better word would be anger, anger at their own stupidity.
One of the things that I really appreciated in this book, and I thought it was very thoughtful of the author, was the fact that we got to find out the ending for every character. That is what happened to So and So after the events of the book. It was a nice touch and I really appreciated, I wasn’t agonising or left at a cliff-hanger. Thank you Mr. Kay, I really liked that. 🙂
Children of Earth and Sky is an amazing and thoughtful book, filled with interesting characters and places. It’s one of those rare books that has something that everyone can like: Kay’s loyal fans will love his return to the fictional Mediterranean world familiar from his 3 previous books, and they get to see how that world developed and moved on. They will also find clues and links to his previous works in that setting. No, no spoilers from me in this review, sorry. 🙂 Historians and history enthusiasts will get the chance to match fictional realms and cities to their real counterparts and have the joy of puzzling things out. Fantasy lovers will enjoy a great story; and not just fantasy lovers – all readers will enjoy a wonderfully written and well thought of story. If you liked Kay’s previous works you’ll love this one as well. If this is your first meeting with Kay give this book a go, it’s interesting, well written and well thought out, it will draw you in and make you want to puzzle out things and learn and definitely pick up some of his previous works.
Sadly I don’t know when Children of Earth and Sky will be translated and published in Croatia. I asked a friend who recently met with Neven Antičević (btw he’s mentioned and thanked in the acknowledgments at the end of the book for the plot bunny 🙂 ), Kay’s publisher in Croatia, at SFeraKon and she said that they are aware of the book, but they don’t know when it will be published, but they will do their best to make it happen as soon as possible. Let’s hope it will happen. Oh and if you would like to see a Croatian translation perhaps we could write to Algoritam and make an inquiry about it. If there’s enough interest maybe the translation will come out sooner, you never know. But if you can’t wait you can get the book in English and enjoy seeing Slavic names without diacritics, cracks me up every time. 🙂
Meanwhile, if some of the topics mentioned are of any interest to you I’ll leave a few book recommendations for you to check out if you’re interested. Catherine Bracewell’s book The Uskoks of Senj, well known to every history student in Split and Croatia 🙂 (Kay also used it), is the best source about uskoks and Senj. It’s available both in English and Croatian. An excellent book about the history of Dubrovnik and the Republic of Ragusa is Robin Harris’ Dubrovnik: A History also available in English and Croatian. Many books were written about the Serene Republic of Venice, but a good newer book that I’m reading on and off (depends how much time I have) is Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire published in 2011. The Turkish historian Halil İnalcık wrote a couple of good books about the Ottoman Empire and his The Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age 1300–1600 is translated to Croatian and available in public libraries. Regarding the Triplex Confinium and life on the border of 2 huge empires and a Republic, a couple of books were published in Croatian. If memory serves me you can download them free of charge from the website. If have the time and are interested in trade and everyday life in the Mediterranean world I highly recommend you pick up Fernand Braudel’s two volumes of Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, also translated to Croatian and available in public libraries.
If you have any questions, comments, you want some more book recommendations, or you just want to chat with me about Kay’s newest book, or plan a strategy how to get this translated to Croatian as fast as possible leave a line below. I’d love to hear from you. I hope I didn’t bore you to death and that you liked the review. ‘till next time dear reader.