We find ourselves to be strangers, facing the unfamiliar. The setting is ever changing. But that up-against-it feeling of having to make it up as we go is ever with us. Sometimes we must re-frame the questions to begin the journey towards answers. A soupçon of the strange is sometimes all we need to shake us out of the blindness of the bland and help us make sense of the endless new that confronts us.
Literature, and particularly literature with elements of the fantastic can give us the off-angle we need to actually see ourselves. We can thank Guy Gavriel Kay, then, for his latest novel, Children of Earth and Sky, a fantasy set in a Shakespearean world that manages to speak to our world while it entertains the hell out of readers with a truly ripping yarn. Utterly original, filled with thrilling characters and stunning set pieces, Children of Earth and Sky is no less a powerful parable of politics, family, and just how much of a difference any given individual can make.
A young woman pirate makes a daring raid; a young artist is sent to paint foreign noble’s portrait; a young merchant finds himself at a pivot point of power, and a young soldier proves his talent and trains for glory. Kay crafts on a huge canvas, but he keeps the stories personal and easy to follow as they converge and spin around one another. Children of Earth and Sky is page-turning and poignant.
Moreover, given the setting, Kay manages the almost impossible task of reminding readers of Shakespeare with incredible grace. His prose is crisp enough to read smoothly while his dialogues have a wonderfully poetic ring. Children of Earth and Sky is a testament to the power of the literature with elements of the fantastic (not too many, just enough) to explore realms beyond the standard-issue remixes of Tolkien. And Kay has a nicely understated sense of humor so that matters never seem fraught. There’s more than a bit of swashbuckling fun here, but the book always feels pleasing gritty.
In the final analysis Children of Earth and Sky is very much it’s own novel, unlike anything you’ve read unless you’ve read the other books that Kay crated with this backdrop. This is not to say that it is part of a novel-in-ten-books series. It stands alone, a stranger facing the unfamiliar. We all feel lost now and again. Losing one’s self in Children of Earth and Sky might very well be the best first step you can take homeward.
I spoke with Guy Gavriel Kay about Children of Earth and Sky, and while we spoke, time stood still around us while the rest of the world went about its business. Here’s a link to the long form chat. We’ll give you some great insights into how the book was crafted and Kay’s thoughts about the themes in the book without going too deeply into the plot. Perfect commute listening while the book you just bought at your local independent bookseller accompanies you on the drive home. But, you can also put on your headphones and tell the boss you’re hard at work and listen here.