Review: All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel KayAll the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
Published by Penguin Random House Canada on May 17, 2022
Genres: Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 512
Source: Received from publisher

'Kay is a genius' Brandon Sanderson

Returning to the near-Renaissance world of A Brightness Long Ago and Children of Earth and Sky, international bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay deploys his signature 'quarter turn to the fantastic' to tell a story of vengeance, power, and love.

On a dark night along a lonely stretch of coast, a small ship, the Silver Wake, sends two people ashore to a stony strand. Their purpose is assassination. They have been hired to do this by two of the most dangerous men alive. The consequences will affect so many lives both great and small, and possibly alter the balance of power in the world.

One of those arriving on that night strand is a woman abducted by corsairs from her home as a child, escaping that fate, that destiny, years after, now trying to chart her own course - and bent upon revenge. Another figure, on the boat, bringing it to meet the secretive landing party at the city where they are going, is a merchant who still remembers being exiled as a child with his family from their home, for their faith.

Returning triumphantly to the brilliantly evoked near-Renaissance world of his most recent novels, international bestseller Guy Gavriel Kay deploys his signature 'quarter turn to the fantastic' to offer readers a wide-ranging, vividly memorable set of characters in a story of vengeance, power, and love, built around profoundly contemporary themes of exile, loss, and memory.

In a narrative of page-turning drama, All the Seas of the World also offers moving reflections on choices, fate, and the random events that can shape our lives.

When a pirate, a mercenary, and a would-be scholar are hired to assassinate the leader of a city state, a chain of events is set into motion that will change the course of history as they know it.

Rafel ben Natan and Nadia, who’s true name is Lenia Serassa, are an unlikely pair. From different empires, different faiths, and with wildly different motivations, the casual observer would struggle to explain their partnership. But when these two come together, it just works – and good thing, too. These two merchants will need each other if they’re to survive among the highest ranking, most feared and influential figures of the three major faiths.

With more than a dozen perspectives, you might think that Rafel and Lenia’s voices would get lost in the noise, but Kay brings them to life beautifully. Both fully realized with complex personal histories and uncertain futures, it’s their stories that link together the seemingly disparate (but of course connected!) stories of All the Seas of the World. Almost every character here is in mid-life or old age, which is a refreshing change since so much fantasy fiction centers the young. Characters who’ve already lived through war, who have already loved and lost, they have a different outlook than your average twenty-year-old. Of course, there’s no age limit on foolishness and experience doesn’t always mean wisdom, so Kay’s characters are not immune to poor choices. Which is a good thing, because bad decisions are great for moving a plot forward!

Almost every character in the story is in the mid- or late stages of life, a refreshing change since most fantasy centers the young.

I won’t attempt to explain the details of the plot because the events and the world of All the Seas of the World is truly epic in scope. History, religion, and geopolitics are all crucial elements of the story, so readers should be prepared. The vastness of the world might have been overwhelming if it didn’t borrow so heavily and from our world, but the parallels between Kay’s world and our own helped me find a sense of familiarity. In fact, much of the world is a direct mirror to our own, right down to the absence of magic. For me, the absence of magic from All the Seas of the World was disappointing and puzzling. Barring a few mysterious events explained away by religion, there’s nothing fantastical about this story at all.

As always, Guy Gabriel Kay’s prose is beautiful and poignant. All the Seas of the World is quite philosophical but the ideas are presented in an accessible way. The sweet bitterness of hoping for peace in a violent world brought tears to my eyes more than once. Kay can turn a phrase, there’s no doubt about that! Narratively, there were some choices that I found a little bizarre, including a few seemingly-random detours into metafiction. I got the impression that the metafictional aspect is a common thread from the other books Kay’s set in this world, but I haven’t read them so I can’t be sure. When you’re a master of your craft, I suppose you need to experiment to keep things interesting!

In spite of a few elements that didn’t work for me, All the Seas of the World is an engrossing read with memorable characters. Recommended.