There it is, sitting listlessly on my bedside table, the newest Guy Gavriel Kay novel, Children of Earth and Sky. It is teasing me to open it, silently pleading for me to read it. But, like a fine wine, it must be savoured at leisure, enjoyed with the perfect morsel, on a leisurely night, with absolutely no possibility of interruptions. One doesn’t rush through a book like this. So, I am waiting, anticipating the moment when I can give it my full and complete attention.
“Writing what I do is an artistic opportunity, and it’s also an opportunity for readers who are bored with what they have been getting, with the diet they’ve been served, who like the idea of moving out of their comfort zones.”
If you haven’t met Guy Kay, he can be found at McNally Robinson whenever a new book of his is published. He grew up in Winnipeg and tells hilarious stories about his days at Grant Park High School. You can find references to his Winnipeg childhood in his book of poems Beyond This Dark House. He is most well known as the author who invented his own genre, what we now refer to as Historical Fantasy. Kay loves to take you on a journey into the past; he uses a recognizable time period but gives it a quarter turn to the fantastic by including elements of mysticism and fantasy.
“My readership is not vast and titanic but they’re loyal and they get what I am trying to do…It makes it easier for me not to do a straightforward historical or a straightforward fantasy. I can live in my hard to categorize space because I’ve had a measure of success there. “
Kay is a master of literary innovations. He loves to leave open spaces in his novels that will leave you wondering. At first, you think he accidentally left out an important bit. Later, you realize, it is a little gift for you, the reader. You can fill in these missing details as you wish. This time, Kay’s innovation is to cut from one person’s point of view to another’s in the middle of the conversation and back it up a bit, so that the reader can see how the characters are interpreting the situation differently.
“The reading process is a dialogue…It’s the reader sitting down and taking from what I can give, whatever they can take – or choose to take”
Interestingly, Children of Earth and Sky is set in the same world as The Lions of Al-Rassan, The Last Light of the Sun and the Sarantine Mosaic (my favorite). But it is 900 years later, and so the world has changed. Kay did not want to write about the “movers and shakers” or use a quest to bring characters together. This novel is about the concerns of ordinary people; it has several protagonists, each with a different trajectory, all moving in different directions and having different goals. Kay’s main inspiration was “how we’re actually not very good at understanding each other” and how “we remember the same moments differently”. Using these ideas, he created complex characters, layered with levels of humanity who will live with you long after you finish the final page.
“We want a book to actually get its hooks into us so much that we’re altered by the interaction with it…If you are writing ambitiously, you are, in fact, hoping to change people.
In high school, I was given The Summer Tree to read by a bookish acquaintance. She told me I was going to love it, which I doubted. As it turned out, the very second I finished it, I screamed, jumped up, walked straight out the front door and grabbed the next bus to the library and checked out its sequel, The Wandering Fire. If you are wondering why I didn’t just buy the eBook, it was 1986 and that’s how we rolled.
That acquaintance has been my best friend ever since. I am expecting her to call any time now to check to see if I’ve started IT yet. She’s probably already finished and will be annoyed… we have a strict NO SPOILERS rule. In my defense, I will say to her (in my best Boromir voice), “Tamara, one does not simply READ Children of Earth and Sky, you must SAVOUR it, like the finest, rarest, most exquisite of wines”.
Passages in italics are from the May 2016 issue of LOCUS magazine, “Journeying Guy Gavriel Kay,” by Guy Gavriel Kay, pages 7, 48-49.