Top critical review
Not Kay's best, but not his worst, either
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2019
Let me start by noting (again) that Kay's earlier books top my list of all-time favorites, and I re-read them regularly. I have been disappointed with his more recent work, including "Children of the Earth and Sky," to which this book serves as a prequel. I was really happy to find this book a cut above those, although not reaching the level of, say, "The Lions of Al Rassan," "Song for Arbonne," "Tigana," and the "Sarantium" duology.
The pluses are, as always, Kay's wonderful world-building, which is always based on meticulous research combined with a deft artist's touch, and his lovely, evocative prose. He is still one of the best stylists of the language out there, and his words are a joy to read. The characters were interesting enough, and not so numerous as to overwhelm the story (a problem I had with "Children").
So why the 3-sat rating? First and foremost, I don't feel that the main characters were as well developed as those in Kay's earlier works. While I got to know them superficially, I felt like I was always seeing just the outlines or surfaces and not the deeper nuances that Kay is really very good at revealing over the course of a book. I found this especially true of Adria and Jelena, but it was the case with all the main characters, for me at least.
Second, I get that a theme of the book is the roles chance, fate, and our own choices play in the unfolding of our lives. It doesn't need to be repeated ad nauseum in Danio's internal musings.
Third, I missed the kind of strong *major* female character that features prominently in books like "Lions," Song," and "Tigana." Yes, there are three women, but each shows up only in a handful of scenes, and their impact on the story is less in terms of how they affect world events than of how they affect the men in their lives.
Finally, the ending felt rushed - as though Kay just sort of ran out of story for Danio, so he jerked him into the present and wrapped everything up as quickly as he could. Again, not typical of Kay's better work.
So - three stars for a book that was enjoyable enough, but also easy enough to put down that I actually dropped it halfway to read another one before picking it back up again. Love Kay, though, and, as always, will eagerly anticipate his next offering.
And what was up with killing Adria so abruptly? She was one of the most interesting characters in the story, and her death robbed the book of one of its three nearly token female characters. I almost stopped reading at that point. She had a lot to offer the story, and it broke my heart to see her dropped like that!