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Lord of Emperors: Volume Two of the Sarantine Mosaic

by Guy Gavriel Kay

With Lord of Emperors, Toronto fantasist Guy Gavriel Kay returns to the court intrigues and romantic entanglements set in motion in 1998’s Sailing to Sarantium. The reader is reunited with the mosaicist Caius Crispin, the emperor Valerius II, and the military commander Leontes. As in the trilogy’s first installment, the point of view slips through and around all three of these men, as well as their friends, servants, and enemies, as the reader witnesses the crowning months of this emperor’s reign.

But the men take an increasingly secondary place to their women, who steer affairs of both state and heart within the great city of Sarantium, Kay’s fictionalized take on the Byzantium of the sixth century. The empress Alixana, the dancer Shirin, the banished queen of Batiara – these are the agents of real power, both within the capital’s renowned walls and beyond.

The author undermines all his characters – male and female, human and animal, real and supernatural – with his irritating choice of narrative perspective. With such a sprawling tome, such ambitious themes (the lord of emperors, the reader learns, is both death and the artists and historians whose legacies can overcome it), and such Byzantine politics, a more traditional and limited omniscience might have allowed Kay more narrative control. That he swoops inside and out of his characters’ thoughts and motivations so glibly gives frequent rise to a cynicism and even disdain at odds with conventional third-person storytelling. (One example: “He might have made a mistake. It had become necessary to acknowledge that. Stubbornness had always had a price – why should it be different now?” Who thinks this while dying?) This narrative style may have been popular in the 19th century, but it doesn’t wash in the sixth or the 21st. Having simplified the cast list, if not the politics, by the end of this book, perhaps Kay will address these shortcomings in the final book of his trilogy.


Reviewer: John Burns

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Books Canada


Price: $32

Page Count: 464 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-88092-2

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 2000-3

Categories: Fiction: Novels