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River of Stars

Thursday, October 5, 2017

River of Stars (2013) Guy Gavriel Kay

I had forgotten just how melancholy the end of this book was.

That doesn’t make the book any less good, but it did leave me craving something happy when I finished it.

As with all Guy Gavriel Kay books, there are a variety of characters you follow over time, and eventually these different characters intersect and interact with each other.

They also change and grow over time.

If the sub-prefect had had a more effective half-smile, one that conveyed amusement and superiority, he’d have used it then. But his wife had told him that when he essayed such an expression he looked as if he were suffering from stomach distress.

As with the previous book, this story is based upon a meticulously researched history of the time and place, but the diverges, creating characters that are similar to–but also very different from–this historical characters. But so many things are kept.

And Xi Wengao, for many reasons, had never subscribed to the more extreme limitations proposed by Cho teachers on the freedom allowed women in their time.

He knew too much about the past, for one thing. He loved women too much, for another. The ripple of voices, dance of eyes, their hands, their scent. The way some of them could read a gathering in an instant, and then guide it. He had known women like that. He had loved some of them.

He’d heard a wandering holy man, one of those from the high plateaus of Tagur (which had once been an empire, some said), preaching back home to a ragged crowd that if a man behaved badly in life he would return as an animal of some kind, to make amends for his errors. Young Ziji didn’t exactly believe it, but he did recall the simple piety of that man in his dark-red robe, and he treated his animals as well as he could to this day. They didn’t mumble and plot against you, he thought.

But most importantly, as with all this books, there are the beautiful passages that convey so much more than they should be able to.

She knows exactly what she wants to say in this letter, how many characters, how much ink she needs. You always grind a little more than you need, she has been taught (by her father). If you are forced to grind again, in order to finish, the texture at the end of your writing will be different from the beginning, a flaw.

She sets the ink stick down. Lifts the brush in her right hand. Dips it in the ink. She is using the rabbit’s-hair brush for this letter: it makes the most precise characters. Sheep’s hair is more bold, but though she needs the letter to seem confident of its virtue, it is still a plea.

She sits as she must sit. She adopts the Pillowed-Wrist Position, left hand under right wrist, supporting it. Her characters are to be small, exact, not large and assertive (for which she’d have used Raised-Wrist Position). The letter will be in formal hand. Of course it will.

A writer’s brush is a warrior’s bow, the letters it shapes are arrows that must hit the mark on the page. The calligrapher is an archer, or a general on a battlefield. Someone wrote that long ago. She feels that way this morning. She is at war.

Those four paragraphs tell you so much not just about Shan, but about the culture and the attention to detail that was paid to even the smallest things.

As I said, these stories are winding and complex, and an utter joy to read. But right now, I think my next book will be something with a less melancholy ending.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Berkley

Categories: Alternate History, Asian, Fantasy, Re-Read     Comments (0)    



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