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Lord of Emperors

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Lord of Emperors (2000) Guy Gavriel Kay

The sequel to Sailing to Sarantium.

The second half of this story opens in Bassania, with the King of Kings suffering an arrow to the shoulder.

Had any other patient been shown to them in this state, the physicians would all have spoken the words of formal withdrawal: With this affliction I will not contend. No blame for ensuing death could attach to them when they did so.

It was not, of course, permitted to say this when the afflicted person was the king.

Rustem is a physician who has traveled, learning new medical techniques, and when the royal physicians fail to have any useful courses of treatment, Rustem is called in.

For his success, he is elevated in rank, and sent to Sarantium, to further his learning.

After the formal audience, the governor dismissed his attendants and confided privately to Rustem that he had been encountering some difficulties in fulfilling his obligations to both his wife and his favorite mistress. He admitted, somewhat shamefacedly, that he’d gone so far as to consult a cheiromancer, without success. Prayer had also failed to be of use.

Rustem refrained from comment on either of these solutions.

And of course, he sees other patients along the way.

But the main story soon returns to Sarantium, and Crispin.

With the thought he detected a slight stirring of the scaffold, a swaying movement, which meant someone was climbing.

This was forbidden. It was utterly and absolutely forbidden to the apprentices and artisans. To everyone, in fact, including Artibasos, who had built this Sanctuary. A rule: when Crispin was up here, no one climbed his scaffolding. He had threatened mutilation, dismemberment, death. Vargos, who was proving to be as competent an assistant here as on the road, had been scrupulous in preserving Crispin’s sanctity aloft.

But it is not the mosaic that is the heart of this story (even if it is the heart of Crispin) it is the politics.

Crispin, listening to Leontes now, had understood something, remembering the Strategos’s direct words and manner in the Attenine Palace the night of his own first appearance there. Leontes spoke to the court like a blunt soldier, and to soldiers and citizens with the grace of a courtier, and it worked, it worked very well.

The first thing Gisel came to understand, as she and the Strategos and his exquisitely haughty wife entered the presence of the Emperor and Empress of Sarantium, was that they were expected.

She was not supposed to realize that, she knew. They wanted her to believe that Leontes’s impulsive action in inviting her had taken Valerius and Alixana by surprise here. She was to labor under this misapprehension, feel emboldened, make mistakes. But she had lived in a court all her life and whatever these arrogant easterners might believe about the Antae in Batiara, there were as many similarities as there were differences between her own palace complex in Varena and the Imperial Precinct here.

And the charioteers.

(T)hen he saw the blood.

“Hello there. Have a difficult morning?” Scortius said easily. He didn’t reach for the helmet.

Taras cleared his throat. “I . . . didn’t do very well. I can’t seem to—”

“He did just fine!” said Astorgus, coming up. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Scortius smiled at him. “Fair question. No good answer.”

“I . . . stay First?” Taras mumbled.

“Have to. I may not be able to go seven laps.”

“Fuck that. Your doctor knows you are here?” Astorgus asked.

“As it happens, he does.”

“What? He . . . allowed this?”

“Hardly. He’s disowned me. Said he takes no responsibility if I die out here.”

“Oh, good,” said Astorgus. “Should I?”

Mind you, in this book the moments of levity are there, but the moments are sorrow are more. And the sorrows and grief come less from the deaths (for there are deaths) but from an event, foreshadowed, but still completely unexpected.

I think one of the things I love most about this story is that although the number of characters are almost overwhelming at the start of the story, one comes quickly to know these individuals, and care what happens to them.

Not just the major characters, like Crispin and the Emperor and Empress, but the characters who seem only minor–the traded charioteer, the cook and his helper.

It is these characters and their parts in telling the story that give the tale so much depth and feeling, that make this story–all the stories written by Guy Gavriel Kay, so utterly marvelous.
Rating: 9.5/10

Published by Roc

Categories: 9.5/10, Alternate History, Fantasy, Reread
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