|Guy Gavriel Kay is an author I have largely avoided. He
suffers from an affliction that is all too common among fantasy writers: he writes miles
of exposition interspersed with inches of action.
does suffer from exposition disease. There are reams of poetry, acres of reflection on
honour, barrels of unnecessary character exposition. And nestled among this like pearls
are bits of action.
In this case, though, the reams and acres and barrels are well-written and interesting.
The setting is Tang China, over a thousand years ago. The poetry, reflection and
exposition all fit together to create a picture of a society that is radically different
from Western civilisation today. The fantasy world based on an Eastern culture, with
honour as the most important thing, is badly overdone; Kay has made it seem significant,
even if its not fresh, and has drawn profound messages from it.
If you know much about different Eastern cultures, you will recognise that the cover
artist is mixing his cultures, and incidentally his time periods: one of the figures on
the cover looks like a Japanese geisha, so is wrong in both appearance and timeline
(geisha are traced back to the early 17th century). However, the book is much
better written than that, and is well worth reading.