Sailing to Sarantium was my first Guy Gavriel Kay book, and it won’t be my last. Not just that it didn’t wrap up in one book (boo! … kidding), I also enjoyed the style a lot. Kay lets his story take place in Byzantium during Constantine’s reign. It’s not called Byzantium to allow for some creative freedoms and minor magic, but everything very clearly maps 1:1 to historic characters.
Our protagonist is a Roman (erm, West Byzantine) mosaicist, who is invited to Sarantium to build the new Hagia Sofia. His past, his journey and the court and non-court intrigue are part of this book, with the actual work in Byzantium as hook for the second book.
Kay knows his history, and (less common among historical fantasy authors) can make you love it, too. If you know your Byzantine history, you’ll find all sorts of great facts hidden in the story, and if you don’t, you’re not going to miss out. As most historical fantasy in this genre, it’s a fairly male cast, with most women being cast in passive (sacrificial or victimised) roles or overly sexualised. Plus, they of course all throw themselves at the protagonist. It wasn’t quite as obnoxious as I make it sound, but something I noticed when I finished reading. The clumsy horniness for hot powerful women makes me a bit less eager to pick up the next part.
But on the other hand, Kay made me excited about old mosaics, so I’ll read it sooner or later.