River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
The books by Guy Gavriel Kay have been highly recommended and that made me interested in reading (or in this case listening to) one of his books. Especially Kay’s prose is praised and it was definitely one of the highlights of River of Stars, an incredible book all around. This was the first audiobook I listened to after staying away from audiobooks for years (mainly because I’m a very visual person and my hearing’s not the best). It took me some time to get back into listening to a book, but the narrator, Simon Vance, did an amazing job and I transitioned from reading books to listening to an audiobook very smoothly. There’s a reason the man gets so many awards and praise and I believe you can confidently pick up any book he narrates without having to worry about the quality of the voices.
A praise I heard shortly before starting to listen to the book was that the prose is beautiful and I wholeheartedly agree. It reminded me of a garden (probably because a perfected garden plays a role in the story) with every word at its place, well groomed and fitting. All around you you can see gorgeousness and every piece of the puzzle that is River of Stars complements the next. There were times I forgot about the story and simply soaked in as much of the prose as possible, marveling at the elegancy of it.
That can proof to be a minor problem too, as the story isn’t all that fast moving.
The story itself spans over many years and reads more like a book about history than a fantasy story. Not the dusty and factual enumerations I sometimes have to read for university, but rather what went for history books in ancient times, much closer to the people of the story than simply the objective facts. This is underlined by an at times omnipotent narrator that knows the future and tells the reader about partings of the years to come. The book tells the story of medieval china and its fight against the hordes of the steppe. I have only limited knowledge about medieval china, but I recognized a lot of the things in the book and am very positive that Guy Gavriel Kay did a lot of research. As such, the book is definitely a treat for anyone interested in ancient/medieval cultures.
That has it’s negative sides too, as I found the characters to take a back seat. Their story was nestled into the history of the country and they do provide a good entry point into the culture for the reader, but their actions can be futile at times. They get swept away by the story and I found especially the ending a bit dissatisfying. If I look at it logically, it’s a very good ending, if I look at it emotionally, I wanted something more. Interesting enough, the dissatisfaction might simply have come through the book to me, as it’s the same the protagonist must have felt towards the end.
Concluding: I enjoyed the book tremendously and if you have any interest in history you’ll too. It’s a book that dabbles slowly forward with a strong undercurrent that takes you with it firmly on a long adventure. It’s a story to dream about with the prose to complement. This will definitely not be the only book I’ll read from Guy Gavriel Kay and I’m looking forward to his other books. They make for incredible books to read when you need a slower paced book between action-rich stories.