Book Recommendation: River of Stars (Guy Gavriel Kay, 2013)


Hello everyone! Today, I will be doing a post on River Of Stars
, a semi-historical fiction novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian author. River of Stars is the sequel to Under Heaven, which I can recommend but not fully, as I read it some time ago and have forgotten a great deal about it. Both novels, however, are set in a fictionalized version of China, named Kitai. River of Stars is set during the end of the Northern Song dynasty, and approximately chronicles the events of that period as they took place, with the names of important figures and some events fictionalized.

However, the brilliance of this novel does not lie in this fictionalization, although it is impressive. Rather, the brilliance of this novel lies in the method with which it conveys the sweep of history; several chapters jump multiple years in the life of the protagonist, and the writing is some of the best I have ever seen. Although there are better passages than this one, any readers should discover them themselves; there is no point in giving away the best parts of the book and then telling you to read it. Nonetheless, this passage is emblematic of the overall writing style contained in the book; “The day gone, the evening, the night to come. The bird outside, he thought, was not brave or gallant. It was foolish, beyond words. You couldn’t deny the coldness of the world just by singing.” (Kay, 2013, 121.)


Perhaps that passage didn’t seem special to you, and if so perhaps this novel is not for you. However, it is my opinion that the writing contained in this novel may be some of the best historical writing ever conceived. To be sure, Norman Davies remains my favourite historian, and Umberto Eco’s historical accuracy cannot be faulted, but the writing of Guy Gavriel Kay is some of the most hauntingly beautiful I have ever come across. The end of the novel, though I will do my best not to spoil anything, is excellent; although it is bittersweet, it is easy to recognize that the story truly could not have ended any other way. Quite simply, I wholly recommend this book; even if you never read another historical fiction book, this one deserves your attention. The first book in the series, Under Heaven, is perhaps also worth a read; but coming from someone who had entirely forgotten that novel by the time they read the second, I can say with certainty that it is not necessary to do so before reading River of Stars. Certainly, the two complement one another, however, and so if you do feel like reading both I would not stop you.

In conclusion, this is one of the best books I have ever read. I hope that you all read it too, so the same may be true for you. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a wonderful day.

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