Guy Gavriel Kay is an author who I really, really need to read more of. My first experience with him (Tigana) was very good, and I’ve been meaning to read more for a couple decades now. Thankfully, I was reminded of him a while back, and picked this up just recently.

His general formula is to do a rich story in an invented, fantasy world that borrows heavily from a particular period of history. Here, the invention is fairly limited, as the geography is quite recognizable, if juggled around a little. Of course, geography had, in many ways, so much to do with the Reconquista, that that’s probably necessary. And… past that its fantasy side is stunted. One secondary character has a foreseeing ability. And that’s it. There’s no other magic here.

But, the religions are also shifted around, with the three-way tension of the Abrahamic faiths being instead different peoples who worship the sun, the moons (two), or the stars. Which allows Kay a few devices that add to the poetry of the book, but… grates on my sensibilities a bit. How did any of these get started? Why, when there’s already worship of one, does another get started? I mean, factionalism inside any of these would be easier to understand than just what exact problems these three religions have with each other. What would the fantasy-Romans or Greeks have worshiped? The can of worms can only stay closed when you refuse to look outside the confines of the story.

But the story itself is well done, and powerfully presented. This is Kay’s real strength. He brings ~14th Century Spain to life, and makes some interesting choices on how to do it. The Caliphate is gone, and the major characters are a little too aware of where history is going, and that not only will it not return, but the brilliant culture it produced is doomed to fade away. The major characters are all too well aware of where history is going (really, anyone this prescient would make a killing on Wall Street), which is more a vehicle to simply explain to the reader and add to the tone of loss. He also goes for a lot of poetic imagery, deliberately concealing information in one scene until it can be revealed later, and other literary slight of hands to raise tension and bring more of a ‘mythic’ feel to a story that is solidly grounded in real characters. They’re a bit larger-than-life, with some action-adventure tropes, but those impulses are restrained.

Kay juggles action and world-watching throughout the book. The types of action vary a bit, which is nice, though one portion felt more like it was lifted from a Clancy novel. On the other hand, part of the magic is being able to incorporate so many different things. It’s not perfect, but it is well-balanced and enjoyable throughout.