All The Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay, published by Penguin/Random House, brings readers back into the world he first introduced us to in A Brightness Long Ago and Children of Earth and Sky. While some of the characters will be familiar to those who have read the former, the main focus is on a pair of new characters, partners in a merchant/corsair business.
Rafel ben Natan and Lenia Serrana, sometimes known as Nadia, are not what you’d call typical of this type of partnership. Women in their time are mostly either wives, prostitutes, entertainers, or cloistered in one religious order or another. The fact that Lenia not only has a monetary interest in their business, but also takes care of certain less savoury aspects of their affairs – she’s very skilled with knives – makes their arrangement even more unique.
In some ways this story is about how these two, people who had previously done their best to keep a low profile, become caught up in the major events of their times. Through circumstance, and happenstance, they find themselves becoming figures of some influence.
The world they travel through is Kay’s reimagining of early Renaissance Europe, shortly after the fall of Constantinople to what in our world will be the Ottoman Empire. Anyone familiar with European history can’t help but recognize some of the countries and events depicted in the book.
Creating his own version of our world’s history has become Kay’s hallmark. He delves deep into the social and political mores of the times depicted to create a vivid and accurate description of people’s lives. This total immersion into the story takes the reader beyond being a passive observer and often times makes you feel like you’re a participant in the story.
The fact that Kay’s characters, from the leads to the cameos, are all compelling, makes it even easier to become caught up in the experience he creates. We want to know their stories and he obliges by providing us with intricate backstories for almost everyone we meet. Even those we regard as the villains of the piece have a history explaining how they developed.
Kay is never obvious with any analogies to the contemporary world in his books. However so many of the characters in All The Seas of the World have been forcibly removed from the lands of their birth it can’t help but remind us of the displaced people of our time. Whether refugees from persecution, or captives of corsairs and taken into slavery, his characters carry with them the psychical and emotional scars of their past trauma.
It doesn’t matter where the person is born, their political allegiance, or their religion, being forcibly removed from your home is damaging. Kay’s characters display symptoms of their past. From Lenia’s need to appear strong and enact vengeance to Rafel’s need to secure his family’s safety, so much of what the characters do was born in their history.
Combined with Kay’s masterful storytelling skills, these elements help make All The Seas of the World both an amazing story, and a beautiful examination of the nature of home and finding your place in a tumultuous world. A truly wonderful book which will enthral and delight readers over and over again.