"Sailing to Sarantium" is the first half of "The Sarantine Mosaic", an excellent diptych by the utterly brilliant fantasy author Guy Gavriel Kay. The second installment is called "Lord of Emperors".

After "The Fionavar Tapestry" and a string of fabulous single-volume novels ("Tigana", "A Song For Arbonne" and "The Lions of Al-Rassan"), Kay has now published the duology "The Sarantine Mosaic". The story appears to be set in the same world as "The Lions of Al-Rassan", but in a different country and time. Still, there are references to Esperana, Trakesia and other semi-fictional countries that are mentioned in "The Lions of Al-Rassan".

When someone says they are "sailing to Sarantium" (an obvious reference to "Sailing to Byzantium" by W.B. Yeats), it means they are going through a time of change, even upheaval, in their lives. Likewise, the major characters in this novel are going through strong life changes. The mosaicist Crispin, the guard Vargos and the former slave Kasia arrive in the city of Sarantium. This is the story of how they arrive there, and how the city influences them, and vice versa.

In typical Kay fashion, this is a historical novel disguised as a fantasy novel. Magic doesn't play a very strong part, and anyone with some basic notions of history can draw easy parallels between this novel's characters and settings, and their real-world counterparts. Still, the novel will be enjoyable even if you are not familiar with the historical period.

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