My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It pains me to give only three stars to one of my favourite authors, Guy Gavriel Kay.
The story Kay relates takes up events several hundred years after the fall of the great dynasty in a China-like world Kay created in Under Heaven, revolving around, primarily, an unorthodox and intelligent woman, an unwitting and reluctant warrior/hero, and the usual cast of supporting intellectuals and likable villains.
I could not help but feel, however, Kay revisited what have become familiar and comfortable character-types and plot constructions, and thus the experience of reading River of Stars lacked lustre. His heroine is of course intelligent, an unorthodox woman in an orthodox society. His hero is caught in both political and magical nets. Both characters can easily be found in any of Kay’s previous impressive canon. And thus, by now, one could hope for something new, something fresh from that highly literate and artistic mind of Kay’s.
Certainly Kay’s writing remains evocative and lyrical, with some breath-taking images and descriptions that cannot help but move the spirit. Yet even that was marred by Kay’s understandable love of poetry and the poetic form, so that much of the narrative ended up lost beneath esoteric discussions that stopped all action.
Beyond that, Kay has chosen a narrative style in this novel wherein many subsidiary characters are introduced in detail, so that the reader is set up to believe this is a character which will continue throughout the novel because of the level of detail devoted to them, only to find by the close of the chapter they’ve been exiled, or killed, or in some manner marginalized, their complete future revealed and summarized and ended. By the second or third introduction of such a character, the reader no longer invests either attention or interest, longing to return to the main thrust of the story.
Most readers, I suspect, will enjoy River of Stars. Indeed there is much here to enjoy. But this reader, who longs to be surprised, found only the familiar, relatively well-executed tale, but without that lingering bouquet of a fine story-telling.