All the Seas in the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

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It’s a reckless reviewer that ploughs right into the review without a moment for reflection. Yet having finished Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest, All the Seas in the World, only a few scant hours ago, I find no other path forwards as sensible as recklessness. I can no more separate this tale of seafarers and vengeance seekers from the mood in which I read it than one can separate memories of a place from the loved ones with which you were there.

All the Seas in the World is more than the sea and its ports, revenge and its targets. It is about exile, about family and reunions, about home. And I? I am someone planning my move on an immigrant visa to another continent very soon, leaving my native land and much of family to reunite with another part of it. Every time I meet someone, even just walk out of my front door, I think to fix things in my memory and anticipate the day when all of this is no longer mine in quite the same way.

Therefore this book hit me like few other books could right now. I cried at one reunion and felt my eyes get heavy maybe half a dozen more times besides. That’s maybe more tears than I’ve shed over all the books in the last half a dozen years.

Most of the others were over Guy Gavriel Kay’s other books too. I put that down to the way he writes so eloquently on the subject of desire, and all the things we desire and how uncertain it is that we will get them. When his characters find that safe harbour and need yearn no more, it hits me like a hammer.

This book is a great deal more than that though. It focuses mostly on Nadia and Rafel, partners in commerce and piracy. She is a former slave, taken by raiders from her homeland; he is one of the Kindath (Jews) that were expelled from Espanera (Spain). Together they make the most of the opportunities offered by the volatile political situation of the Middle Sea until a series of fortuitous chances and bold gambles leads them to the heart of a major shift in power, something they must contend with while also grappling with finding a sense of home.

It’s this mix of broad stroke politics and intrigue with the intensely personal that I find so compelling about Kay’s books. It must have been compelling here as I finished the book very quickly although in a lot of ways, the subtleties of this book were completely lost on me this time around. Still, more grist for the re-reading mill.

If I had to pick one thing that sent me crashing through All the Seas in the World at one hundred miles per hour other than the heightened emotional state, reading slump be damned, it would be the characters. It’s a large cast, many of whom have done terrible things, but the way Kay picks them up, examines the warp and weft of them, and finds their voice and humanity is… bugger, I already used compelling didn’t I?

Let me cut the thread on this review (particularly as my cat has arrived with his shoe string and a hopeful expression). I don’t really know where this ranks among Kay’s works, but I very much doubt it’ll disappoint any fans. It won’t convert any unbelievers either, and for continuity reasons can’t be recommended as an entry point (A Brightness Long Ago and Children of Earth and Sky both precede this book).

But for me, just me, All the Seas in the World will forever be a special book, a memory of a time too overfull to be made sense of in but the crudest terms. And thinking of it all again, book and everything, my eyes are heavy once more.

3 thoughts on “All the Seas in the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

  1. Pingback: Quest Log the Last

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