Storytelling school

Kay’s Latest Epic Fantasy Novel Packed With Rich Storytelling

Guy Gavriel Kay’s latest “fantasy quarter-turn” is full of pirates, assassins and political intrigue. In Kay’s masterful world-building hands, that alone might be enough for most readers. But as he has done in his 14 previous international bestselling novels, Kay transcends adventure with complex philosophical musings on identity, loss, and how even our smallest choices affect us in ways that can take lives to analyze.

All the seas of the world is technically a stand-alone novel in Kay’s established alternative fantasy version of Renaissance Europe and North Africa. Chronologically, it is between children of earth and sky (2016) and A clarity long ago (2019), with some recurring characters seen from new angles.

Photo by Ted Davis

Whether or not you’ve read other works set in Guy Gavriel Kay’s fictional universe, the reading experience with his latest book is just as rich, albeit in a different way.


Photo by Ted Davis

Whether or not you’ve read other works set in Guy Gavriel Kay’s fictional universe, the reading experience of his latest book is just as rich, albeit in a different way.

The novels, read together, build a rich and complex universe spanning centuries and several novels, dating as far back as The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995). As a stand-alone story All the seas of the world is a shimmering thread in the tapestry.

For readers new to Kay’s world, you’ll want to bookmark the map and (long) list of characters at the start. You’ll spend a lot of time going back and forth to find out who’s who and where they are in the early chapters.

But this confusion actually improves reading. Kay does a brilliant job of mimicking the ways we struggle to understand and interpret our individual and collective stories when we never fully know the truth or the whole story.

The heart of All the seas of the world is the relationship between Nadia bint Dhiyan and Rafel Ben Natan, merchant-slash-pirates hired to assassinate a powerful ruler. The murder doesn’t quite go as planned, and the ripple effects are felt throughout the kingdom and throughout the novel.

Nadia and Rafel are shaped by the loss of their home. Rafel’s people were forced into exile and Nadia was kidnapped and enslaved as a child.

<p>All the seas of the world</p>
<p>All the seas of the world</p>
<p>Both are fully realized, powerful and challenging characters.  Kay asks questions, both woven into their stories and told directly to the reader, about how we move forward in a world shaped by loss.			</p>
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From his very first trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry (published between 1984 and 1986), Kay showed an ability to inhabit female characters with depth and intelligence, while exploring how they navigate worlds built for and by men.

It’s realistic about the pervasive violence women face, but it’s never gratuitous. Its female characters have agency and address fundamental questions of what choice and power mean in a patriarchal setting.

Readers get backstories and foreshadowings for some of the beloved characters from the related novels, but, just like life, as Kay writes, “full knowledge can be hard to come by. We live, we make decisions without it all the time. Bottom line: The reading experience is just as rich, in different ways, whether or not you’ve read the previous books. As Kay points out, none of us fully understand how or why things happen in our lives. .

Kay’s choice to include complete stories for minor characters feels like often aimless side quests at first, but pays off hugely as the impact of small choices and chance encounters unfolds: “The lack of meaningful can matter. The person we don’t meet, missing them at times… We are not at the mercy of chance or fate, but both are there for us.”

Kay, who was named to the Order of Canada in 2014, has a loyal international fanbase who connect deeply with his novels based on alternate versions of our worlds, from ancient Chinese dynasties to medieval Europe. All the seas of the world captures everything Kay does best: an in-depth look at what makes us human, woven into a set of thrilling adventures.

Joanne Kelly is a Journalism Instructor in the Creative Communications program at Red River College and a CBC Manitoba Radio Literary Columnist.

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