Review by Victoria Dixon
Guy Gavriel Kay’s “River of Stars” has the same setting, though a later time period, as the author’s previous book, “Under Heaven”. However, the previous dynasty’s glory has crumbled, leaving the Kitai Empire a shell weakened and ruled by an Emperor who loves his gardens and calligraphy more than the art of ruling. When the Altai barbarians from the north threaten, Kitai has no defense except the love of one capable man.
His name is Ren Daiyan. Kay follows Daiyan from childhood through his role in leading and energizing the Kitai army when no one else could. And at Daiyan’s heart – leading him home when he’s bewitched by an otherworldly fox spirit, is Lin Shan – poet and woman without peer in her day.
The opening third of the book includes various threads woven into a larger, grander tapestry. Daiyan and Lin Shan’s story, Daiyan’s passion for the rivers and mountains of Kitai, his unrecognized loyalty to the Emperor, poetry, philosophy and a sense of longing for Kitai’s lost past imbue “River of Stars” and give the novel a sense of timelessness. I fully expect to love this story every bit as much, if not more, on my fifth reading as I did on my first.
Incidentally, for those of us familiar with Chinese history, this should sound familiar as the author borrowed from the Song Dynasty’s tortured upheaval romanticized in “Outlaws of the Marsh,” one of China’s four best known classics. However, Kay normally draws more from historical documents of the period than the fiction and "River Of Stars" is no exception. If you're familiar with "Outlaws," you'll find all new, if familiar, magic in this book.