Boozy Books: The Sarantine Mosaic

Heyo! Welcome to Boozy Books, where we stretch our minds with books and dumb them down with booze.

Let’s get going. I’m seeing A’s new show later tonight, so I am going to make this as quick as e’er I’ve made anything, barring, perhaps, a Silly Sunday or two.

I can’t recall if I’ve ever paired something by Guy Gavriel Kay or not and I’m too darn lazy to go searching right at this moment, but, if I haven’t, it’s a damned shame and, if I have, it’s been too damn long. Kay is such a master of historical fantasy, it’d be a sin if anyone went through life without ever reading anything of his.

There are a few things I love about The Sarantine Mosaic that have nothing to do with the plot or characters within. First, it’s a duology, which is incredibly rare in fantasy. Trilogies or on-going series are far more common. And second, this duology is but one piece of the mosaic (see what I did there?) that is the world in which it takes place. While these novels focus on the Eastern Roman Empire (or, rather, a fantasy facsimile thereof), others in this world deal with the Viking invasions of Saxon England, and Moorish Spain. I am a sucker for reading about a character in one book and finding out how they’ve affected the world in another, especially if it isn’t the same series. But, I mean, you all know about my everlasting love for amazing world-building; I’ve only mentioned it a thousand gazillion times.

The Sarantine Mosaic, consisting of two novels — Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors — focuses, as much as anything titled mosaic, on the mosaicist Caius Crispus, called Crispin, who is summoned from his home in Varena to the great city of Sarantium, the capital of Trakesia, to create a great mosaic for Emperor Valerius II. The first book follows Crispin as he leaves his home and makes his way to the metropolis, eventually arriving and beginning his work on the new sanctuary (basically this world’s Hagia Sophia), as well as finding himself inextricably entwined in the city’s politics. (In case it wasn’t obvious, Valerius II is basically Emperor Justinian.) The second novel continues on from the first (obviously), with Crispin working on his mosaic and finding himself ever more part of the intrigue and politics of the mighty city.

OK, so that doesn’t sound that great, does it? Did I mention there’s a smattering, however light, of magic? And that the writing is some of the most beautiful, evocative language I’ve ever had the privilege to read? Or how about the fact that, while the world is obviously based in our history, it is at no point married to it and never sacrifices the story for the sake of being slavish to historical events? In historical fiction, that’d probably be a bad thing, but in historical fantasy, it’s absolutely the right thing to do. And Kay does it masterfully. The Sarantine Mosaic deals with themes of immortality through art (which, as a writer, I approve of), dealing with and overcoming loss, journey as change, the importance of art… and all of these things are beautifully woven through characters that are sometimes lovable, sometimes disgusting, but always human. And, really, what more could you want from a book? (Or, in this case, two?)

So… what to drink? Well, I did a bit of research into the matter and it seems that wines from the Negev region of Southern Israel were tremendously popular in the Byzantine Empire. In fact, though the exact grape may be lost to extinction, Wine of the Negev was THE most popular wine in the Empire. So, to the internet I went! And discovered that the Negev is home, once again, to quite a few wineries. My choice for tonight is, then, a wine brewed in the Negev region. And, knowing the Roman predilection for sweet wines, I have chosen a Port-style fortified sweet wine. If you can’t find a wine from a winery in the Negev, I’m pretty sure any ol’ Port will do, so long as it’s the sweet variety. The Byzantines loved wine, after all.

Well, that’s it for me today! I’m off to see A’s show! She’ll be here tomorrow with the Shakespeare!

C

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