My first foray into Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing has been one of the most artful instances of unintentional edging I’ve had in a long time. In theory, All the Seas of the World is an easy sell, with real-world historical inspirations, and an elaborate pirate setting (I do love Black Sails) done in what the publisher describes as his signature “quarter turn to the fantastic” style. Kay is best known for these types of historical fantasies—dramatic fiction that draws from defining eras of past centuries, encompassing everything from a reimagined Tang Dynasty to a range of alternate medieval Europes. All the Seas of the World follows the same formula against a backdrop of religious war and seafaring corsair culture with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors.
Actually getting through Seas was, at turns, gripping and frustrating. For historical fantasies of this scope—the kind of far-reaching stories that flit across oceans and kingdoms and mention ten names in one breath—the first few chapters are often a rude baptism of worldbuilding, jargon, and geography that really takes time to sink in. Generally speaking, getting accustomed to this particular kind of historical genre is an acquired taste, as well as an acquired skill in learning to move along without getting overwhelmed by the frequency and volume of details and stylistic shifts.