All The Seas of The World, the third book in a loose trilogy by Guy Gavriel Kay, takes place in a pre-renaissance country much like Italy. There are a small number of fantasy elements, such as the mysterious telepathy shared between two characters and an old pagan-like god that resides in an ancient forest. Yet, these elements are very small in comparison to the rest of the story. The book revels instead in its characters, themes, and the world itself rather than common fantasy tropes. This sets it apart from much of the genre, and if you care more about world-building, prose, and character development, then this may be the novel for you.
“There were mysteries everywhere. That was all right. You didn’t need to solve them all. Only the ones that affected you”.
All The Seas of The World follows a merchant (and sometimes corsair) named Rafel and his associate and friend Nadia as they are hired by an affluent pair of brothers to assassinate the Khalif of Abeneven. From there, the fate of the two main characters drastically changes as well as the fate of the known world due to this ploy for power. For all of the political machinations and historical relevance this story holds, it is the two central characters that shine through and carry the novel forward. Beyond them, there are some returning characters from Kay’s previous two novels, most notably Danio and Folco, with the latter playing a very integral role in the plot of this story. This being said, All The Seas of The World can still be read as a stand-alone novel. There are also some nice nods to Kay’s other works which share the same world, particularly The Lions of Al-Rassan.
“We are marked by what we have experienced young, some of us more than others.”
All The Seas of The World is a novel that takes its time. It is equal parts ponderous and beautiful. The prose is filled with borderline-poetic lines that question the capricious nature of fate, faith, and the connections we make. In terms of theme, it is the dark tether of exile that is the focal point of this story and the unifying factor that connects many of the characters in the novel. The feeling of losing a part of oneself, a home that can never be returned to, connects characters from across faiths and countries in All The Seas of The World. This does not hold back the violence that ensues when characters and countries do clash, but the bond of loss connects even those who are opposed.
“We do not always receive kindness in life, or in the memories carried of us after our dying. Unless it is from the god we worship, which is a matter of longing and desire. Never certainty.”
All The Seas of The World plays out like a historical fiction novel that has been given just a small dose of fantasy, which I quite enjoy but may not be to everyone’s taste. Guy Gavriel Kay writes fantasy in a way that no one else does, which may make him one of your absolute favorite authors, or you may not care for his books at all. I stand in the former camp, as this is the seventh book I’ve read by him, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. All The Seas of The World gets a well-deserved 5 stars.