Fantasy, Mythology, History
If you love magic, myths, and legends, you will definitely enjoy reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s books. Kay has a knack for weaving together epic stories combining mythical and historical elements.
Kay can write elegantly without sounding pretentious. His wording is often abstract, a characteristic common in poetry. But at times, he effectively conveys what’s intended. Kay’s mastery of language elevates his writing and enhances the overall impact of his message.
Best Guy Gavriel Kay Books
Philosopher to Writer
Here is a little snippet of Guy Gavriel Kay’s history: While he was studying philosophy and law, Kay would hone his writing skills. He was requested by Christopher Tolkien to edit J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished work, The Silmarillion. This request enabled Kay to be a writer.
Now, Guy Gavriel Kay’s books have ranked him a world-renowned best selling author. Since 1984, Kay has published over 15 novels, earning him several accolades. Not only that, Kay was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2014 for his writing—who would’ve guessed?
Guy Gavriel Kay is a prolific writer with dozens of novels. Where do you even start reading? Luckily, I’ve put together this list of the top 10 best Guy Gavriel Kay books for you to start with. All of these books are excellent, so they’re presented in no specific order.
Let’s start our book reviews with one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s best series. You can find Kay’s first three books here. The story follows a group of five young university students, drawn into the world of Fionavar. Their adventure is to navigate through a complex web of political intrigue, ancient magic, and deadly danger.
Through the characters’ quests to save Fionavar from a powerful evil force, the series shows how our choices can end in either glory or disaster. I find that the plot also dares readers to question their own morality.
The first book, The Summer Tree, sets the stage and explores each character’s arc, illustrating how the adventurers react in different ways to Fionavar. The next entry, The Wandering Fire, continues their quest, but in a Tolkienesque style. Lastly, The Darkest Road concludes the trilogy with an exciting and heartbreaking story about love, sacrifice, and good versus evil—simple ingredients for a fantasy novel.
The more I read, the more I’m involved in the world of Fionavar, conflicted between light and darkness. The books’ narratives were simple to follow. There are plenty of clarifications for every character and location. With that being said, this series is easy to pick up for newcomers. I recommend starting with this series before reading more of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books.
Tigana is a spellbinding tale that firmly establishes itself as one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s most popular books among fantasy readers. This epic tale takes place on a Renaissance-style peninsula ruled by two powerful sorcerer tyrants. The story will definitely pull you into a world full of danger, wonder, and political drama.
The two tyrants who are currently in power on the peninsula are presented in such opposite ways that it makes for fascinating reading. Alberico’s a cold-blooded killer motivated by money and power—a classic power-hungry villain backstory. Whereas Brandin of Ygrath’s a man whose actions are entirely dictated by his emotions. The people see a kind man, while others see a territorial king.
I love how Kay could define such detailed world-building through his words! Tigana has to be Guy Gavriel Kay’s best book to immerse yourself in. I felt like I had entered a vibrant world of bustling cities, undulating hills, and beautiful forests. I was able to picture this fully formed world and get lost in the book from their descriptions.
Lastly, the characters were so well written. Each and every spoken line was engaging enough to glue me to my seat. Kay puts a lot of thought into these characters.
Guy Gavriel Kay loves to use history as a source of ideas for his political dramas and fantasy books. When he pieces them together, you get the Sarantine Mosaic series. Unsurprisingly, it’s truly a fantastic read. There are two books that make up this series. The first book, Sailing to Sarantium, follows a mosaicist named Caius “Crispin” Crispus. Crispin wants to go to Sarantium to become an artist. During his journey, he meets several intriguing, trustworthy, and deceptive people on his way to Sarantium.
In the second book, Lord of Emperors, Crispin arrives in Sarantium expecting to find solice. Over time, Crispin becomes involved in the city’s political and religious affairs. This lands him in a dangerous game of power and deceit.
Kay focuses more on “alternative history” than fantasy in this series. But once Kay starts describing the world of Sarantium, it’s fantastically described. Kay really took some time to research the local cultures of the Byzantine Empire but turned it into something new.
I absolutely loved The Sarantine Mosaic story and character building. Often at times, Kay would carefully ensure the main and secondary plots align. He can also keep track of a sea of characters without losing sight of the story’s main points. I see Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic book series as a strong contender to be the best of his books.
The story revolves around three individuals whose paths crossed due to destiny. Jehane, a Kindath healer; Rodrigo Belmonte, a famous Jaddite warrior; and Ammar Ibn Khairan, an Asharite who murdered the last Khalif. These three, so different but bound by fate, craft a complex and fascinating story.
The three friends must decide if they are loyal to each other, their nation, their religion, or fate. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a terrifying and complicated story about battle and the human condition.
I have to say that this novel is one of the best and highest-rated books written by Guy Gavriel Kay. This book poetically explores how respect, obligation, love, and faith define us. Kay spins threads of conflict through his ensemble, encouraging thought and introspection.
I thought The Lions of Al-Rassan was beautifully written and captivating. Sometimes the language was complex, so I took my time to take in the narrative and scenes, which I found engaging. But overall, this book truly shows that Guy Gavriel Kay is the best painter of imagination through his prose. I wish I could quote every compelling passage in this review, but I believe The Lions of Al-Rassan is a book that is best read firsthand to be fully appreciated.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven follows the life of Shen Tai, a gravedigger at Kuala Nor. During one of his digs, Tai hears the souls pleading to him. When the Taguran Queen writes to Tai, his life changes quickly. As the plot unfolds, you are taken on the journey of a simple man who becomes entangled in the twists and turns of history.
Kay gives a unique look at the events he is trying to show by making the main character someone who is not a member of royalty. This choice makes the story feel more grounded and relatable, as it highlights how even the smallest strands of our lives can be affected by the choices of others.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven is a breathtakingly beautiful journey through the blissful teachings of Taoism. It gently reminds us that life is but a fleeting moment and that the pursuit of eternal longevity is nothing but a fruitless endeavor.
As I read more of this book, Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing held my attention and pulled me into his creative story. His story reveals how complicated the An Lushan rebellion was, but it also takes fantastical turns. I think readers are left in awe at the vibrancy of his words and the brilliance of his tale-telling.
Kay emphasizes feminine virtue in the book. Arbonne is ruled by women and protected by a female deity and her followers, emphasizing femininity. Kay contrasts Arbonne with other societies to show the differences between women-ruled and men-ruled societies. Women talk more and focus on the arts, while men fight and act uncivilized.
Blaise’s perspective dominates Arbonne. He’s Bertran’s mercenary captain. Bertran can fight, sing, and seduce. Blaise, on the other hand, has a complicated past and an important role in his home country Gorhaut, which is at odds with Arbonne.
Blaise has to find a balance between his ancestry and the goals of the queens, dukes, troubadours, and women of Arbonne, whom he has sworn to protect. With assassination attempts, court drama, and moments of fate he can’t control, it won’t be long before war threatens the country and Blaise has to choose a side.
This book is riveting as many characters face danger, opportunities, aspirations, and the possibility of success or failure in their nations and personal lives. This fictional work encourages us to believe in magnanimity, greatness, and the possibility of everyone having integrity and elegance, no matter how hard it is to achieve.
The Last Light of the Sun takes place in a world that feels familiar, but it’s not exactly like ours. The characters worship different gods than what we know. The premise is a moving saga about cultures on the verge of changing, with Vikings, kings, faeries, and battles.
At the center of the story is a young Viking who runs away from home and joins a band of Viking mercenaries. The band has rivalries with the Welsh clans and the Anglo-Saxon kings and queens. As the three cultures meet, clash, and realign themselves, their lives become more complicated.
A Band of Mercenaries
This is another one of Kay’s novels that brings in a lot of different characters together. All of the characters, including those that briefly appear, have lengthy backstories. No character is too small because whatever they do affects the protagonists, the main plot, and the world around them.
I was captivated by The Last Light of the Sun from the beginning. I wasn’t prepared for the story’s mature topics and graphic scenes. The tone is darker than Kay’s other works, with themes of revenge, violence, the end of an era, the clash of cultures, and love—especially between two people from different cultures.
I must say this could be the best book I’ve read from Guy Gavriel Kay’s long list of novels. The story is a prequel to Children of Earth and Sky, but it can still be read independently. The story revolves around an elderly and influential man who is a member of the ruling council in a fantastical version of Venice.
The protagonist recalls his chaotic upbringing, how he got to where he is, and all the different people who had an impact on his destiny. The premise alone was interesting enough to keep me reading for long periods of time.
Gavriel Guy Kay does something that I don’t think many other authors can do: he makes you question everything. Kay’s previous work would often tell us more than we knew, which sometimes left us with meaningless digressions. But with A Brightness Long Ago, Kay made sure to make use of his philosophy degree. He invites us to pause and think hard, like solving clues from a mystery novel.
I would regularly put the book down and reflect on every word each character said. Guy Gavriel Kay has some really unique and insightful ideas, with more philosophy etched into his writing. I wouldn’t usually stop and think deeply enough to change the way I look at the world, but A Brightness Long Ago does this so well.
I didn’t expect Guy Gavriel Kay to write a separate book that takes place in the same world as The Sarantine Mosaic, let alone a trilogy. Children of Earth and Sky takes place amid the decline of Sarantium, when a dreadful plague causes havoc.
The story follows Danica Gradek, an expert archer who wants to get back at the Osmanli for taking her brother Neven. Pero Villani, a young artist with big dreams, wants to win the love of Leonora Valeri, a spy who has been sent away. And Marin, a merchant from Dubrova, helps the group get through the dangerous political and physical problems they face on their way east.
We are the Children
Guy Gavriel Kay’s character building is at its best when he highlights the protagonist’s fortitude in the face of adversity. It’s the personal stories, personalities and motivations of these characters that truly make this book shine. Kay brilliantly blends Jaddite and Asharite stories to create multi-dimensional characters.
I had fun reading Children of Earth and Sky. Although this book contains all of Kay’s “Kay moments,” such as complex backstories, amazing world building, and fantastical historical moments. He managed to spin them into something fresh. There were some points that felt rushed or dropped in pace, but nonetheless, it is a worthy read.
All the Seas of the World is the latest book by Guy Gavriel Kay and is also the final entry in a trilogy that began with Children of Earth and Sky and continues with A Brightness Long Ago. This story takes place in between the other two novels. But you can jump straight into this book without having to read the previous entries.
This book explores the idea of home and those whose homes have been taken away from them, a topic that is relevant to today. The tale focuses on two kids who are separated from their families at an early age.
Previously, Kay introduced several protagonists in prior novels. Instead, this novel only has two main characters. Rafel ben Natan is a corsair and merchant from Kindath. His family history is complicated. Lenia, his friend, was once a slave of Asharite corsairs. She wants revenge on her oppressors. With only two main characters and a few recurring ones, Kay perfected the backstories of his characters from A to Z.
Right from the get-go, you can tell how much Guy Gavriel Kay has matured in this new book. I noticed his prose is more open-ended for interpretation. I loved that Kay reintroduced certain Sarantium characters in this novel. I won’t spoil things, but seeing these characters made me happy that they weren’t forgotten.
From this list of Guy Gavriel Kay books, which ones piqued your interest? Every novel I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay has mesmerized me in some way. His language, world building, and inspiring characters are some of the few highlights. Kay’s novels are published consistently every three to four years, despite the complexity of his stories. If you can’t stand the thought of waiting, thankfully, you won’t have to.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)