Late autumn, early morning. It is cold, mist rising from the forest floor, sheathing the green bamboo trees in the grove, muffling sounds, hiding the Twelve Peaks to the east. The maple leaves on the way here are red and yellow on the ground, and falling. The temple bells from the edge of town seem distant when they ring, as if from another world.
Guy Gavriel Kay is known as a writer of fantasy, but his fantasy worlds are those of real times, real places, and sometimes even real people. River of Stars introduces us to a woman poet, an artist emperor, a wily 12th century Chinese minister, and a boy from a small village on the western edge of Kay's imagined Kitai, who rises to become the empire's most beloved hero. They are fictional characters in a fictional land set like a palimpsest over the very real people who lived in the very real China of the 12th Century C.E., and as such they can tell a vivid story of their time, their country, their lives.
Su Shi, a real poet of the Northern Song, wrote:
Oh Moon, how I wish to get closer
By riding on the breeze.
Yet I fear your crystal and jade chateau,
Are much too high and cold.
So, let me just dance here with my moonlight shadow.
I often make the argument that we are the same people we always were.
Chan Du, an imagined poet of Kay's (or so I imagine), could be writing today.
...I cannot find rest
Because I am powerless
To amend a broken world.