Kay (River of Stars, 2013, etc.) makes another incursion into a world but a quarter-turn from our own past in a historical fantasy connected by a thin thread of continuity to his Lions of Al-Rassan.
Similarly, only a thin thread of the fantastic is apparent as we follow a large cast of five interconnected main characters (and a host of minor ones) through love, loss, holy war, assassination attempts, and political machinations. Danica is a warrior driven by revenge...and the memory of her brother, Neven, taken as a child by enemy soldiers; Leonora, a disgraced woman–turned-spy, is courted by Pero, an ambitious artist with his own intrigues, while Marin, an enterprising merchant, plays guide to them all on a fraught journey east through the political and physical hazards of a renamed, but thoroughly identifiable, Mediterranean of the 16th century. (Indeed, Kay's homages to the history, and his very light touch with the fantasy, begs the question of why the fantastic was needed at all.) This sprawling saga covers much geographical ground, and more than a few battles, as Jaddite (Christian) and Osmanli (Ottoman) forces clash in a war that complicates the lives of our heroes in dramatic fashion. Yet Kay is prone to drawing back from the crux of climactic moments to instead muse on how small individual lives are in this grand tapestry; the plot seems to exist largely to enable such high-flown ruminations. As a result, the emotional impact of Danica's quest, as well as those of the other subplots (which hinge more than once on happy coincidences), is eternally somewhat muted.
The historical setting is lush, well-researched, and well-painted, but Kay runs a risk of readers finding the history to be his strongest character.