First things first: when I got this book it was tagged as a "romance". Thankfully, it is not.
When you have a book with both a male and a female protagonist, and they do not even appear together in more than 95% of the story, it is not a romance — even if they should end up as lovers. [That's mostly for the reader of [b:The Lions of al-Rassan|104101|The Lions of al-Rassan|Guy Gavriel Kay|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348007861s/104101.jpg|955081], which was also not a romance…]
Now that that's off my chest.…
I said the other day that I loved Kay's blending of history, historical fiction and fantasy, but even then I was thinking that it's more "fantasyish" than "fantasy" and [b:River of Stars|15808474|River of Stars|Guy Gavriel Kay|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356089847s/15808474.jpg|21451403] brings this out starkly. Though ghosts, demons and spirits are considered just a fact of life in Kitan — as they would be for many of our ancestors, and even many people today — only three ghosts, one demon and one fox-spirit are ever seen. The demon is explained as trickery, and since none of the ghosts are seen by more than one person at a time, perhaps they're just hallucinations. But the fox-spirit is hard to dismiss: just Kay's way of pointing out that as historical as the novel may appear, it is just a novel!
I'm generally more interested in plot than character in a novel, but Kay's characters — even the lesser, and less likeable ones — are so well written that I can't help but love them. The story starts slowly, but then it's the story of two people's lives, and lives start the same way.
My only real complaint is with Kay's continual foreshadowing: "There are forks in every road, choices we make." he says. And says again and again, in slightly different words. In fact, if he'd said it in exactly the same words, as a refrain, I think it would have been less jarring.