Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars is difficult for me to judge. It’s a fantastic book, as of page 150, but I’m not sure about the book’s narrator. That is, I’m not familiar enough with Kay’s books to say whether or not this narrator is especially tailored to his attempt at Chinese history-inspired fantasy, or if it’s just how his narrator always is.
Based on what I recall of the first few chapters of Kay’s Tigana, this narrator’s quite different. If memory serves, Tigana was written in the same way that most epic fantasy is written now. It has various point of view characters and the different characters each have their own voice come through in their respective chapters’ narration.
To some extent, the same thing is happening in River of Stars, with one twist: the book reads like it’s narrated by a single person who imitates the point of view characters’ voices. The difference may be subtle, but the impression that I’m left with is that of a well-versed story teller putting on voices for each member of its cast of characters instead of one who gets lost in those characters and their points of view.
To concretize this a bit, what makes River of Stars different from, say, one of the books in A Song of Ice and Fire is that its narrator seems to have some sort of motive. Whomever Kay’s narrator is, it relates everything as if he or she was there and watching, observing, as if it were some omnipresent entity who will later use its observations to judge those it observes.