wilderthan: ((AkihikoShinjiro) To touch you)
Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)

I tried to avoid specific spoilers, but I've nonetheless put this under a cut just in case.

Cut for spoilers and length )
wilderthan: ((Books) And shoes)
Reread 30th November, 2009.

I've read all the rest of Guy Gavriel Kay's fiction since I read this the first time. It's definitely not my favourite. The writing style doesn't quite seem so smooth and easy -- there's something a bit dictatorial about his writing in places in this book, so that instead of letting us make observations, he's handing them to us pre-packaged and not letting us do so much work. I don't remember that in his other books, but it struck me quite strongly, rereading The Last Light of the Sun. It's funny: I think I like The Last Light of the Sun more than I did the first time I read it, and yet I have more criticisms. For example, I don't think I got to know and love the characters as much as I did in, say, the Fionavar Tapestry, or Tigana. GGK can tug on my heartstrings with the best of them -- probably is the best of them -- and I did feel it, in this book. Alun was a character I found compelling because the Cyngael are so obviously Welsh. I tried to sympathise with him, really wanted to, but so often he was too cold and presumptuous... I wish that Judit had been more of a character; I think she would've been fun. I found her a sympathetic character.

I found that the end wrapped everything up a bit too neatly, too. Alun marries Kendra, Bern goes home and marries the girl bitten by a snake (and to my shame, I can't remember her name, I found her that much of a non-character -- she, too, could have been more compelling), Thorkell dies, Alun gets to free Dai... all of it. I wish there'd been more attention paid to the raggedy-ends -- Thira, Bern's whore, or Hakon, the Erling who loved Kendra, Rhiannon... It feels like all the threads are resolved with a bit of handwaving. I wanted more. But then, I always do, with GGK.

I don't know how I feel about the portrayal of the Welsh (yeah, yeah, Cyngael, but we know what he means) in this book. It certainly doesn't anger me, certainly.
wilderthan: ((Yuffie) Whoa)
This is still such a beautiful, beautiful book. This is my first reread, but I can tell you already that it won't be my last. The writing is gorgeous, and the imagery and the politics and the characters are all amazing. The careful laying of the plot, with the different subplots that weave in, like the Carlozzini and Dianora's own plans, is amazing. There are so many points in the book where I found tears coming to my eyes that I don't even know how many times it happened. It's an amazing, amazing book.

One of the things I noticed most this time round is the backstory, the creation of a mythology that hangs around the edges of the story -- provides sanctuary, or is important to one subplot or another, without taking centre stage. Backstory that both enriches the world, the worldbuilding, and serves a purpose, without being pointless or entirely utilitarian.

I also noticed the moral ambiguity that he builds up. Especially in the figure of Brandin, of course, who has done such cruel, terrible things, but has reasons and a kind of nobility of his own and can actually be liked, in some ways. But not just him. Alessan himself isn't amazing either -- although one difference between him and the tyrants is, of course, that though he does use his special power to bind someone to his cause, he does release them to their own free will and does feel a lot of remorse.

The last line of all means that Guy Gavriel Kay probably deserves to go and live in his own special circle of hell. It's an amazing, beautiful ending, and it's so, so cruel.
wilderthan: ((Mitsuru) Angry)
I don't even remember what I said about this book the last time I tried to review it. It has the same flaws as Sailing to Sarantium, really -- a tendency to dwell on things that could be dealt with in a much more subtle way. Also a tendency to get ahead of itself, and talk about things that will happen many years down the line. And a slightly irritating tendency to flashbacks and confusing verb tense.

As a whole, though, it reads well, 'tastes nice', and builds up beautiful pictures in the mind. New characters are introduced in this book, but it does mostly build on the characters and ideas present in the first. I wonder if he wrote them together and had them published separately, or whether Sailing for Sarantium was published before Lord of Emperors was finished. I suspect the latter, given the publication dates being two years apart. It might explain some elements that I feel weren't used to their full potential.

Although, on the other hand, all of the characters introduced serve some purpose, whether they are small or not, and the number of characters and the way their lives intertwine is a part of the complexity that Crispin has to deal with once he reaches Sarantium. So it's appropriate enough, if slightly irritating -- characters like Vargos rather disappeared into the background, after having a reasonable run of it in the first book.

There's a lot of sadness in this book. Sadness about the impermanence of art, about politics twisting everything, about love despite politics, twisted loves... Struggles about religion, too. There's a lot of big stuff. I wish now, again, that I understood the "real" history better, because then certain events and people might mean more to me. For me, though, it's a fascinating fantasy world, offering tantalising glimpses of the politics and royalty of the world, while also knowing when to pull back and focus on the ordinary.

But then, I'm biased. I'm reasonably sure that Kay cannot put a foot wrong. Not far wrong, anyway.
wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
Rereading a book by Guy Gavriel Kay always makes me think my first review was inaccurate. I reviewed the two books of this duology together last time, which doesn't help. Sailing to Sarantium is "alternate history", based on the Byzantine empire. As usual, Guy Gavriel Kay's interests hit a period I know very little about, although obviously I understand the references to Rhodias/Rome, since I studied it.

The main character the story follows is Caius Crispin, a mosaicist. It seems a weird hero to have, when other characters in the story are kings, queens, emperors, charioteers... a lot of characters with seemingly much more interesting roles to play. But Crispin can observe, can step back for a moment, and also, can be thrown into the middle of it to be confused and out of his depth. Not a bad choice for a character, really. He's an interesting sort of man, too: the first time we see him he's being very angry and vulgar, bullying his underlings, but over the course of the story, we see much more to him than that.

Sailing to Sarantium mostly concerns his journey to Sarantium, and his first couple of days there, and his designs for the dome that he's to decorate with a mosaic. In that short time we get a glimpse of the gods -- he interferes with an intended sacrifice -- and rather more than a glimpse of court machinations. Having a two book venture allows Guy Gavriel Kay to set his world up carefully.

It's Guy Gavriel Kay, so of course I like the writing. Sometimes it feels as if there's something off, something a little too simple or awkward about it, but for the most part it works. Sometimes I wish he would refrain from telling us exactly how his characters feel, and let us infer it, and I wish he wouldn't spend quite so much time in people's heads to tell the flashbacks, but it's not too obtrusive, for me.

There are some elements of the plot of which I don't remember the significance to the later plot. Reading it, I wasn't sure what purpose they served. Guy Gavriel Kay is too careful, in my experience to let a thread go -- but I'll have to report on that when I've finished the next book.
wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
I've reviewed A Song for Arbonne before, but it was hardly adequate, and I need to review it again for it to count for my "read my own height in books" challenge, and I've come to like it so very much more since the first time I read it.

As I pointed out before, I'm aware that technically this book is part of Guy Gavriel Kay's alternate history type books -- not sure how exactly to describe them, because I am still not familiar with the events the book is based on. Maybe one day I should find out, and then reread it to write a review with that in mind. For now, as before, I stuck to seeing it as pure fantasy and it didn't hurt any to do that. It doesn't matter what historical connections can be drawn, Guy Gavriel Kay still writes a fully realised world. It'd be surprising how little space he needs to do that, if I wasn't already aware of his skills. He sets up the conflicts easily, sets up the reasons, sets up the religions. I'm half in love with Arbonne myself.

I do think that it's a bit of a poetical ideal, more that than a realistic place. It somehow doesn't bother me, though.

Character-wise, I got to like the characters more this time round. Blaise and Ranald, especially. Their family is so broken and painful, and Kay does a good job in this book of showing how far small splits within and between families can carry -- as with Bertran and Urté. Blaise is a little irritating at first, but he does develop into a character worthy of being king. Ranald is... pathetic. But he redeems himself somewhat and I actually cried at his death. It's more pity for the opportunities lost than attachment to the character.

Bertran... I liked him better from the beginning, knowing what I know about his past, because I knew what he was doing. Again, there's a good job of showing his wasted potential.

The romance also didn't bother me as much this time. I still don't think it's Kay's strong point. A lot of it comes out of nowhere, and while love isn't rational, I'd like just a bit more explanation.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the book. The writing is lovely -- tastes nice -- but sometimes it becomes just a bit too poetical and lyrical and faintly... old-fashioned. It suits the tone of the book, because the whole of Arbonne is like that. It has a kind of enchantment of its own, but I feel kind of wary about reccing this book to people I know in case it doesn't work for them and they cry purple prose. I think it walks a delicate line, and for me, it doesn't cross it. But I know for some people it definitely does. More so than his other books, maybe.

Also, what the hell is with all the women wanting Blaise? Come on. One man is not all that attractive -- he isn't even given the nicest character at first, but there's all these women falling into bed with him! Ariane, Lucianna, Rosala, Lisseut...

I would have liked more of the minor characters, like Rudel and Valery. Rudel would have been lots of fun, and Valery was just one of those characters that gets to me -- loyal and quiet and unflinching.
wilderthan: ((Yuffie) Whoa)
The final book of the Fionavar Tapestry is, unsurprisingly, the longest. After the long build up of the first two books, the war finally really gets underway. It's still very Lord of the Rings, with all the races joining up and wars and a lone person making his way into the heart of darkness, etc. In another way, it's completely not like Lord of the Rings at all. For one thing, not everyone lives. Boromir aside, most of the main characters in Lord of the Rings survive. Not so with Fionavar. Guy Gavriel Kay, as I have observed before, does not go gently. I kind of want to shake him and curse him, at the same time as admiring what he does with it, and how much he's made me care about the characters.

There are also some beautiful, fitting conclusions that make me very happy.

There are also some rather strange conclusions that baffle me. I think I've observed before that GGK is not so great with intentional romance. I don't feel Paul and Jaelle at all, for example -- I can see what he tries to do with them, and I understand why he thinks they'd be suited to each other in one way, but when it comes down to it, I really don't feel anything about them getting together. Same thing with the hint of romance between Kim and Dave (that follows through into Ysabel). Just... why? Where's it coming from? And yet something that could have been good, like Kim and Aileron -- don't tell me I was the only one? -- doesn't happen at all. These, however, are minor flaws.

Throughout the trilogy, GGK's writing is beautiful. Some of the scenes in this book are so very vivid that they stick in even my very-much-not-visual kind of brain. The image of Leyse floating down to the sea, for example. The death scenes are all lovely in a painful way, especially (for me) the one after the large urgach has been killed. They're like punches in the gut.

I still don't feel like my reviews have managed to capture how much I love this trilogy. Forget the flaws: I love it. I love the characters and the world, and the writing. If you can't get past the flaws, fair enough, but there is a real gem here, I think.
wilderthan: ((Mitsuru) Angry)
The second book of the Fionavar Tapestry feels by far the shortest, to me. That isn't to say not much happens -- a lot does happen, so much that it makes my head spin a little, but it feels quite short. Possibly because my copy is both slim and has bigger writing than the other books, which are both thicker and have tiny writing. Anyway!

The Wandering Fire really introduces the Arthurian thread, which is the newest thing. It's been hinted at and set up already in The Summer Tree, but it's in The Wandering Fire that that's finally articulated. I'm interested as to how much Guy Gavriel Kay has drawn on existing Arthurian legend and how much he has built himself. I haven't read anything about Arthur being punished over and over again -- he's generally portrayed as fairly virtuous -- and I've never read anything about Lancelot raising the dead. I do like the way the legend is constructed here -- differences to the usual main themes and stories, but using them and showing that the stories we have are supposed to be reflections of this 'reality'.

I love the fact that the gods aren't supposed to act and there are penalties for this... and actually more of the lore about the gods in this world, like Dana working in threes and her gifts being two-edged swords.

The death in this book makes me cry... not the actual death, at least not until the very last line of that section, but the reactions, and particularly Paul's. This isn't really surprising, but it highlights once again how much these books make me care.
wilderthan: ((SamDean) Facts and weapons)
I've posted a general review of the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy before, here, but I never felt that quite cut it. So this a review of the first book, The Summer Tree, and separate reviews of the rest of the trilogy will follow. It's worth looking at my overview of the trilogy, too, because I'm not going to repeat all of it, necessarily.

Firstly, the trilogy does seem very derivative, mostly of Tolkien, although me and my mother once went through spotting myriads of possible influences. There are great points of similarity between this trilogy and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but there are differences. The mythology is much more plainly taken from ours -- as is appropriate, given the idea that Fionavar is the true plane and our world one of many reflections -- and woven very deeply into the whole story. So much relies upon the gods, rituals belonging to the gods, etc, even though mortals are the ones taking actions. Gods are rather less present in Tolkien, particularly in Lord of the Rings. It's also quite a lot shorter.

Not that it doesn't pack a punch. In three hundred pages, I'm as invested in these characters as I ever am in Frodo. More about that in a minute.

It's not exactly perfect, even though I think it's powerful. The first few chapters don't really catch my attention, and seem kind of like a Mary Sue fanfic. The prose is a little odd, sometimes, sometimes rather closer to poetry, which I didn't like at first. If you go with it, it's fine, or so I found.

The characters were my main draw, really. Paul and Kevin in particular: Kevin's love for Paul, his yearning and desperation; Paul's helplessness, hardness, coldness, grieving, selfishness, selflessness. I feel their relationship very strongly. Diarmuid arouses mixed feelings in me: I know I didn't like him the first time I read it, but this time through, I read it with sympathy for him. This trilogy definitely doesn't suffer from rereads, for me, probably benefits from it because I'm already invested, despite the (to my mind) weak beginning.

The setting is another draw. The blending of mythology is lovely and appropriate.

It's also amazing how much gets set up for later. Tabor, Jennifer, Matt, Leila, Jaelle... Reading it now, and knowing how things go, I'm amazed at how well everything is set up in this book.

I can understand the beginning being a turn-off, but give it chance. It has a charm and a draw of its own. I feel like this review only began to touch on how much I love these books and why. Just for one more illustration... The Summer Tree is one of the few books that makes me choke up every time. The rest of the trilogy is also on that list. I find the writing extremely powerful, despite the first-novel pitfalls.
wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
I was somewhat more aware of the historical origins of this book than I generally am reading Kay's stuff, although I kept drawing comparisons with my knowledge of Ancient Rome. In terms of the parallels, I actually find it interesting to figure out what represents what -- e.g. the Kindath and the Jews, the Jaddites and the Christians, etc. I also like that it's not a direct parallel, and Heladikos -- who I assume refers to Jesus -- has a different form of sacrifice altogether to the real world's Jesus.

In terms of plot, this one is interesting. You wouldn't think the life of a mosaicist would prove so interesting, but when you have a fiery guy like Crispin, along with a miraculous talking bird, ancient gods, and a whole tangle of politics he gets involved with, there is actually quite a lot of story there to chew on. I enjoyed the characters a lot in this book, although I'm wondering who will die -- because this is Guy Gavriel Kay: some will die, and it'll break my heart. This guy doesn't handle his readers with kid gloves.

I raced through this and right on to the second book. I'm glad this story is stretched out over two books: it gives Kay time to build something magical. I loved the second book, too. Guy Gavriel Kay doesn't handle his readers gently, still, but I wasn't expecting that. My heart was really in my mouth during some parts of the book, and I was genuinely sad at some of the deaths. None of which is a surprise when it comes to Guy Gavriel Kay. I also had no real issue with the romance in this book, which often trips me up in GGK's writing -- until the very end, I didn't know who Crispin would end up with, but I wasn't at all troubled by that.

The political parts of this are good, too. And it's amazing how you're made to feel sad, amongst all the death, about the destruction of a half-finished mosaic.

Now I'm just sad that I've finished reading all of Guy Gavriel Kay's work.
wilderthan: ((Simon) Can't take the sky)
I expected to love The Lions of Al-Rassan. After all, it's Guy Gavriel Kay, and my mother wept for hours over the ending. I have to say I didn't cry, but I came close.

In terms of plot, this is again one of his semi-historical ones, and again, I don't know the time period very well at all. I think it'd probably help if I did: with this one, I just had to keep pushing through my confusion to grasp what was going on -- not that that was a hardship. I've found that even if you don't quite know what's going on at first, if you just hang on and pay attention to all the details, it'll be fine. There's no problem with his world-building, even without knowing the world he's trying to match. One thing I did notice in this book was long stretches of narrative in which events are described, but without close attention to what exactly is going on. If there'd been a bit less of that, I might have felt closer to the characters and less disconnected from the plot.

Something new I noticed, in this one, was his way of hiding what is actually happening. Several times somebody dies, and he misleads you as to who for several pages, and then suddenly it's revealed, and it's not who you were expecting. That got a little irritating, to be honest.

Character-wise, again, GGK is wonderful. I always care about his characters -- rarely so much as the characters in the Fionavar Tapestry books, but that's largely due to how much building up can be done in three books, I think. In this book, he really hurts you with that. The special thing for me was the complex, strange relationship between Ammar and Rodrigo. I half-expected them to kill each other, at the very end, thanks to what Ammar -- I think -- said to Rodrigo when they fought side-by-side: "Shall we kill each other for them now, to set a seal on it?" That would have had a certain rightness to it.

I'm not sure I agree with the people who say this is his best book, but it's certainly a good one and I'm very likely to come back to it, and no doubt I'll love it even more the second time.
wilderthan: ((Yuna) Dance)
I'm aware that this book supposedly has connections to real history, but I read it as pure fantasy, and loved it as such. Guy Gavriel Kay is rapidly becoming one of my favourite fantasy writers. I love the way he can pack so much into just one book -- I felt as if as much was going on here as in the three books of the Fionavar tapestry, and I felt the same about Tigana. His world building is amazing, even if it does build on actual historical events. Even completely ignorant of those, I built up an incredibly rich picture of Arbonne in my mind.

There were a few plot twists that I didn't expect, which is something I love in a book. I'm not sure Kay got it quite on the nose here: I saw foreshadowing for what happened to Aelis' child from about halfway through, but I didn't see any foreshadowing for who it would be, and nor did I really care about it when it was finally revealed.

Characterwise... I didn't get as fond of Blaise as I have been of other Kay-protagonists. I'd have liked to see him as a person built up more -- perhaps through interaction with his best friend Rudel -- although I did like his slow growth into acceptance of the goddess. I also liked Ranald's little character arc -- I wouldn't say I was fond of him, but I was quite upset when he died at that moment. I was fond of Bertram, somewhat, mostly. Other times I wanted to hit him. The women characters didn't appeal to me so much, here, but overall the characters didn't disappoint me. I hold Kay to pretty high standards! It didn't match Fionavar or Tigana, but it did beat The Last Light Of The Sun and Ysabel. It's funny: I thought those were quite good when I first read them, but now I think Kay can write much better.

In terms of handling romance, in some ways I thought Kay was better in this book than in others. I was sort of rooting for Lisseut, but I was quite glad that nothing explicit happened between her and Blaise at the end: I didn't see the build up for it on Blaise's end, or the cause of it on Lisseut's. Rosala and Bertran seemed a little out of the blue. Ariane and Blaise I kind of liked, though it could have done with more development.

Overall, I liked A Song For Arbonne quite a lot. Not his worst work, but not his best, either.
wilderthan: ((Simon) Can't take the sky)
The very last paragraph makes me want to kill Guy Gavriel Kay. The impact was somewhat spoilt by my mum spoilering me beforehand, but... on the other hand, knowing it was coming hurt more, too.

One thing I definitely have to say is that Guy Gavriel Kay's romance was much better in this book. I never really saw Catriana and Alessan coming, but at the same time, it was understandable and it didn't make me come over all "...no" like Paul and Jaelle in Fionavar did. Dianora and Brandin were delightfully star-crossed.

I loved the little references to Fionavar, too.

The characters I got to love very, very much. Maybe not quite as much as I grew to love the characters in Fionavar. He wasn't quite as ruthless with his characters in Tigana, though, so I didn't test my love of the characters in tears!

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favourite authors right now. Really. I don't see that changing any time soon, either.
wilderthan: ((Fujin) Won't understand)
I really, really liked The Last Light Of The Sun. Some things about it were predictable, but that's not a new thing for me when I read fantasy. Some of the things were predictable but I never figured out how they would come about. I really love the melding of different cultures in this, the Norse and the English and the British. One thing I have started to observe in Guy Gavriel Kay is that he can't really write romance -- at least, not in a way that satisfies me. In the Fionavar books, in Ysabel and in this book, there are characters that I can plainly see he wants to be together, but he seems to bring them together too suddenly and then... it doesn't quite work for me. The character-building and world-building is wonderful, and sometimes his relationship building is too (see: Paul and Kevin, in The Summer Tree, in my opinion). He's better at writing friendship than romance.

Halfway through reading this book -- fifty pages in, even -- I put it aside for a bit and ordered all the other books of Kay's I could get my hands on. His writing is lovely, and his storytelling just right for me.
wilderthan: ((Gale) Demons)
I loved Ysabel. It's a semi-sequel to the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, though it only involves two of the characters from that, and those much older than they were. The little glimpses you get of how their lives have gone are believable, and interesting, and just about right, I think, for a book that isn't really about either of them. The main character is really Ned, Kim's nephew.

The core story is a little like the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot thread in Fionavar, except that it isn't as clear why the story is repeating itself. The Celtic influences are very, very interesting -- to me at least. The resolution of the main plot is neat and well-done, in my opinion, although I think I could've stood to hear a lot more detail about Phelan, Cadell and Ysabel, and more about how Ned's abilities develop. The characters themselves don't quite have the depth that Guy Gavriel Kay brought to Fionavar, but at the same time, I think that's to be expected.

The descriptions in the book are lovely. There's not too much of them, but there's enough to bring a real flavour of the setting. It couldn't be set anywhere but Provence, I think, the way it's written.

So... I wouldn't have complained had it been longer, and a bit more detailed when it comes to characters and background, but I did enjoy it and still want more of Guy Gavriel Kay's work, despite being warned that I probably wouldn't find it up to the standard of the Tapestry trilogy.
wilderthan: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] bottle_of_shine's cat herding challenge, which, misleadingly, involves no cats. It actually involves books. And you can read more about it here. The basic idea starts with listing ten books you love. I've decided to list trilogies and the like as a single book, otherwise my list would get swallowed up by about two authors! But I'd say that reading and reviewing any book from the trilogy/series would count as one.

Ten books I love )
wilderthan: (Default)
I just finished reading the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, by Guy Gavriel Kay. [livejournal.com profile] the_reader, I think, introduced the books to me an age ago with some commentary on how the female characters were Mary Sues and the books terribly like a "got sucked into a book" fanfic and derivative, and yet it works.

And he wasn't wrong )


wilderthan: (Default)

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