I can understand people who don’t like Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. I think I’ve said it before, but there are definite quirks of style, ways he plots and deals with characters, that can drive even me mad in the wrong mood — which is why I first picked this up to reread in April, and now it’s November when I’ve finally finished. I do love most of Kay’s work when I’m in the right mood, though, and A Song for Arbonne is additionally up my street because of the Court of Love, the troubadours, all the stuff that’s part of the Arthurian legends as well once they hit France.
I don’t think, though, that I fell for this book quite as much as I have for some of the others. I’m not as attached to Bertran as to Alessan or Diarmuid; not held in sympathy with his rival and enemy, Urté de Miraval, as I am with Brandin in Tigana, not until the very end of the book; not really caught up in Blaise’s story, in his fight for a throne, as I am with Aileron’s or Alessan’s. There’s some good stuff here, but some promising background characters didn’t really come to full bloom for me — Valery, Rudel, even Hirnan — and despite the women-centric society, we didn’t have female characters as striking as Catriana or as pivotal as Kim. Rosala was probably the female character I was most interested in, but she comes somewhat late into her own, and I felt as though I should be more aware of the other female characters. They shadowed the story, they were behind it, and yet they weren’t the visible drivers. Not quite the story Kay was aiming to tell, I think.
Still, all of that sounds harsh, when I really do enjoy this book. When Kay gives you a scene, a character, a moment, he expects you to remember. He will use it. One character’s chance word reveals another’s secret, one introspective passage becomes suddenly important. It’s a rich world he creates, and some parts of it dance with life — and ache with sadness.
It’s just, it does pale when held up against some of his other books. Even the flaws of The Summer Tree and the other two books of that trilogy are brilliant. I was a little surprised to like this book possibly less this time than last, which may be some combination of mood and timing; normally I like Kay’s work better with each reread.
Regardless, there’s always something to treasure in Kay’s work.