It’s funny how Wednesday keeps falling on a Thursday, isn’t it?
What have you recently finished reading?
Most recently was John Scalzi’s novella, The Dispatcher. A good quick read — it takes an interesting ‘what if’ and then generates a mystery story around it. It’s kind of fantasy, in that the reason behind the what if isn’t explored, but kind of speculative fiction/sci-fi in the way it extrapolates the effects on society. This is why I just prefer to call everything SF/F and cover all my bases.
What are you currently reading?
Judith Herrin’s Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. It is not remotely surprising to me, all things considered, but I am finding it interesting. Mostly it is making me want to reread Gillian Bradshaw’s The Bearkeeper’s Daughter and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sailing to Sarantium. Mostly the latter, since I recently reread The Lions of Al-Rassan.
What will you read next?
I’m partway through a reread of Amanda Downum’s The Bone Palace, and after that I want to finally read the next book, Kingdoms of Dust. After that, I’m not sure; I should tackle something on my started-but-not-finished pile, so possibly Christopher Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff. Or I could just follow my whim and reread Sailing to Sarantium. I also have some books out of the library, and I should particularly try and make progress with G.R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois’ Dangerous Women anthology.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s books are almost always worth a second read, and The Lions of Al-Rassan is no exception. (Sorry, but Ysabel remains the outlier. I’m sure somebody likes that one, but not me.) The Lions of Al-Rassan is based on the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, with all the clashes between religions you’d expect. The Jaddites are pretty plainly Christians, the Kindath are Jewish, and the Asharites are Muslims — more or less. There are some variations.
As you’d expect from Guy Gavriel Kay, nothing is that simple. It’s not just about the clash of cultures, but what they can give to each other and how, perhaps, they could live alongside each other… except of course for the folly of humans, which means it never works out for long. But while nothing works on the grand level, the various characters find ways to learn from each other and live with each other on the individual level — and therein lies the tragedy, as their loyalties conflict and they are ultimately and unwillingly forced to choose.
I love all three of the main characters, and many of the side characters too. Jehane is particularly awesome, especially the fact that she’s not just a serious female physician with dignity to stand upon. She’s also funny, daring, sexual, warm… and self-controlled to her own detriment. Then there’s Ammar, who loves his country despite his faults, who will not abandon his people despite everything — and who also finds room to love those outside his experience. And Rodrigo, so faithful to his wife, to his king…
And then, of course, there are characters like Miranda, and her determined defence of her home and family — and of her right not to be jerked around by her spouse, who honestly better watch himself.
And then… As my wife just said: “Imagine the most loving meat-grinder, and then put all your emotions into it.” That’s pretty much this book.
It’s beautiful and painful and if you get emotionally involved with it, you will be ripped to shreds. And you’ll like it. Sort of.
Ssh. It’s not Thursday yet. I’m in a magical bubble of time dilation, or something.
What have you recently finished reading?
Juuuust finished my reread of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan. My heart is broken, of course; he writes brilliantly, and the ending is so tragic and bittersweet. And ugh, I wish Rodrigo and Ammar could just… walk away, and not fight each other. It’s inevitable that they do, and that’s part of the heartbreak, but. Gah.
What are you currently reading?
With the usual caveat that I’m technically currently reading a lot of things, the top of my pile right now is The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi. I had an ARC, but I saw a published copy in the local bookshop and grabbed it. Couldn’t resist. And now I’ve finally started it!
What will you read next?
I’m fairly confident, for some reason, that on Thursday morning I will start reading New Scientist’s Instant Expert: Where the Universe Came From. Because I haven’t been bending my brain with relativity enough already. Possibly this has something to do with how I can time travel so I’m still in Wednesday as I write this…
Repost! Since for some reason, WordPress ate the first version.
It’s February 14th, which means it’s Valentine’s Day. Which means that the TTT topic for today is, unsurprisingly, about romance. I’m going to talk about couples-that-might-have-been, and couples-which-aren’t-yet, in books that I love.
Csethiro and Maia, from The Goblin Emperor (Katherine Addison). Okay, they’re getting married, so the chances are good. But we only just glimpsed the two of them beginning to really come together as a couple. I long to see more of Csethiro protecting him, and Maia respecting her and giving her power and influence in his kingdom, and how that unfolds.
Kim and Aileron, from The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay). Come onnnn, I can’t be the only one who saw that. Kim should’ve stayed in Fionavar; marrying Dave makes no sense at all. But then, Kay is kind of prone to that.
Arthur and Guinevere, from Paths to Camelot (Sarah Zettel). I just love seeing them have a functional, central, mutual relationship without betrayal. We get glimpses of them throughout the four books, but… I want more.
Eowyn and Faramir, from The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). They make sense as a couple, but they have so little time and development. Gimme more!
Alcuin and Anafiel, from Kushiel’s Dart (Jacqueline Carey). It’s not faaaaair.
Phèdre and Nicola, from Kushiel’s Chosen (Jaqueline Carey). I really liked their relationship and wished we saw a bit more of it.
Alan and Matthias, from Blood and Circuses (Kerry Greenwood). Their scenes together with Phryne made me laugh, and I kind of hope that they at least kept up the relationship.
Lin Chung and his wife, from Murder in Montparnasse (Kerry Greenwood). I feel like Lin Chung’s wife deserved a bit more ‘screen time’, so to speak — she and Phryne could have a fascinating relationship, and she seemed pretty interesting as a character.
Rupert and Bryan, from Season of Storms (Susanna Kearsley). Okay, I kind of want them to be my dads, but. The book ends tragically and it’s not fair.
Celia and Marco, from The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). Or maybe I just never wanted that book to end…
And now I kind of want to go and reread all these books.
This week’s Flashback Friday is a bit of a special one, because it turns out I’ve written a full review for Tigana every time I’ve read it, from my first encounter with it. All of these are here, dated, in chronological order. I hope you find it as interesting as I did!
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.
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.
I found Tigana annoying me so much this time around. Kay’s overly ornate way of writing, the way he makes even the simplest of events sound So Deeply Important by the formal way he’s writing… But it all came together for me again when I sat down and just read. I fell in awkward, torn love with Alessan, with Brandin, with Catriana, with Dianora, with Baerd. I loved the way people came together, willingly and unwillingly, against the other halves of their hearts. I love how people became whole again, or didn’t, and found healing and/or revenge, or…
It’s a complex plot, full of complex people, and I love it so much. I’m rereading all of GGK’s work in chronological order, to watch his development as a novelist (and for the sheer love of his work, of course), and up to now this has always been my favourite. Right now, I’m not sure where it ranks exactly — but oh, I do love it.
Reading Kay’s afterword and seeing what his influences were is also pretty fascinating. It doesn’t surprise me, in retrospect, that Brian Friel’s Translations influenced him, even though it seems like a leap from a literary play about language to a fantasy novel that is, on the surface, about the fight against tyranny (but then, those two don’t seem so very far apart if you think in Colonial terms).
This week’s theme is “Ten Characters You Just Didn’t Click With” and actually, I’m having a bit of trouble thinking of it. Okay, here goes…
Jill Pole and Prince Rillian from The Silver Chair. Actually, most of the characters in the last two books. They just didn’t have the magic, somehow.
Prince Sameth, Lirael & Abhorsen. Compared to their mother, both him and Ellimere are just weak tea. He spends so much time denying his responsibilities, where his mother just took it all on and never dreamed of saying no. In a way, it’s a more realistic characterisation, but gah, so much whining.
Elvira, from Half a Crown. I love most of Jo Walton’s characters, but Elvira’s concerns seemed so far away from the concerns of the more mature characters we’ve already spent time with.
Boromir, from The Lord of the Rings. I know he’s actually a good guy at heart, and we see the evil power of the Ring twisting him, but there was something so glory-seeking and self-centered about the guy, especially when compared to Faramir.
Malta Vestrit, from The Liveship Traders trilogy. Ohh my god, so spoilt. And it doesn’t really get better even as she begins to grow up; I never liked her. Mind you, a lot of the characters in this trilogy were very dislikeable, to me.
Miriamele, from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Speaking of spoilt characters…
Jaelle, from The Summer Tree. I never felt like I really understood the character, and I wanted more out of her.
Katsa, from Graceling. I know! She’s pretty kickass, but I never really connected with the character. It’s why I didn’t like it that much the first time I tried it.
Lancelot, in anything. Almost the sole exception is Heather Dale’s music and parts of Steinbeck’s retelling of Malory.
Dorian Havilliard, Throne of Glass. Actually, I didn’t really ‘get’ either love interest in the first book, but Chaol is growing on me. Dorian… there are some aspects I’m liking, but in the first book, he really didn’t win me over.
I tried to pick books I liked, in general, and characters who are not meant to be villains. I’ll be interested to see what other takes people have on this theme!
This week’s theme is auto-buy authors! I think I did this topic the last time it came round, but these things are prone to change. It’ll be interesting after I’ve made the list to look for the old one!
Scott Lynch. Even seeing a short story of his is in a collection is enough to prompt me to at least consider picking it up.
J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure he’d even approve of the state of the stuff Christopher Tolkien is putting out for him is in, but I will always be fascinated with every word the guy wrote.
Jo Walton. If I can’t get the ARCs, at least… Jo is my friend as well as a favourite author.
N.K. Jemisin. I think I knew she’d be an auto-buy author from the first page of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
Jacqueline Carey. I’ve seen her deal with stuff I wouldn’t be that interested in ably, in a way that comes out fun. Yeah, I’ll buy anything.
Guy Gavriel Kay. Person most likely to make me cry at his work, except possibly Jo.
Garth Nix. I haven’t even read all his backlist yet.
Patricia A. McKillip. It took me a while to get into some of her books, but I think I’m securely hooked now. I’m glad there’s still a whole bunch of backlist titles I haven’t got to yet.
Neil Gaiman. Okay, I’m not 100% a fan of everything the man says, and the title of his latest collection of short stories didn’t work for me, but if he writes a book, I’ll probably get it. Maybe not immediately. But in the end.
Rainbow Rowell. It surprised me, but I just preordered Carry On and realised that yeah, I probably will automatically buy anything by her. Something about her style just… works for me.
The Darkest Road, Guy Gavriel Kay Originally reviewed 26th January, 2012
No matter how many times I read them, these books still make me cry, and more, they still have me reading late into the night, breathless and stunned. I know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t take any of the poignancy out of it. Of the three books, this is the strongest: the best prose, the best action, the best images, the best in all the characters. He draws everything together do well, and puts the readers’ hearts through a blender without caring how much they’re undoubtedly cursing him.
(I seem to recall calling him a ‘magnificent, glorious bastard’ the last time I read it, and my other half agrees. No one can accuse Kay of being too gentle with his characters. He’s one of the few writers who can be ruthless. Tolkien’s work, dark as it can be, holds back from killing off the characters we love, and thus makes them less mortal, less fragile, and less dear.)
I still think that Kay sucks at building romance stories up. I believe in the established love of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere — and fresh from reading The Mists of Avalon, I find myself thinking that Kay wasn’t simply talking of loyalty to a lord when he wrote of Lancelot’s love for Arthur — and in that of Sharra and Diarmuid. Kim and Dave, Jaelle and Paul, though…
I’m pretty sure I’ll return to these books again, and find the same shining delight again.
The Wandering Fire, Guy Gavriel Kay Put together from reviews written in 2010 and 2012
By this point in reading the trilogy, you’ve probably decided whether you can bear with Guy Gavriel Kay’s style or not — whether you can be invested in his characters or not. If the answer is yes, then carry on: he won’t disappoint you. If not, then… I don’t think he will get your attention at all.
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 mostly seems to happen at the end: for the characters and for the plot, this is a time of waiting, of things coming together. If you’re invested in the characters, though, there’s plenty to worry about: Kim’s dilemmas, whether she has a right to do what she’s doing; Paul’s separation from humanity; and Kevin’s initial helplessness, and then his journey to the Goddess… And there’s Arthur, of course, and the Wild Hunt, and Darien…
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 and echoes 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.
It’s amazing to me how much I can love almost every word of this book and yet find a small scene was horribly jarring — it’s the same in The Summer Tree, just one scene sticks in my throat and won’t go down. It’s the scene with Kim and Loren, at Maidaladan. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no build to it. I always thought she should go to Aileron instead… now there’s a build-up that makes at least some sense.
Nonetheless, wow. This book breaks me more every time.
The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay Originally reviewed 22nd January, 2012
Fresh from reading most of Tolkien’s work, and writing a gigantic essay on it too, I have a different perspective on Kay’s work. Especially when reminded that Kay worked on The Silmarillion with Christopher Tolkien. He has a lot in common with Tolkien, really: the synthesis of a new mythology (though not done as history, and therefore lacking all the little authenticating details that Tolkien put in) using elements of an old one (though Kay used Celtic and Norse mythology, and goodness knows what else). The comparisons can’t help but be made, though Kay sees his world as a tapestry and Tolkien as a song being sung.
I don’t think he makes his world as well as Tolkien does. I feel info-dumped, at times, rather than as if I’m just touching on the tip of a giant submerged mass of lore and wonder that even the inhabitants of his world only half-know. His gods are much more touchable, and more concerned with the individual fates of mortal men, and so less distant and thus less awe-inspiring. I think, perhaps more like C.S. Lewis, he tries to handle more than he can really weave together.
But, that’s not to say it’s totally unsuccessful. A book that can have me laughing at one moment and weeping not three pages later can’t exactly be classed as unsuccessful. His style is distancing at first — perhaps too much of a high tone, which Tolkien avoided with his hobbits — but there are some lovely lines and turns of phrase, and undoubtedly he makes me care about the characters.
Another hint that he’s doing quite well is that this is at least my fourth reread of this trilogy, though I could well have read it more than that.