Werthead

Guy Gavriel Kay

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I've read Tigana and Last Light of the Sun. I love them both, really. Need to get on to the rest of Kay's books, but I didn't like the first Fionavar book, couldn't get into it.

Interesting the complaint about the magic in Tigana- I liked the way it was powerful but didn't overwhelm the story. And there was always some sort of a cost of using it.

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I found this book to be better than average, but not ground shaking for me. It was a solid read, but it did not compell me to read anything else written by GGK. I can't really explain why I did not like it more, but I just thought it was a good book, nothing great.

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SPOILER: Lions

Uhm. In what fashion is he responsible for deaths that could be avoided? And why is Rodrigo's death worse than Ammar's? Ammar's death would have left Jehane without a husband and their children unborn. As Miranda herself was able to understand, there's really no great difference between losing the possibility of something very early and losing the actuality of something that you've had for some time.

Deaths could be avoided because without Ammar, the barbarians or whatever you call them from desert would be routed in no time. They had no idea where to go, what to do. No idea about people they were fighting against, no idea about country, weather, customs. They needed a powerful and smart leader - Ammar. Because of him, they got a very long war during which many people died on both sides. Without him it would be a lot quicker and most of deaths would be on desert people. That's how it had to be because they were the attackers. Ammar, prolonged the war.

Jehane would find another man to screw with. She didn't impress me as a lady who loves only once. she would have kids from someone else. In a worst case scenario she would be the only one who would suffer. When Rodrigo died, three people were deprived. His wife was older and a lot more difficult to find another "dear half"

For that matter, why do you assume that Kay choose to kill Rodrigo because of "political correctness"? That is, frankly, absurd. And on top of that, one of the most famous things about his historical antecendent, Rodrigo de Vivar, El Cid ... is that he's said to have died quite dramatically. His death was a natural progression, in a way.

What fantasy has to do with history?

Edited by Astra

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Astra,

SPOILER: Lions
"

Deaths could be avoided because without Ammar, the barbarians or whatever you call them from desert would be routed in no time."

And so Ammar's faith and culture would be wiped from Al-Rassan. Why would this be reasonable? Yes, in the end the Muwardis fail. But how was Ammar going to know this?

"That's how it had to be because they were the attackers. Ammar, prolonged the war."

The Esperanans were the aggressors. The Muwardis came in to defend the Asharite kingdoms (and, yes, take those over that were weak).

Ammar was hoping to be able to win the war, not "prolong" it. Why not? Note that characters like Rodrigo do not think him to be making an unequal choice -- he's not choosing to fight for a markedly worse side than the other, and so can't be condemned for the fact that he does choose. It's sort of like Lee choosing to fighting for Virginia, if no the Confederacy.

"Jehane would find another man to screw with"

Yeah, and I'm sure Miranda could too. She liked screwing, the hussy. :P

"What fantasy has to do with history?"

Kay's later fantasies are rather intimately concerned and intertwined with history. Changes can very well happen, but the fact is that there's no reason for Kay to do anything because it's "PC". I don't see many Christians bitching and moaning about Rodrigo dying on the basis of their religion. What I find is that people who are upset Rodrigo died do so because they prefer the tough soldier to the elegant courtier archetypes which a superficial reading of the text might suggest for Rodrigo and Ammar.

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Astra:

This is the second time I read this nonsense about Kay's Lions. It was probably you the first time.

I suspect you have a problem

SPOILER: Lions
"with a certain group of people belonging to a certain religion".

To believe Kay writes to please or to avoid angering some religious groups only shows how little you have understood his books.

The same goes for your inability to "fathom how Kay won the 2005 award from the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy for The Lions of Al-Rassan. Israeli readers chose a wonderful book, a book they enjoyed reading. Full stop.

To Ran: it seems we have read the same book.

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It's hard to get into very much detail about why I disliked Tigana so much without spoiling, but some of the things I disliked were the extremely high level of magic (there is a sorcerer who can kill people by waving his hand and make their heads explode, and and another one who can avoid getting killed by a projectile by momentarily dissolving his body while the projectile passes through him), a cast of characters which with one or two exceptions are dull, annoying, and unlikable, and embarrassingly purple prose. It's not a good story, and it's not well written.

I had the very same opinion, except for the purple prose point - I felt that while occasionally plodding, it wasn't too decorative, and was direct enough to advance the plot efficiently.

I loved the first part of Tigana, but from there it just became this difficult to endure caricature fantasy.

SPOILER: Tigana

I initially really enjoyed the setting and historical influence and also the character of Tomasso, Sandre's nephew, to be terrific, and the build-up for Sandre himself to have whet my expectations. Also, the twists and turns of this part were truly unexpected and exciting, and made me think that this was going to be an extraordinary novel.

Then there was the switch to Dionora, a character I found to be rather plain, and somewhat annoying, as her character was oft-opined as having a very delightful personality, enough so that she could captivate Brandon's interest, but during her dialog interactions she comes off as banal and somewhat antithetical to what we are lead to expect. Her situation was interesting though, and I was eager to see what happened with Alessan's group, so I plowed on.

But then I found, that while the initial return to Alessan's group was very awesome indeed, pretty soon it turned painful. The characters had what was very much a David Eddings flavor or comradery, with the supposed wit of their rapport, and the fierce grins and other annoying behaviorisms that grow tiresome very quickly. The characters are pretty static throughout the series - until the end.

And the story kept switching to minor characters, given a brief time to narrate who they were and throw them some background which was generic fantasy. These diversions could have been an interesting departure from standard fantasy narrative, but the characters were so absolutely boring, and I had already seen them so many times in other fantasy books, or games.

One of the most egregious departures actually felt like a Zelda side quest (the hilarious fight with the Others, where a bunch of farmers, who bore the tradition of a Secret Order, were fighting the ultimate battle for existence, pitting their mighty farmer mettle against what essentially are Boggarts, using the corn as their tools to slay the evil that besets them). It came out of no where, and could be excised without any problem. The only purpose the characters play later on is to fight against Brandin and make him seem uber-super-OMG-powerful. If Gavriel had scaled down Brandin's power, the extreneous characters could have been eliminated altogether, and it still wouldn't have neutered the impact of the scene.

Another thing that bothered me was the really stupid deus ex machina that saved Catriana. Gavriel had written this beautiful scene of someone who was willing to sacrifice everything for what she believed in, and made you feel to much for this complex character, and then takes that and assassinates it, undermining the whole point and effect of the scene. It was one of the biggest douchebag moves that Gavriel does in the novel, and he really makes a habit of those. It also simultaneously murders another interesting character - the wizard captured against his will - which added a nuance of complexity to the good guys, and so it was like a one-two punch.

Anyway, I found towards the end that despite Dionora remaining a plain and somewhat irritating character, her situation and character easily became the best part of the book. And the ending (not epilogue) was spectacularly executed, almost enough for me to forgive the rest.

But the epilogue itself was about as awful as you could get. It reminded me of the epilogue of the final Harry Potter book. Everyone was hooking up, and it was like a pure injection of saccharine.

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I'd say it was reasonably good, but not as good as Kay's other books, and different in that it is a fairly traditional High Fantasy with mages, elves (called the Lios Alfar, but they're fairly close to traditional elves), dwarves (who are actually called dwarves), dragons, an evil god in a dark fortress, bits of Arthur legend (including Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere as major characters) etc. Some bits of it are very good (the three nights on the Summer Tree, for example) but some bits I was unconvinced by. My biggest problems with it were mostly related to the five main characters who come from modern-day (well, the 1980s) Canada and are essentially kidnapped by a mage to join the fight against the evil god in Fionavar. I'm not particularly keen on that plot device in general, and there quite a few times when I found the reactions of the modern-day Canadians to the medieval fantasy realm to be unconvincing, they were just too accepting of some of the wild things they saw and the radically different society they encountered.

Thanks. And the Lios Alfar ARE Elves. "Lios Alfar" mean Light Elves in...was it Norse? I don't remember, but I'm pretty sure it's related to Norse Mythology. The name of the spawn of the evil god guy (or one type of his spawn, I havn't read the books) mean Dark Elves. I've read there are various ties to our world, and the mythology of our world. Interesting. I'm guessing that there is a Godslayer (like in Belgariad)? Or maybe I'll just have to read the books?

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Thanks. And the Lios Alfar ARE Elves. "Lios Alfar" mean Light Elves in...was it Norse? I don't remember, but I'm pretty sure it's related to Norse Mythology.

I'm not surprised the name is a direct mythological reference. According to Wikipedia you're right : "In Norse mythology, the light elves (Old Norse: Ljósálfar) live in the Old Norse version of the heavens, in the place called Ãlfheim underneath the place of the Gods. "

I've read there are various ties to our world, and the mythology of our world. Interesting.

The central concept of the world of Fionavar is that it is the 'true' world and all other worlds (including our own) are variations on it.

I'm guessing that there is a Godslayer (like in Belgariad)?

Kind of, although it's quite different to the Belgariad (again, I wouldn't be surprised if it is based on some myth, although I don't know which one).

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Regarding Tigana - Despite the fact that Brandin of Ygrath was one of the villains, or at the least an antagonist, I really liked him as a character. In fact, if it wasn't for his invading in the first place, I could almost cheer for the man. What he does initially in remembrance of his son is impressive and I have never come across anything like it in literature before or since. And what he does for love at the end is tragic also.

I certainly like him more than Alberico, who I disliked from the get-go. I presume this was intentional on Kay's part.

Something that always bothered me in the book was the wizard who gets bound, Erlein.

I know and understand perfectly well all of the reasons and arguments put forth why it happens to him, but it still bothers me that it happens to him. Just on a gut, instinctual level; I really cannot logically explain why.

Regarding a Song for Arbonne - I consider this the least of the three stories that are the "early" standalones that Kay did, but that does not mean that it is not a good story. One of my favorite characters is in that one, Urte de Miraval. I do not consider him to be a villain, but an antagonist. I actually am on his side regarding the whole dispute between him and Bertran de Talair. Granted, I know the whole story, so it is easy to say that. And it also features a good legitimate villain, Galbert de Garsenc, a person who uses his intellect in a fashion not dissimilar to that of Tywin Lannister.

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Kind of, although it's quite different to the Belgariad (again, I wouldn't be surprised if it is based on some myth, although I don't know which one).

If the Belgariad was based on some myth, or the defeat of the Unraveller?

I don't know about Torak, but I think the Unraveller's might, considering alot of Fionavar is based on mythology (the two crows, Sorrow and Memory (I think those are their names) are the english names for Odin's two crows, whoose names I do not know).

And what is the Wild Hunt, in either Fionavar or the myth in our world?

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In Norse mythology, Huginn and Muninn travel the world bearing news and information they have collected to Odin. Huginn is "thought" and Muninn is "memory".

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Kind of, although it's quite different to the Belgariad (again, I wouldn't be surprised if it is based on some myth, although I don't know which one).

David Eddings on why he wrote The Belgariad: he was in a bookshop fretting about why his earlier mainstream novels had failed (not taking into account that they were shit) and picked up a copy of The Lord of the Rings, laughing that "Oh, is that thing still around?" He then saw it was on its 48th printing, saw dollar signs, and ran home to start drawing a map and populating it with thinly-veiled Viking/Medieval European/Russian knock-offs.

So The Belgariad is based on the myth that if you take something popular and write a shittier version of it, you can make money. Apparently proving the myth true, as well.

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I know and understand perfectly well all of the reasons and arguments put forth why it happens to him, but it still bothers me that it happens to him. Just on a gut, instinctual level; I really cannot logically explain why.

Possibly because it's a terrible thing, tantamount to enslaving him.

I think GGK was fully aware and intended the situation to be morally very difficult, to say the least.

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Well, I've read quite a few of Kay's books but the only book I couldn't finish was Tigana. It was the only book in any genre that I could not finish after going so far. I think I had 100 pages or less to go when I quit and it took me near 6 weeks to make it that far. On a sore of 1 to 10 I'd give it a 1 and that's being generous. Truly awful book.

With the exception of the FT the rest of Kay's novels have been fairly good reads with Lions and the SM being very good.

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I'd say it was reasonably good, but not as good as Kay's other books, and different in that it is a fairly traditional High Fantasy with mages, elves (called the Lios Alfar, but they're fairly close to traditional elves), dwarves (who are actually called dwarves), dragons, an evil god in a dark fortress, bits of Arthur legend (including Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere as major characters) etc. Some bits of it are very good (the three nights on the Summer Tree, for example) but some bits I was unconvinced by. My biggest problems with it were mostly related to the five main characters who come from modern-day (well, the 1980s) Canada and are essentially kidnapped by a mage to join the fight against the evil god in Fionavar. I'm not particularly keen on that plot device in general, and there quite a few times when I found the reactions of the modern-day Canadians to the medieval fantasy realm to be unconvincing, they were just too accepting of some of the wild things they saw and the radically different society they encountered.

The five are from 1970's Canada actually, not 1980's, as far as I could tell. They were not kidnapped by Loren, they were invited as guests to celebrate the king's jubilee -- odd thing to do, I agree, but nothing to do with the war which Loren had no idea was coming. In the second book they made their own choice to return to Fionavar and participate in the war.

I'm not sure how you expected to them to react to what they saw. Mental breakdowns? Screaming and running away? Become Unbelievers like Thomas Convenant? Perhaps Loren picked them (Matt Soren actually pointed them out) for being the mentally-strong sort who could handle things. Kim and Jennifer did have their mental breakdown moments, then moved past it and did what they had to do. Paul and Kim both acquired knowledge of Fionavar that prepared them. Kevin didn't especially deal well, but he focused on helping his friend deal with stuff that had nothing to do with Fionavar. Dave pushed the eject button and ended up in the one place where he was needed. They were largely observers for that first book, until they chose to be more. They were invited to do things that seemed rather innocent and harmless. Kim -> old lady wants you to visit her cottage. Paul, Kevin -> come hang out with the prince's crew and ride down south with us on this awesome prank. Jennifer -> come shopping with the light elf and hear him sing. Dave -> keep watch on a good kid and come hunting with my tribe. Innocent, harmless.

I'd also say the society they encountered was not radically different. They were liberal arts students of history, art, law, mythology, etc. They must have recognized the cultural parallels with medieval periods of their own world. Seems to me they were believably able to adapt to it.

Reading various GGK interviews, I can say he wrote Fionvar for a few specific reasons: 1) he wanted to overturn or subvert traditional Tolkienesque high fantasy by mixing in the mythologies of many other cultures (Greek/Roman, Celtic/British, Native American, Norse, Arabian, etc.) and treating some of them in nontraditional ways (his Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot was a unique inversion of the traditional Arthur story - doomed to repeat the love triangle as punishment for the crime of his youth); 2) to get Tolkien "out of his system" after spending a long period immersed in Middle-Earth helping edit the Simarillion; 3) and to get his feet wet writing something which he did not have to do a lot of prior research since he was familiar with those mythologies already.

I love his later works, but in some ways they are less ambitious, except perhaps Tigana.

Edited by SpaceChampion

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On Song for Arbonne:

I used to think it was one of the weaker of Kay's post-Fionavar offerings. Ran claimed it grew stronger on re-reading. I gave it another shot.

I would have to second him now. Of all Kay's works, I think Arbonne has the strongest and most interesting characters, even as someone mentioned earlier a villain who is actually competent. (as well as the usual run of mustache-twirling caricatures.) The de Garsenc family certainly gives the Lannisters a run for their money for the title of "most screwed up" and I think Blaise the most interesting of Kay's protagonists now.

Even the troubadour stuff grew on me, though no further than it did on Blaise. ;-)

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Ran,

Possibly because it's a terrible thing, tantamount to enslaving him.

I think GGK was fully aware and intended the situation to be morally very difficult, to say the least.

What? I thought he meant when the wizard

SPOILER: Tigana

saves Catriana and admits the good guys were right all along. I loooved when the wizard was enslaved. It was a refreshing poke of complexity in the midst of "look at us, we're all decent fellows fighting a just cause" which bothered me. To that point, it really seemed that the only complexity to be found was on Brandin's side, where Gavriel saw fit to give him more than the usual one dimension for the villains, but forgot to extend that favor to the protagonists. With the wizard, it seemed Gavriel was really shooting against that, but then...no. Good guys were right all along and the wizard was just being a sullen ass.

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THA,

I'm pretty sure Fenryng is bothered by the binding of Erelein, from previous discussion.

SPOILER: Tigana
Kay makes the Tiganan side pretty complex. Not just with Erelein, but also formenting unrest and a war in which citizens of the Palm would be dying on the front line just in the hope that they can wipe out both enemies and so on. This was specifically noted by, IIRC, Devin as a bit of a moral problem as well.

I don't know that Alessan was "right" just because his side won. They just ... won, that's all. Right and wrong isn't really in it, I think. It's too complex to be boiled down to a simple black and white picture.

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Possibly because it's a terrible thing, tantamount to enslaving him.

I think GGK was fully aware and intended the situation to be morally very difficult, to say the least.

There's an afterward in the tenth anniversary edition in which GGK explains that that's what he intended and that he wanted the debate on capturing the wizard to a real one.

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If the Belgariad was based on some myth, or the defeat of the Unraveller?

I meant the defeat of Rakoth, although I know Eddings also based his work on the tropes of traditional mythology.

The five are from 1970's Canada actually, not 1980's, as far as I could tell.

I assumed it was set in the same period it was written (the 80s), but I don't remember anything which really identifies the period. Fionavar being set in the 80s seems more consistent with Ysabel which is set in about 2005 and seems to be roughly 20 years later than Fionavar (although again I'm not sure if the time period since Kim and Dave's return is ever stated).

They were not kidnapped by Loren, they were invited as guests to celebrate the king's jubilee -- odd thing to do, I agree, but nothing to do with the war which Loren had no idea was coming.

I think it is quite clear in retrospect that Loren knew exactly what he was doing and who he was looking for. He even says in his second line of dialogue in the book that he's not just looking for the jubilee and later in the same chapter he's described as being deceitful and misdirecting when he tries to evade the question about the person under the mountain. Loren was taken by surprise by how quickly the war started, but I think he did have some idea it was coming. I said kidnapped, because I do not think Loren was honest with them about all the purposes of their journey or the danger they faced - if he had been honest most of them would not have gone (although the potential danger would probably just have encourage Paul).

Perhaps Loren picked them (Matt Soren actually pointed them out) for being the mentally-strong sort who could handle things.

No, he picked them because Kim was a seer. That her friends were also mentally strong was just a bonus.

Paul, Kevin -> come hang out with the prince's crew and ride down south with us on this awesome prank. Jennifer -> come shopping with the light elf and hear him sing. Dave -> keep watch on a good kid and come hunting with my tribe. Innocent, harmless.

The first one was a good example of what I was objecting to. For the most part it is a fairly light-hearted prank, but early in the trip Diarmuid has a farmer summarily executed in front of Paul and Kevin for criticising his father and although Paul and Kevin are a bit taken aback by it, they don't seem nearly as shocked as I would expect. Now you could argue that they should expect that sort of behaviour in a medieval world and maybe be able to intellectually accept it, but they seem far too blase about it - I'd expect most people from contemporary Canada who had never really seen any violence in person to be at least a bit traumatised when someone was killed in front of them, especially for what in their world would be a minor infraction.

There's an afterward in the tenth anniversary edition in which GGK explains that that's what he intended and that he wanted the debate on capturing the wizard to a real one.

That was one thing I felt could have been done a little bit in Tigana (which I really liked, overall). There is a debate going on, but I thought the way it was written felt a lot more sympathetic to Alessan's point of view (possibly because we are seeing things from the perspective of him and his allies), often Erelein ends up sounding a bit unreasonable even though he does have a genuinely good argument. I know Kay did intend it to be a genuine argument, but I thought it could have been done slightly better (although it was still quite well done, I'm not saying there was really any serious weakness here).

I agree with Ran that there is a lot more ambiguity to Alessan's actions than just the enslavement of Erelein. As well as Ran's examples there are also things like the minor character who Alessan encourages to speak up against Alberico, who ends up getting executed for his minor acts of rebellion - he wouldn't have died if Alessan hadn't been trying to manipulate him to support Alessan's goals.

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