Guy Gavriel Kay’s series began with The Summer Tree, continues in The Wandering Fire, and concludes in The Darkest Road.
The Summer Tree starts off quickly; leaping into the action before the main characters understand what’s going on. The five students from our world are dragged into Fionavar, where they’re faced with difficult tasks that change them. I was upset at the author’s treatment of Jennifer… even though I vaguely remember it serves a higher purpose, it’s a terrible role for a character to suffer. I hope that when I get into Wandering Fire I’ll see more of the character.
The core three are together but each is affected by Fionavar differently. Kevin seems to drift along the shallowest; enjoying the world and its explorations– there is more, but he’s the least affected. Paul’s grief finds its end– his change is mostly internal and dramatic. I appreciated the author’s skill in getting us into Paul’s mindset without starting the story earlier– the details that come from Paul and Kevin’s discussions are tantalizing, and his time on the tree reveals all. Kim is the most changed, at first acted on, but her decisions and choices establish her quickly as a deep character.
Dave’s separate time is very separate– but it doesn’t feel as tangential this time. The friends and community he finds prove important to his story… it works very well.
Wandering Fire starts off strong; Jennifer gets some spotlight time to start and Paul continues his solid competence. Their return to Fionavar involves an interesting hurdle that’s quickly disposed of; Kim’s later acquisition drives a lot of the remaining two books. She brings Arthur with her, who is known and recognized without introduction.
Fionavar is suffering from horrific winter– though it’s almost midsummer according to their calendar. The telling stutters here a bit, leaping forward then back filling somewhat annoyingly. Dave and Kevin soon rejoin the Dalrei, where Kevin finds himself reduced to a torchbearer. It’s an interesting development and shows the author’s confidence in allowing smart characters to realize inconvenient things. The action starts to spin up pretty quickly from there; Kevin winds up making a true and final sacrifice that… seemed very strange, but felt authentic. The relations between the kings are well done– the one upmanship and subtle posturing ring true.
Just as Jennifer’s becoming a character I care about, she gets Guinevere layered over her. It kind of works but has drawbacks– she immediately becomes more remote. (We never experience the courtship and winning of love– it’s just realized memory and feels like shorthand). Finn’s quick love works out pretty well, somewhat surprisingly. Paul’s meddling with Dani goes wrong, appropriately. The splintering into several independent quests feels right. Paul and Arthur manage to make a “we sail places as cargo” plot work out fine; the length of the voyage is implied well, but the story really focuses on the conflicts instead of dragging. Jennifer (and Kim) each push Dani in their own ways, and it works. The novel ends on the high note of Paul and Arthur’s quest, while appropriately keeping the outcome of the war overall doubtful.
The final book continues with several good quests; I enjoyed the dwarven visit and felt the terrible debate when the Belrath demanded. Lancelot’s involvement with Jennifer/Guinevere is very abstract; they clearly have feelings [due to written history, not events in these books], but he’s shuttled off quickly. Lancelot’s kind of strange; he does great deeds, but always feels like a loose end– why is he around again? He mostly exists to pressure Jennifer’s relationship with Arthur, but all three bonds are defined rather than experienced by the reader.
In the end it comes together in a very strong concluding fight between the gathered forces of Light and Dark. The aftermath and goodbyes are interesting and round it off well.
While this isn’t my favorite Guy Gavriel Kay book, I enjoyed it quite a bit and saw a lot of new and interesting things on this reread.