Monday, January 11, 2010

[Lisa’s Take] The Fionvar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay)

Three books make up the Fionvar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road. Usually I don’t read books in trilogies back-to-back-to-back these days, but the three Fionvar books were engaging enough to keep me reading. That said, I was a little burnt out by the second half of the last book so I was pretty happy to be done with everything. Next time remind me to take breaks between the books, if you please.

Anyway, the Fionvar Tapestry is straight up fantasy – 5 college-age students get transported to a fantastic world called Fionvar. They get caught up in the fight to save the people from a dark force that has awakened. Pretty standard fantasy trope.
Things I liked: I think my favorite thing about these books is that none of the characters really know what they’re doing, or what they need to do. When magic calls to them they often just go with it without really stopping to think things through… and often there are catastrophic results. The characters aren’t at all Mary-Sue-ish. They make lots of mistakes, they aren’t always likable, and they’re very real. As always, Kay does relationships, love, life, and death very well. The world was very believable and well developed – the races and magical systems were interesting, original, and varied.

Things I didn’t like: these three books were filled with things that I know Kay can do amazingly… but in this instance only did ok. The deaths didn’t quite make me hurt, the emotional connections didn’t quite make me grin. It’s frustrating to know the author is so capable of hitting the mark, but missed by half an inch this time. The death of one of the main characters during book 2 was particularly poorly done – the event was obviously supposed to have a monumental impact, but the character wasn’t solid enough by that point for me to care much. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the Arthurian Legend tie-ins… it felt a little like cheating.

Now, all of that said – the Fionvar Tapestry is still a significant cut above most other high fantasy out there. I’m holding it to an unfair standard by comparing it to Tigana, which is the best Strictly Fantasy book I’ve read in years. It’s also hardly fair of me to say “I know Kay can do better” when he wrote the Fionvar Tapestry much earlier than some of his later great works.

I’m not really sure what my bottom line is here. The Fionvar Tapestry is good, but not great. If you’re only ever going to read one or two books by Guy Gavriel Kay, skip these… or if these are your first Kay, don’t let them set a tone for all of his work, because goodness knows a lot of his later books are amazingly good. If you’re looking for some good, solid fantasy, the Fionvar Tapestry is probably worth reading… just give yourself some breathing room between them.

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