That’s right, there’s no “Kids'” up there. Hattie’s post about rereading books got me thinking about my favorite author of all time, Guy Gavriel Kay, and he really isn’t for kids. I guess there isn’t any reason that teenagers couldn’t read his books, the only “adult” element is a little bit of sex and the reading level is about the same as the LOTR trilogy, but it would be kind of like serving pheasant under glass at the kiddie table. For all that we talk about books, I don’t remember his name coming up before now so please allow me to introduce you to awesomeness.
The Fionavar Tapestry
Kay’s first three books, The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road, are, for me, the definition of epic. They share a lot of elements with The Lord of the Rings and have a similar feel to them. (I found out after reading them that when he was in college, Kay was chosen to help Christopher Tolkien edit The Silmarillion for publication. He admits that it had a definite influence on his writing.) It is very hard to describe them adequately, but here goes. Start with a powerful being who is intent on destroying everything good in the world, and who can’t be killed. Now, take Tolkien’s world, Native American culture, a Greek-type pantheon of gods, a dash of norse mythology and five Canadians from “our” Toronto in the 1980s. Oh, and the Arthur legend. Believe it or not, he makes it work. It sounds like it should be a complete mess, like a first time writer who throws in everything he can think of to make it “good,” but he manages to turn it all into a rich and intriguing world. My only warning when I recommend these books is that you can’t just plow through them. I was so engrossed the first time I read them that I was reading as fast as I could. By the time I was fifty pages into book three I had to stop for a few days. After he made me cry four times in two days, I remember thinking “Holy crap Kay, I can’t take it. It’s Too Much Epicness!” I gave myself 48 hours of epic-free time and I was good to go for the rest of the book.
Tigana is a country very much like medieval Italy in our world, but it is shaped like a hand instead of a boot and it has magic. The provinces have been conquered by two different tyrants and we follow the leaders of the underground resistance movement as they try to reclaim their land. It is much less epic than The Fionavar Tapestry, but it’s still pretty awesome (and by that, I mean it causes awe). Of all his books, this one is the lightest. I love to get swept up in the passion everyone has for their cause and their compatriots.
A Song for Arbonne
In this book, Kay seems to have created a fantasy world he is happy with. From here on out, every book but one is set on this world, at different times and in different countries. They aren’t a series, but there is a continuity with things like the predominant religions and the moons. Occasionally a character from one book will be referenced as a historical figure in another (which always makes me squeal a little and think “I know that guy!”). A Song for Arbonne takes place in an analogue of medieval France. Arbonne’s northern neighbor is a country called Gorhaut, which is very germanic and kind of thug-like. The main character, Blaise, is a second son from a noble family in Gorhaut. He is hiring out as a mercenary in Arbonne, having left his homeland because the new king is a crazy-ass jackhole (I’m sorry, I tried to find lyrical fantasy language to describe him, but he’s just a power-hungry douche). Blaise ends up deciding to take his country back from the new king, with a little encouragement from the rulers of Arbonne. According to Wikipedia, it is “a modification of the Albigensian Crusade.” I don’t know enough about history to comment on that, but I can say that there is a very strong Hamlet vibe throughout.
OK, that’s the first five books. There are six more, all of which are wonderful, but I will be saving them for next week. If I go any further tonight, I will be in danger of another epic-overload.