The Summer Tree by GGK Readalong Week One

ARTWORK by chic2view from 123RF.com

It’s readalong time. For anyone else interested, the schedule can be found here at There’s Always Room For One More, and each week’s prompts are being posted on Twitter (join the read-along community over there to get access), and Instagram (follow @wyrdandwonder).

1) How are you reading along with us? Is this a first time or a reread? Show us your book cover!

This is a reread. I don’t know what number reread this is, but we’re probably talking around five; it’s at least the second since I discovered Wyrd & Wonder alone, and I think maybe the third. Among my various fantasy tastes, I have a *huge* yen for tales such as these; mythopoeic, epic, full of big personalities and all the romance of big adventures. Tales that take what Tolkien did and try to make their own version of that created mythology, rather than doing their own thing off of that template. The genre would be very boring without the latter but there’s simply not enough of the former for me and as the best of them, I have read this many times and will read it many times again.

Incidentally, here is my copy. I think I got it second hand so not all the damage is me, but you can tell it’s been well loved…

2) The prose style is as distinctive as calling the prologue an overture. How are you finding it?

Like home.

But.

I will admit home is a bit purple. Like, amethysts scattered among the orchids as the sun sets. Grapes fall on the Emperor’s toga. I like how dramatic, how emotional, how archaic it is, but it doesn’t always work.

I will also admit that after my original excitement over this book getting readalong status settled, I started thinking “oh god what if they all hate it?” There’s no questioning that Kay’s prose style is part of his lack of universal popularity (not that any author is universally popular) and it’s at its most pronounced here. If nobody bounces off it in the first week, I will declare it a miracle.

3) Each visitor gets a little moment to define them before they arrive in Fionavar. What are your first impressions of our travellers? Any you particularly like or dislike?

You’re asking a little late for my first impressions, oh wisest of bookwyrms!

From dim memory, I never loved the five to begin with. I loved their adventure but they themselves? It was difficult to get close to them due to how much is going on, due to the prose a little, and so on. I think it was only on my most recent reread, which was mostly done for a post on their character dynamics (or maybe the post came after), that they really clicked to me. Now I love them all. Trying to keep my impressions strictly limited to what we see and now what I know, going by order of introduction:

  • Dave’s a loner with a lot of pain, a lot of drive, a lot of distrust. He’s not a people person, he doesn’t handle confrontation well at all. It’s all rooted in that family dynamic of being the younger, overshadowed child – that brief phone call with his dad says it all – and he transfers a lot of that feeling of being overshadowed right onto Kevin.
  • Kevin’s a guy with all the gifts and doesn’t he know it, right? The interesting thing to me is how he uses them. Yes, he likes to shine and dazzle, to draw attention to himself. But he draws this group together – they mostly know each other best through Kevin – and he cares deeply about people, particularly his father and Paul. Alas for Kevin, what he cares deepest about, seems to be where his gifts run thinnest so far.
  • Paul is another loner, partly from recent tragedy but partly from his own intense character. We get a glimpse of that character when it talks about him believing he should be able to endure everything. That sort of inward looking constant self-measuring is not always fun to be around, often stems from problems, and leads a person to be guarded with what they do. I think we see that in him easing away from the balcony scene.
  • Kim is fun. She’s the only one other than Kevin who seems to actively enjoy being around other people – look at her instantly bantering with Dave, or joking on the balcony. She’s no shrinking violet either. What’s more, she is the chosen one! Well. The next Seer.
  • Jennifer is maybe also a loner of sorts, although less so than Dave and Paul. Certainly a quiet one. It’s not as easy to spot, but look who talks least in the opening scene, look at whose PoV is often used for observing others. She’s the person swept into social groups without entirely being part of them, who watches as much as she engages. It’s possibly tied into her being incredibly beautiful, as if she’s constantly having to be defensive, although that’s a bit speculative on my part. I like how she responds to Diarmuid too, that she doesn’t take his shit.

I have to say Jennifer is my least favourite at this point simply because she’s had the least funny lines, while something calls to me about Paul.

4) …and what do you make of the characters and politics of Paras Derval?

Well, they’re big characters. They mightn’t have much depth yet, but they’re not short of defining traits (other than perhaps Gorlaes). And appropriately enough, the politics seem very personality driven. There’s little cause or ideology here (save with Loren and Jaelle), there’s little concern over bureaucracy and pork barrels, just a group of powerful personalities who want power.

Which in light of the various comments about kings winning the throne with the sword, especially Aileron, makes sense. There is no guarantee Diarmuid will be the next king at all, so looking to your own power rather than toadying to a dying king is only logical. I’d also add it’s only natural to them too. They have interesting personalities but none of them are exactly nice, are they?

5) The obvious question: would you accept Loren’s invitation? Given the reception from Diarmuid and Gorlaes, would you regret it?

If I were not married? Yes. Since I am? I’m not one hundred per cent sure. At the very least, going away for a couple of weeks seems like one to run by the better half. But the siren call of adventure would be strong.

The welcome… well, Indians to the court of King James let you knew it wasn’t going to be all fun and games, but still.

Gorlaes’ welcome would definitely give me some second thoughts. There’s overtones of going from the above to Starks in King Robert’s hall there. Getting marked by some shiny toothed dickhead just because of my company is no fun at all.

Diarmuid… well, let’s get right to the point. I’m a man, so I’d have a lot less to regret – or possibly anticipate – from Diarmuid’s welcome. I have to say I’m very intrigued as to how others view him, particularly as someone with a WIP that has a Diarmuid-esque character that is aiming to be a bit more sympathetic. I’m never sure how sympathetic he’s meant to be here or not, to be honest. He comes off as a spoiled brat who likes to push other people’s buttons and show off. He is aware of other people’s situations and comfort levels, but he’s using that awareness to get what he wants as much as he is to actually respect them. But maybe others will see him different. Still, he respects the word no, and he respects their safety. He may be a bit of a dick, but he is better than Gorlaes.

6) How/Do you judge Loren for keeping so many secrets from the visitors?

Whenever these questions come up, I always seem to be on the forgiving end of the spectrum. Loren’s got a lot riding on this, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same in his shoes. He’s also trying to make this a good experience for them, which usually involves not mentioning nasty things that maybe will never even come up. There is that moment where he talks about everything he left out, but so far that everything just looks like some fairly nasty politics and just how much Ysanne wants Kim and why.

Would I feel different in the five’s shoes? Maybe, but I’m not sure. So far, it feels like their attitude is “of course you’ve got an ulterior motive, so far you seem like the sort of person where it won’t be terrifying and this sounds great, so let’s roll with it”. I think that’d be my attitude too.

7) There is a lot of worldbuilding so far! Intriguing or overwhelming? Anything standing out for you?

Is it? I’m looking forwards to seeing everyone else’s responses, as long familiarity and a diet with plenty of pre-2000 Epic Fantasy has me thinking this isn’t all that much.

The thing I’ve always loved about Fionavar is how mythic it feels. The politics of Brennin and Cathal have more in common with the Tain Bo Cualigne or Gilgamesh than they do with a late medieval kingdom. The magic feels only a short step removed from that of a druid or shaman, and not even that with what little we hear of Jaelle. Diarmuid goes about his business with a small band, like he’s Finn MacCool, rather than with a large retinue. This also goes hand in hand with a lot of focus on individuals ahead of institutions. The intrigue that offers to me is finding out about what startling deeds have been done, what startling deeds can be done, because the worldbuilding promises a story that boils down to that focus on heroic individuals.

Other cool and funky things

  • The Mage/Source thing. Not only does it make magic feel costly, dangerous, finite, it also offers all sorts of interesting character dynamics.
  • Disinherited son. I love a good mystery, me, and here’s one.
  • Eilathen just feels pure wild magic to me. This weird and alien thing.
  • I admire the cunning of having linked worlds that are all mirrors of each other.
  • I always like a story with plenty of unfinished business in people’s lives. Matt Soren clearly has a ton. Aileron and his family have some as a dynasty that’s maybe (or maybe not) establishing themselves. There’s plenty of pre-existing beefs. That always offers potential to me.

Something else that pops at me are some of the very pagan revival worldbuilding touches you see. The sacrificial king. The great mother goddess who used to rule. That sort of thing. Don’t see a lot of that these days, which I sort of miss and sort of don’t. I mean, if I gave you this worldbuilding and didn’t tell you when it was done, you’d guess 70s/80s, right?

And I think that’s me done rambling (oh gods I’ve written far too much). I now look forwards to seeing what everyone else makes of it.

11 thoughts on “The Summer Tree by GGK Readalong Week One

  1. Consider me utterly unsurprised we have the same edition, the coincidences on our shelves are legion after all.

    I admit to a mild terror that some of the first time readers will bounce off hard. I love the absurdly purple prose, but it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea; and you’re right about the world building feeling a bit dated (…although I find portal fantasy a bit dated in general – or has it made a comeback when I wasn’t paying enough attention? I do have a soft spot for it)

    I dodged the Loren question in my post because this one was really me being curious about how he comes across to first timers. I’m with you in having a certain amount of sympathy for him; how much do weektrippers really NEED to know, they’re here to have a good time and get shown off – although I also think he may have been a wee bit naive and maybe not realised HOW MUCH of an ass Gorlaes might be. Also – no, can’t talk about that, spoilers – ahem anyway. But no, I don’t really hold anything against him for not pausing to give the five more details, although maybe a passing word that there could be some political manoeuvring at court would have been polite. After all, that reception is AWKWARD. Probably just as well Dave wasn’t there (I love Dave, but it took rereads for me to see it).

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    1. I think my theory is that Loren thought he’d be able to bypass Gorlaes and therefore didn’t think him worth mentioning. Which I suppose is still naivety, just of a different sort. And yeah, Dave would have loved that welcome. In truth, I’m still a little unsure over just what Loren expected to happen, and to what extent Kay decided to do some foreshadowing through his PoV without thinking it entirely through.

      Re Portal Fantasy… I think it is in some ways, but not in this sense? There’s Isekai (sp?), I think there’s some LitRPG… I don’t think anyone’s doing it with big serious epic fantasy. But I may be wrong.

      And re the datedness… I’d love to see what GGK did if he revisited this world. I’m not wincing majorly at decadent Cathal, or how much more prominent the boys’ interiority is over the girls – and it is noticeable, although by the standards of the time, how many 80s fantasy books would give us three women’s PoVs in the first hundred pages – but today’s Kay does better on those things, and it’d be interesting to see how he saw it now.

      p.s. Thank you again for choosing this. The only problem is straining at the leash. I had the majority of this written on Tuesday…

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  2. It’s interesting to see comparisons from people who have read a *lot* more older fantasy. I’m not loving loving it but am glad to read some of these classics

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a joy of readalongs. What I’m really waiting for is the people who’ve read a decent amount of older fantasy, but haven’t reread this one many many times like me and Imyril – I’m being strict with myself on replying to what’s in the chapters I’ve read but even so, there’s a lot of built up emotions and what not here.

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  3. I definitely appreciate your character analysis. I think it will help as I move into week two reading. There are elements of the world-building that remind me of the fantasy novels that have been published after this one. Needing a source for magic and binding them reminds me of Witchmark. I also thought of Animorphs surprisingly while looking at character dynamics. Jennifer is Rachel, the gorgeous one who doesn’t let people walk on her. Cassie was the spiritual one of the group. Connected to nature but also strongest mentally. I see some of the King Arthur and Jake in Paul. Jennifer does feel a little left out here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad it’s helpful – trying to thread the needle on not giving spoilers while remarking on all the little things I’ve noticed over time isn’t easy!

      I’m not familiar with either of those, but I’m not surprised that these dynamics pop up elsewhere. They feel really archetypal at times.

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  4. Ah your post reminds me of something I forgot to talk about – Gorlaes is currently put forward (by Loren and co, at least) as the biggest threat but so far he’s just sort of thrown his weight around a bit and been thwarted by his opposition so I’ll be curious to see what his specific motivations are. Overall, though, knowing how much you and Imyril both enjoy this book and the fact I’ve been wanting to explore some older fantasy means that any reservations are taken over by a curiosity to discover more of Fionavar and see where the story goes!

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    1. Fingers crossed it sweeps you all the way in! I have to admit this is a series it’s taken me time to really truly love over the years, but there are some big powerful moments in it I did love from the get go.

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