The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Two

ARTWORK by chic2view from

We are back for week 2 of The Fionavar Tapestry readalong, where once again I have written far too much. If you want to join in, check out the schedule over at Imyril’s post.

1) There was a little confusion last week on whether chapter six was supposed to be included, so let’s explore this one first. We discussed the Pervy Prince last week – would you like to weigh in on his antics across the border?

Hardly his finest hour, is it?

And in a way, it’s an encapsulation of what we’ve seen from Diarmuid so far. All that planning, all that bravery, all that considerable mental and emotional intelligence… just to sleep with a girl (as far as we know). It’s like watching someone restore a vintage car to its former glory so they can go street racing in it.

Incidentally, in support of my idea that Diarmuid is a shrewd manipulator – look at how his anger at Sharra’s formality gets under skin, eh? That said, I don’t think the annoyance is feigned. We don’t know what he wants, but I think it’s fair to say Diarmuid has shown his contempt for courtly formality (and even civility) at every step of the way so far. So he takes that anger and uses it to his advantage, which shows an unusual mind.

But what about Sharra in all this? What of the Dark Rose of Cathal? I enjoy her constant internal battle between being a person fit to wear Cathal’s crown, as clever and subtle and imperious as any of its rulers, and being a person who climbs trees and has fits of passion. It’s a golden oldie of personality types, but I like what we see here. And for all Diarmuid succeeds because he’s a wily git here, it is also entirely because he is offering her a chance to indulge the latter part of her personality. Without that, I doubt she’d have ever turned up to begin with.

Finally, and without expecting much agreement… I’m glad this is in the book, in a way. It’s sordid, but it’s honest too. A lot of fantasy books present male sexuality in a very prim and proper way, and even those who show a ladies’ man that gets about often downplays the negative aspects. A young man acting boorishly? That’s usually shown in books where the whole point is the MC is a cad. To find it in conventional epic fantasy is, for me at least, different. I like too that when riffing on the great Celtic lover-heroes – and given Diarmuid’s name, I think Kay undoubtedly is – he adds a layer of grey to it. That these guys would have been at times, louts (to put it kindly).

Incidentally, we get a little revisit of this, when we see Sharra a little down the line. She appears happy with how things went, and very happy to act on his information about the crossing for the good of Cathal, and then she finds out about Diarmuid’s fake guard intrusion and quite justifiably quietly goes apeshit. Although her method of apeshit is less justifiable. Poor Devorash. Poor wrestling slave too. This is a savage world.

2) We’re a sizable step into the story now, so how are we all finding the pacing?

I think it’s somehow quick paced and slow at the same time. The quick comes from how quickly we shift scene and PoV. We’re always adding something new to our understanding of the book (and, at least in my case on my first reads, missing things). But the actual plot itself is an Epic Fantasy, so it’s taking its own sweet time. It’s a very odd effect that I can’t really think of comparisons for.

3) Loren continues his mysterious antics, have your opinions about him shifted at all? Or is there a certain other mage you’re now more concerned about?

I think everyone who can hear thunder, see lightning, and feel rain is more concerned about yer man Metran now. The doddery old man isn’t so doddery after all, and all of Ailell’s attempts to create a peace with his new dynasty appear to be for nought.

As for Loren… goodness, we barely see the guy, right? He rides around and then has terrible unexplained premonitions because the author is using cheap storytelling tricks. Shame on you, Mr Kay, shame (although I forgive, you were young after all) Although it’s interesting to note the gang’s faith in him seems unshifted. Maybe he comes across well in person. Or maybe it’s because he has the Mattery, maybe the world’s most open and dependable seeming guy, as his guarantee.

4) Between the children’s game and Kim’s dream, not to mention Ysanne’s mutterings to herself, prophecy is a key element weaving through this story. What are your reactions to the various foretellings thus far?

Well, that’s a difficult one to answer without spoilers…

So let us say they strike me as important, perhaps less for what they foretell than for the weight they have on people’s minds. The Seer is a position so important they sent Loren between worlds at her bidding to find a new one. A children’s game has the power to change people’s lives. I forget whether anyone has said something like “weaver at the loom” or “brightly woven” yet, but they will. This is a culture that believes very strongly in prophecy and higher powers – yet, curiously, perhaps not in fate.

Incidentally, I think Kim is the character I’m struggling to get a read on most at this point, simply because while the others are doing them things, Kim is reacting to the crushing weight of being the Chosen One.

5) Let’s address the massive sacrificial magical tree in the room – would you have offered yourself in Paul’s shoes?

No, because I’m not suicidal.

And Paul is. I’m not sure how clear that is from just the text we’ve seen so far, but I think that it’s there if you stop to think about the little statements we’ve seen on Paul’s state – mainly from Kevin – and here is a clinching argument. Paul might have offered his death to the people of Brennin, I think given his pride he could not have done it without meaning, but he is doing so for himself.

6) There were two pretty major battles this week. The lios alfar were slaughtered by Galadan, and Paul witnessed a truly moving fight between Galadan and his mysterious canine protector. What were your reactions?

Two? Two? Is the battle in the Black Boar nothing to you? Is Paul using a hot poker to stop a giant from crushing a prince just a forgettable skirmish? For shame, for shame.

*coughs* Ahem.

I think my main thoughts are that battle scenes weren’t Kay’s strength at this time (I jest in calling the bar fight a major battle, but it is the best action sequence of the three for my money) and that emotion and will really plays a big part in these battles. The dog and Paul draw strength from each other and we see that the Lios Alfar might have won if not for Galadan’s will driving the svart and wolves on. I think it’s an interesting choice to make this so blatant – a lot of writers do it in some form, but Kay is almost asserting the primacy of the mind and heart over the flesh here.

Incidentally, that Galadan seems a bad lad, but I can’t help but enjoying him repeatedly taking the piss out of Metran.

7) There’s still no sign of Dave! First time readers – any theories? Revisitors, do you recall if you had any opinions on this before?

Oh gods no. I was a far less inquisitive reader when I first read this. I was just “oh, I’m sure we’ll get to him eventually”.

8) Any other thoughts this week?

Oh gods yes.

How about Jennifer and Jaelle? Imyril has presented the theory that Jennifer has been using her expressions of vulnerability to manipulate people, but I think based on this conversation – and also her dealing with the court ladies – she’s mainly just a straight shooter. She cuts straight to the heart of the matter and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Or rudeness. She is too proud, too clever, and too independent for that. Which personally adds to my view of Jennifer as someone who watches more than acts in social interactions. I think we have a far better view of Jennifer now, which makes it extra unfortunate she’s now in a real tight spot.

Incidentally, I think Jaelle is shown as being very similar to Jennifer. The difference is that Jaelle’s anger and appetite for power, which seems to be a chicken and egg situation. Is Jaelle angry because her position doesn’t give her the power she desires, or did Jaelle seek power because she is innately angry? And where does the ideology play into this?

Then what about the rest of Diarmuid’s tale here? Him taking care of the farmer’s family is a nice touch and also allows for a great little moment between Coll (who gives me Mattery vibes) and Paul, showing off Paul’s intelligence and disconcerting effect on other people. I think Coll also verbalises something I’ve been seeing with Diarmuid: “He often feels like drinking, but he rarely acts without reason”. The scene in the Black Boar adds a nice little levity to things when it’s all starting to feel heavy, although Kevin’s choice of song takes us right back there.

And it all does feel quite heavy to me. Under all the pomp and splendour, this is a world where kings and their children can have people put to death without people blinking, where human sacrifice has happened in multiple forms, where magic can blight the whole land. And the gang aren’t all happy campers. Paul’s the most obvious, but Jennifer wasn’t totally enjoying herself before things go south, and Kim’s struggling under the weight too.

It’s also a world where love matters, and I don’t just mean in the sense that the people of Brennin seem to be really horny, but even here there’s a savage element to it all. Paul’s lost love is destroying him, Jennifer’s inability to give love seems to be distancing her from people. Connections do save people too, but it’s a double-edged sword.

But then double-edged seems to be the name of the game in Fionavar.

7 thoughts on “The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Two

  1. I am actually laugh sobbing at your Black Boar response. Bravo. Bravo.

    Also, that’s a really interesting take on Diarmuid and… I like it. It’s persuasive. I commented that a lot goes down this week to tell us not to get too comfortable – it’s not bright brave heroic fantasy, it’s blood soaked and treacherous – and now you’ve pointed it out, Diarmuid fits into that. He could be such a dashing hero; but he is frivolous and self interested and ambitious too – and while it’s easy to see Sharra’s seduction as a whim, there’s plenty to suggest that he has ulterior motives.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. *bows*

      I think I’d add a just to “it’s not bright brave heroic fantasy”. I think it’s all of those things, but more, and all of it’s double edged. It’s bright like a fire – destructive and blinding. And heroes are often those who refuse to conform, and we often remember all the times their non-conformity pleased us and shy away from the times it didn’t – well, not here.

      As for Diarmuid having ulterior motives… well, I can’t make the arguments I have and say he has none with a straight face, but for the life of me I can’t see them here. Not yet. Well, maybe I guess if I think about it, but it takes a fair bit of thinking. Although I guess if we’re thinking that way, then it’d be quite like Diarmuid to make sure those closest to him see only the frivolous (his middle name) wastrel at that moment, so they don’t speculate too hard to all the reasons.


      1. More excellent points, especially about flawed heroes (bearing in mind when this was written – modern fantasy handles heroes’ flaws and nonconformities rather better). It helps that while I recall Sharra’s response to Diarmuid’s little adventure quite clearly and am looking forward to it immensely, I don’t recall whether his motivations are ever made clear.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I like your point about love mattering, and I’m definitely picking up a strong theme of both love and loss – Paul, obviously, but Ysanne is burdened by it, and I think the entire kingdom still feels the echo of the last civil war. So much pain and betrayal!

    I’m also struggling with Kim – it’s not always thrilling to read about someone suddenly struggling with the burden of knowledge and prophecy! Especially when she can now suddenly see everything and so becomes yet another cryptic character saying things the reader doesn’t quite grasp yet! I think I would probably sulk a little bit, in her place, as she does… I am concerned it’s only going to get worse for her, what with Ysanne’s final scene, but hopefully (and you know this, of course) she will have an interesting arc.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wish Jennifer and Jaelle had more time to have it out. They are similar. I also kind of wish we had gotten that confrontation between Kevin and Jennifer. But that does add tension to her being kidnapped. I also agree that I think of Jennifer more as a straight-shooter. She has had to deal with a lot of stuff from people over the years, I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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