The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Three

Its readalong time. Asking the questions is Ariana. I’m gonna get straight into it.

1. We’ve seen some extreme behaviour – we learn that Galadan’s wants to unravel the world because it witnessed his rejection. Ysanne’s sacrifice takes her out of the Tapestry entirely. What were your reactions to these and other character motivations?

Seems legit.

Look, there’s two sets of mental processing through which to view this. There’s the reader looking to analyse/the human reacting emotionally, and the reader looking to be entertained. Who I guess is also a human reacting emotionally. And to me – this is the good shit right here. Are you really a proper villain squad until one of you is sat there quietly in the corner listening to the plans to divvy up the world thinking “joke’s on you, there’s not going to be a world when I’m done”? Exactly.

Now obviously, speaking from the former perspective, Galadan needs to build a bridge and get the fuck over it. It fits with my view that in some ways Kay is critiquing masculinity by having the big “but my darling” guy be a villain when so often they are heroes (yes, yes, I know, the guy below, get to him in a moment). Love is destructive at times and people on the wrong end of that will act irrationally, but it’s still not cool. But at the same time, I am here with my popcorn.

As for Ysanne… oh Ysanne. Truth told, I can’t really grasp the full depth of her sacrifice here. But what I can grasp is just pure heroism; to have so much love for a place, for a person, that you’ll put their best chances ahead of you own existence. It’s a shame we didn’t get more of her. Incidentally, I’m wondering how other readers will feel about this vis a vis Kay’s mighty wielding of the cluehammer prior to this event.

Put all these mighty emotions together and it’s… well, it’s very 80s isn’t it? Are we sure we never saw Galadan in a half-open puffy white shirt in a Bonnie Tyler video? But I am here for it. I poke fun at it but I sincerely love it. It’s also very mythic feeling. You look at the old Irish and Welsh epics, the Norse sagas – brim filled with people with all the emotional balance of a one-wheeled chariot. Kay talked about going back to the taproot texts for this work, and I think he did that justice.

2. And speaking of sacrifice, Paul has spent his final night on the Summer Tree and all his defences have been stripped. How are you feeling towards Paul now and what do you think might happen to him next? Rereaders – do you remember your first reactions to this?

So I read on a little past chapter eight last week because I wanted to see that scene again very badly. For me, it’s one of the mic drop moments of fantasy. I welled up.

And having read it again…

Paul has always resonated with me. I read this first as a teenager at a time when I was far from happy, and had already adopted a similar stoic pride as my shield. Still do at times in truth, although I now understand you can’t hold a shield all the time, much like Paul learned there.

In any case, everything about Paul and Rachel makes perfect sense to me here. How they’d have come together, how they’d have split, how they’d have reacted. That’s what makes it so painful. It’s what leaves Paul stuck in the cleft stick of the paradox of his emotions. And the same pride – the same arrogance – that carried him so far deep, has also allowed him to come through with a bit of bending and opening himself to others, because has the courage to look himself in the mirror. By others, I mean mainly the dog.

That’s Paul Schafer. As for what comes next… ah, that would be telling, but I think the clues are there.

3. Alongside (or because of?) Paul’s time on the Summer Tree, some cosmic forces seem to be moving in Fionavar again. Last week we talked about prophecy, but how do you feel about the role of deities and mythology in the book?

They talk at times of wild magic and the gods sure are wild. Primordial even. They move for their own reasons, their own passions. There is kindness in them, but it’s deeply mingled in with other things. As a reader, they’re fascinating. If they were my gods? Well, you can see why people are a bit afraid of them at times, can’t you?

Although I love the moment of truth Dana gives to Paul. That freedom of doubt from a moment seems the greatest gift there is.

4. We have (officially) met the banished prince Aileron! Impressions? And does his presence and return to court give us any further insight into the politics of Brennin?

And we thought Dave was a bit awkward, eh? Aileron has more sharp angles than a MC Escher gallery exhibit. It’s tempting to see someone so mono-focused and socially inept as a bit neurodivergent. I don’t think I’m going to say he is, but the possible interpretation is in my mind.

I also think that hearing him speak of his parents also makes it clear that on some level, he’s just a heartwounded young man without enough people to rely on. I think the death of Marrien hit everyone in that family hard, and the way it then hit Ailell then hit his sons even harder. Aileron seems to have turned that pain into cold clear purpose, Diarmuid into reckless attention seeking.

As for the politics… savage stuff. But we knew that. The only thing I would add is that, so far, in an emergency, Gorlaes seems decent enough.

5. At last, Dave has returned to grace the pages! His absence has caused much speculation, but how do you feel about him now that we know what he’s been up to?

I do hope people like him more now. I think he comes across a lot more human and likeable now he’s in a place and people that suit him. He also gets most of the funniest lines, although Kim has a few good ones and Paul’s self-scorn is witty in places too.

I also like Ceinwen’s putdown of his assertion regarding Liane and Torc. Liane will make her own choices, thank you. Also Liane is a fun character in her own right – a bit of wit and empathy, a bit of sheer wilfulness.

6. Dave’s time with the Dalrei gives us a great deal of insight into a previously unseen culture within Fionavar, so it’s time for a world-building check in! Anything standing out?

Hrm. I’ll just look at others’ answers here. Although I can quickly see why the Dalrei are considered the children of peace compared to Brennin and Cathal, given how much less bloody they are with only ritual blinding and semi-flexible laws.

7. And as always, any other thoughts?

Q: How can you tell the Fionavar Tapestry is a fantasy novel?
A: There’s a cat that comes when called

10 thoughts on “The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Three

  1. “Love is destructive”

    …okay, now this brilliant insight has such long and very spoilery legs that all I can say is I smacked my forehead and thought THAT. EXACTLY THAT. Let’s talk about this again in two books’ time? 😉

    In the meantime, I’m going to carry on sniggering about Total Eclipse of the Wolflord because hell yes he has the shirt. And cheering on Ceinwen; I loved that putdown too – and the contrast with Diarmuid telling the court which women are ‘his’. Oh Prince, there’s a goddess I’d like you to meet 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah! I didn’t even think of any reverberation of that statement regarding the trilogy before I said it but now you’ve said it, it covers everything.


      “Once upon a time I was falling in love,
      Now I’m only falling apart
      There’s nothing I can do
      But want an eclipse of all hearts”


  2. Pingback: Quest Log the Last

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