The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Week Four

Endgame time. Thank you to Mayri at Bookforager for this week’s questions.

1. Paul is now the Lord of the Summer Tree. What do you think this means/ will mean?

Hmm. Well. I cannot guess. But if I were to do so, I would note that he seems to be a power now, treated with respect beyond that just due to someone who has offered his life and been sent back by the gods. But power in Fionavar mostly seems to come from something, not within. Paul’s would seem to logically come from the Tree itself, or perhaps the God Mornir, which may or may not give a clue as to what sort of power he’s going to receive.

2. Each of our grad students has found a role to play in Fionavar, most questionably Jennifer. She asks herself “what was her sin, what had she done” to deserve the terrible TERRIBLE punishment she receives at the hands of Maugrim and his creatures. What are your thoughts and feelings on Jennifer’s plight, and how have you made sense of it within the scope of the story so far?

What had she done to deserve it?

Absolutely, totally, completely nothing.

Which is in part the point as I see it. There is no reason for Maugrim to do this but his own twisted nature. There is no revenge, no long obsession, no justification. Just something for him to break in the manner that pleases him. It is a distillation of the evil of rape. It’s never deserved.

This scene is nauseating. There’s maybe two to three scenes in fantasy that are so uncomfortable they give me a genuine physical reaction and this is one of them. It’s brutal and repulsive and I think Kay knew that. Why is it here?

It’s for Maugrim to show why he is the ultimate evil in the first of all worlds (among other reasons that will become clear). Here, evil takes the form of domination and degradation for no earthly reason, with the focal point being Maugrim’s attempt to warp and damage Jennifer’s ability to love, which might be one of the key components of free will (certainly the most glorious). We have seen so many small evils come from love in this book, as well as many bright weavings; we have also seen a good deal about the right to choose; and here is the logical ultimate evil. Something that takes our love and will. Jennifer understands that in part:

“You can take them,” Jennifer said, her voice a scrape of pain, “but I will not give them to you, and every one of them has two hands.”

She won’t let Maugrim have her idea of what it is to love. She clings to that. It is the only defiance possible there. She will continue to exercise her free will as much as she can, even there, even then.

So… it has a point. I wish it hadn’t been done this way. I see why it is this way.

As for Jennifer. She’s as brave as any of them and I look forwards to revisiting her story in forthcoming books.

One small point – there seems a small logical disconnect to me between how Galadan marks her as going north unspoilt, and how Maugrim perceives her. In the former, she is of some importance, in the latter, some. Not obvious why.

3. What did you make of the many events in the throne room, from the assassination attempt to the showdown for the crown?

This sort of big set piece where Kay switches from PoV to PoV, building layers to our understanding of what’s happening, is something I love and one of his biggest talents for me. It’s superb, superb drama.

I guess the heart of it is Diarmuid and Sharra, so let’s start with them.

First off, I’d like to welcome Sharra to Overreaction Club. The first rule of Overreaction Club is that you tell! Everyone! ABOUT IT! Part of me wishes we’d had more of Sharra’s journey here, which maybe we would have in a more recent book, but a) that would have spoiled the surprise b) bloated the book. But I like her outlook. I like her fierce independence and coolly superior outlook on, well, just about everything. I mean I’d probably find her annoying as hell in real life but as a character, she’s entertaining. I wish we knew a lot more about her relationship with Marlen, and how his death changed her life. I think it would deepen the parallels between her and Diarmuid too.

As for Diarmuid… what a performance. The kid’s just impossibly quick-witted. There’s an intriguing contrast between the way he exults over sex with Sharra with his mates back in Cathal, and the way he cheerfully lies his head off and somewhat throws himself under the bus to avoid revealing it here. There’s also an intriguing glimpse of the Diarmuid under all the glitz and the glamour and bravado, the young man forced to confront two people he loves wanting him dead. And he does seem to sincerely love Sharra, although I would struggle to tell you at what point he did. Possibly when she jumped down to kill him. That sounds like our prince. I guess the “and something more” says it was down there, but he kept it well under wraps if he did.

Note too how Sharra needs, longs for, that moment of vulnerability from Diarmuid – the moment that Paul would not, or could not, give Rachael. It is an expression of love and more, it is an expression of equality, for how can there be balance in a relationship where one person gets to see another’s weaknesses and but never takes off their armour to reveal their own?

In any case, there is a lot of similarity between Diarmuid and Sharra – I wish Sharra was given more book so we could see more of it – including an absolute fury at having their free will abrogated. Which seems appropriate given how Maugrim is trying to take it from Jennifer. It’s through those lens that I see this scene – Diarmuid won’t have his free will taken away. He won’t become king because of that, but he won’t let anyone else make that decision for him. Which does also make him an infuriating showoff, but I forgive him.

Uhm, what else? I loved Paul’s ‘fuck you’ to Aileron. I loved the way Kim responded, and how they’re already coming to see this world in different ways, know different things. I loved how Paul turned to Jaelle and the Goddess to make the decision. I loved that Aileron was willing to kill his own brother in the pursuit of what he considered important, but also saved him when push came to shove. And I really loved Kevin’s and Paul’s reunion.

4. There’s been a surfeit of signs, a plethora of portents in this week’s reading. Now is the time to air your opinions on such things as flying unicorns, getting lost in the woods, the Cave of the Sleepers, magical Horns and unearthed Cauldrons.

These are all awesome things.

Imraith-Nimphais is one of the most awesome of them. She has such an energetic personality, plus she’s a flying unicorn. A blood red flying unicorn, born to do murders because the great goddess Dana is distinctly miffed with the turn of events so she’s decided to have a flying murderchild.

Davor’s little adventure in the woods is very cool too, even if Flidais is an annoying git. It’s good to be reminded that Dave’s not just an introverted defensive sarcastic meathead though. And Ceinwen’s interest in him, and quicksilver moving between tenderness and cruelty? Interestink, interestink.

5. The Dwarves did it, in the darkness, with the Cauldron of Khath Meigol! What do you make of this last-minute revelation? And care to make any predictions on future developments?

I love the phrasing here!

I think anyone who saw this coming has eyes like a hawk, because foreshadowing was minimal if there at all. I know I didn’t see it coming at all. Looking back, it’s kind of remarkable at how much I was “okay, sure”, because this kind of feels something where “life just is, art has to convince” normally kicks in.

As for future developments… I must be silent! But I think all the clues are there as to what will happen. I will give a metaphorical cookie to anyone who does guess it, which can be literal if you come in person to collect.

6. Finally, reaction shots on Maugrim the Unraveller – go!

So I do have a perfect reaction gif for Maugrim but it’s a little sweary, even by my standards here, so I’ll just link it in case anyone doesn’t want the swearing –

Beyond that… to me, these great cosmic evils mainly exist to show why the characters struggle with themselves so much, but he has achieved an unusual level of personality, and what a loathsome personality it is. A politer version of my feelings:

7. Any other business

I like how Paul’s first thought after a lengthy “where am I” was a need to see his friend.

7 thoughts on “The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Week Four

  1. What’s the deadline on guessing what might happen with the dwarven plot? Like how far can I read into the next book before it’s too obvious? I really want that cookie…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. Not best placed to judge really. I think there’s clues after the first few chapters but can’t be sure.

      I could always just buy you a cookie the next we’re both in central London anyway, iirc you’re quite close… 😛

      Liked by 1 person

    1. *laughs* I may have studied Diarmuid closer than I would otherwise due to everyone glaring at him.

      But I just don’t think he does anything all book that he’s not sincere about. It doesn’t feel an obvious thing to accept because Diarmuid really likes to push people’s buttons for fun and profit, and a lot of the things he does are reckless hedonism, but at the same thing I don’t think he ever fakes emotions to do it or does anything other than because he genuinely wants to.

      It probably helps my thinking that I read one of Dorothy Dunnett’s books – and she was a huge influence on Kay from everything said – a few months ago and she had a very similar manipulative but honest character. There’s also a review of John M. Ford’s The Dragon Waiting by Sherwood Smith in which she talks about the beau ideal, citing Dunnett, and describes him as “witty, well, read, courageous, seemingly immoral or amoral, but actually true to his beliefs. And he has beliefs, even if it is only in his fellow-man.” I see Diarmuid fitting the edges of the template there, and I know Kay has been influenced by authors who use it, and so I kinda went looking for the rest of it in The Summer Tree.


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