The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Two

Time for part two. We’ve wiped our shoes on the welcome mat, got a drink, and are now settled in to visit the crew of the good ship Prydwen as they return home from a very dark place, just as very special young man on a very dark road is coming to the screen too. The Darkest Road no less, and with that, let us answer some questions…

1) Who wears this next shall have the darkest road to walk of any child of earth or stars. But would you try to win Darien over or set him free to choose? What do you make of the various reactions towards Darien, and to his actions?

I see someone’s decided to bowl some nice slow full tosses down t’ green first to warm us up.

I honestly don’t know. I’m not big on telling people what to do. I’m not a huge believer in anyone telling anyone what to do. But I do still believe in offering guidance and more over, we are talking about a walking nuclear missile looking around for a place to stay. Those are quite exceptional circumstances. Plus, you know, I’m answering this from my bed in a half-drowse, not staring at the possible end of everything I know and love during traumatic times. I can’t say how that would change my answer.

Besides, the kid is in pain, such pain. The idea of turning your back on him seems really harsh, almost unbearable. Again, walking nuclear missile, I don’t hugely blame anyone who sees that first… but my heart goes out to Sharra for seeing it so clear, and Kim for trying so hard. About the first thing I posted about this book was I like Kim, and I stand by it. Sharra is one of the series’ unsung stars too.

2) And three makes a triangle. Thoughts on the trope, and on this specific trio? …and now that we’ve seen Lancelot in action… reaction shots are Go.

Ah now. Well. That’s a lot of questions, Auntie Bookwyrm.

My thoughts on the trope are that I don’t like it but if you press me as to why, I very rarely see it outside the old Celtic Romances – Deidre and Naoise, Grainne and Diarmuid, Iseult and Tristan, Guinevere and Lancelot – and as such I don’t know why. Or, rather, I have formed prejudices, but haven’t tested them. It is one of those things bemoaned as a source of over-dramatic YA writing and it’s easy to join in the “ew, I don’t want that” but it’s not like I’ve read them. I didn’t read Twilight. I’ve seen some of the movies in what I hope is considerable expiation for my considerable sins. I guess I dislike the idea of it as it’s either pain or foolishness – or both – but the reality?

Well, let us examine this reality, which almost slides by far too fast. Kay presents us with three people whose love for each other seems perfectly poised, or at least so he wants us to think. It is perhaps a struggle to find it that way when Arthur and Lancelot seem so distanced and purely platonic, but I increasingly find it easier and easier to see friendship as powerful as romance, and the struggle seems to fit who they are. They are people with very fixed senses of self and that sense of self struggles to accept betrayal and dishonour. I mean, just look at Lancelot’s sense of shame that he didn’t an elder earth demon who was cheating like mad single handed!

Speaking of which – that fight. Wow. In my list of future blog topics, I have my top 100 moments in fantasy. It’s making it. Top ten. Just powerhouse drama. I had forgotten when reading that we come to that point and Kay cuts away to a different PoV like a total fucking tosser. Damn you GGK. I’d also like to curse my otherwise quite nice in-laws who dragged me out to dinner just as we were about to cut back. *shakes fist*

Anyway, Lancelot and Guinevere. It’s fun to watch them try and protect each other. I wish we’d seen more of Arthur and Guinevere to compare but I get a sense there that, insofar as possible given their tragedy, they were the sort of couple where they could let down their shields with each other and who didn’t really need to protect each other in public because their status did everything for them. Because Lancelot’s and Guinevere’s relationship had none of the same sort of status, I think they’ve generated a different more protective, more nurturing vibe. And it’s nice. It’s fun. It gives a real shape to Lancelot. This very gracious, giving man who just happened to be born with a superlative talent for violence. The graciousness and giving remind me of Kevin somewhat, now I come to think of it, who maybe also had a little of Arthur’s effortless charisma and command too.

3) Jaelle has warmed up since Maidaladan. Any thoughts on our formerly icy High Priestess and her actions?

Ah, Jaelle. There’s a woman who could demand a fair sized book to herself.

I like reading about this version of her, I really do. I’m not sure I’d like her myself but watching her slowly find a way in what’s both the world she’s always known and some whole new thing is absorbing, touching, thought-provoking.

I wish we knew more of the young Jaelle, but I suspect we don’t know what happened before she entered the temple is not considered that important. It’s always important, but the world has changed, and in any case Kay was writing with a light touch. In any case, it seems that Jaelle entered the temple and found a sense of purpose, of belonging, and also encountered some hard lessons. Her cause was the temple and Dana’s primacy, her weapons control and fear. I think you can see some of that in Audiart’s behaviour, in her memories, and in the way Pwyll gently points out that if he and the others thought the worst of Jaelle, it’s because she wanted them to.

Now she has encountered something more far more dangerous than Brennin’s politics, and something far larger than the temple, and emotions far greater and more complicated in the game of us vs them. She reaches out, but she has no conditioning for it. See Sharra’s instinctive empathy for Darien while Jaelle sees only the threat. It’s not that she has no empathy, just she has her habits of thinking the same as the rest of us.

As for the decision to have her mostly reaching out to Pwyll, that’s some genius right there. Genius. There’s some thoughts to be had about what they represent as totems of woman and man here – and they are, as chosen of Dana and Mornir – but I think they’ll come in later installments. Right now, watching two people whose mental patterns are completely bound around control trying to find emotional comfort in each other the best they can is just compulsive reading. My sort of thing.

4) Our understanding of the Weaver and the lore of Fionavar has deepened this week. Any insights, theories or reactions to share?

I’m looking forwards to hearing more from the rest of you here, as I never really find myself all that clued up about the Weaver.

That said – the idea of the Wild Hunt, the epitome of violence, as a necessary guarantee of freedom in the pattern feels very similar to the role The Dark One plays in The Wheel of Time.

5) Snark question: Based on the evidence, do you think any andain have sensible relationships with their parents? Or a handle on their feelings?

People with sensible relationships with their parents rarely make any sort of fiction, really. Either there’s gaps, or it’s not talked about. Besides, doesn’t Philip Larkin have it right anyway?

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do”

Why should the andain be any different from the rest of us?

That snark on snark aside, it does feel rather difficult for that to happen. There’s some pretty major restraints on the gods, and calls on their time too, so them being there feels unlikely. Once that happens, well, it’s always a road with potholes. I feel like there might well be some andain elsewhere who are doing better, and are thus not needed for this story, but probably not sensible.

A handle on their feelings though, there I must demur. Flidais honestly seems a happy, pleasant enough fellow who knows exactly what he wants from life. If that’s not a handle on your feelings, only the very blessed have one.

6) Other Thoughts

It strikes me how Diarmuid’s every action here seems to be about trying to free people – from their fears, from their worries. It’s all done in that showoffy glib manner that gives him all the attention that he loves so much, but here we see more clearly what he’s doing through other characters’ eyes. We see the lack of bite to his jibes through Jaelle’s eyes, see why he duels Lancelot on the ship through Pwyll’s (you know, other than he really fucking wants to). I now look back and every action seems to fit that, even if he’s sometimes very much taking control of the situation to do so. By sometimes, I mean almost always. Even declaring Jennifer off limits can be seen as instinctively reading she is not into casual romance and deciding to deter everyone else (after all, it’s not like he’s there to take advantage).

Pwyll’s need for control brought home again is intriguing, and something to ponder, particularly given how even the mighty Weaver accepted there should be things beyond his control.

I somehow forgot to mention the scene with ol’ Whitebranch the mage, which is awesome and eerie and who doesn’t want to sail with the dead? Damn, that one landed. I also forgot to mention how Jaelle’s calm in the face of his age old prejudices shows how far she’s travelled.

4 thoughts on “The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Two

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