The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay Readalong Part Three

The road leads ever on. To the fairest place in all the worlds, to the memories of a world now lost to malice, to the shifting illusions where a person may be lost forever and to the ending in the west where the blessed are kept forever.

Asking the questions is Bookforager and now it is time to answer them

1. As a warm-up exercise, let’s talk about Amairgen’s ghost ship, shall we?

Let’s just note now this was not my warm-up exercise, but the final question answered.

I wish there’d been more of it. I wish we’d heard more from Amairgen. It’s nice to be back in Sharra’s head, but it feels a little underdeveloped. Sweet, but underdeveloped. I think the best moment there is Diarmuid’s belief that being unable to do what Arthur does – to put his personal feelings aside for the best of all – is a failing. That’s part growth, part who he’s been all along for me, and I think that moment is echoed a lot in the answers to all of these.

Then there’s Sennett Strand, the most powerful moment of the whole ghost ship sequence. I think we live in a time of being acutely aware of the past and what is lost, but to actually see it? To see the doomed acting happily? That just feels like a big great fantasy moment. And yet… I think more could have been done with it? Such is life.

2. Finally, we’ve met the Dwarves en masse. What were your reactions to the army in the forest of Gwydir, our whistle-stop tour of the Dwarves’ mountain home, the second word-striving between Matt and Kaen, and the judgment of Calor Diman?

I think I remember having a real heart in the mouth with the structuring where we think the dwarves will fight the armies of the Light before we get some Kim Ex Machina.

In any case, it’s all jolly good. The diamond eagles, the sense of light and beauty really caught me this read through. A sense of majesty. I like Kay’s decision to show most of Kaen’s part of the word striving through Kim’s response to the whole rather than giving us the words, and pity the writer should this get adapted to TV (I think it’s been optioned) and the speech does need writing out.

I would love to know more about the dwarves’ association with truth. The power of Matt’s and Kaen’s accusations of lying. The fact that Miach cannot tell a lie. The way Matt’s second attempt to win the Crystal Dragon lies less in trying to reflect the beauty around him, but trying to show the truth of what is underneath – of the mountains, of himself? There’d be good spin-off material there.

3. Thoughts and feelings on Leyse of the Swan Mark’s chapter, if you please.

Well, for one thing, writing backwards mean I must note quickly that the Swan Mark are pacifistic, and it’s not been a good book for them.

For another, I like the riff on Lancelot and Elaine. I like it’s inclusion in the punishment of Arthur, although goodness there’s a lot of splash on the punishment… what has Leyse done wrong? Maybe something in a past life. Maybe her fear of loving. Who knows. There’s some interesting questions to ask about the nature of Free Will when someone else’s destiny leads

That said, even as someone who doesn’t entirely disbelieve in insta-love, it does feel a bit much here. It’s elegiac and beautiful so I’ll roll with it, but I think it could be stronger with more.

4. Kim makes a choice, overruling the demands of the Baelrath. All thoughts and feelings welcome, obviously, but also, why for the Dwarves, but not for the Paraiko??

I am writing these answers backwards, to do the most interesting ones first, which means my thoughts here are shaped by the quest for Light becoming a serving of the Dark… but then how could it not? In any case, I have a few answers.

Narratively, emotionally, I think there is simply no reason beyond this being where Kim has snapped. Perhaps a bit of an extra reason in that Kim had a personal tie to the Dwarves through the Mattery, and none to the Paraiko.

Thematically… I love the Paraiko, but at the same time, their purity became a neutrality in times of deepest struggle, and you have to ask how good an act is it to stand aloof in the struggle of the Light vs the Dark? Did the Weaver give them that gentleness to watch others die? I think the Paraiko are forced out because pacifism has a limited place in Guy Gavriel Kay’s the Light. Removing that is more acceptable than removing the Dwarves’ very identity, and it’s noticeable that the Paraiko notes it doesn’t remove everything about who they are.

5. And here’s the big one:

“There is a point beyond which the quest for Light becomes a serving of the Dark.”

There has been a lot of talk about the nature of Light and Dark this week. As we approach the completion of this weaving, now seems like a good time to reflect on our understanding of Light and Dark, paying particular attention to how Darien fits into it all.

I’m going to frame my response here mostly using the thoughts of Kim, and those she thinks about in these chapters; Arthur, Matt, and Kaen. What is good and Light about these men, and what is evil and Dark?

One of my favourite quotes from the book concerns Kaen:

“He was a genius, and mad. He was self-absorbed to the point where that could no longer be separated from evil, and yet he held this beauty within himself, pitched to a level Kim had never thought to see or ever imagined could be seen.”

It is Kaen’s self-absorption that makes him evil. You look at Arthur and Matt, and their sins that Kim grieves for, and you see self-absorption. Arthur killed the children in a moment of fear for his throne, his future, his legacy. As for Matt, let’s go back to Kim’s thoughts again:

“She had an image of how it must have been that day: the young proud King, newly wedded to the Crystal Lake, afire with its visions of Light, hating the Dark then as he did now. With her inner Seer’s eye she could picture it: the rage, the anguished sense of rejection that Kaen’s victory had created in him. She could see him hurling away the Crown. And she knew he had been wrong to do so.”

In his anguished sense of rejection, he hurled away his responsibilities to others. Self-absorption.

Evil, the Dark, is selfishness. It is placing the self entirely above the whole, putting the wish of your heart as the supreme force in your universe, giving nothing save what it might let you take later and taking everything you want.

By contrast, the Light, Good, is about altruism. It is the needs of the many.

But it is easy to slide and do evil in the name of the needs of the many. Kaen, Matt, Arthur, they all desired things that might serve the many, and in their fear at seeing those things sliding away did evil. They brought pain into others’ lives, took away their choices. For Matt and Arthur, those were temporary aberrations. For Kaen, it just became permanent. He couldn’t accept he was wrong. He couldn’t accept that his obsession would cost others too much. And so, his self-absorption became indistinguishable from evil. You look at others in the series, and I think you see plenty of examples backing this up. Aileron’s refusal to die on the tree, Metran’s refusal to put Brennin above his family’s downfall, Galadan’s refusal, the law of the Dalrei that forbids the death of a doe carrying a mother, Kevin’s and Paul’s acts of self-sacrifice, and so on.

What does this mean for Darien?

That putting their own fears for Darien over the child’s own needs is, in itself, something of an act for the Dark. In the name of the Light, in hope for the Light, but Dark. This raises an interesting question – is Jennifer’s stubborn insistence that he be left free to choose, to be random, more of the Light than those seeking to offer him love and comfort like Finn and Vae, and briefly Kim – or less? I can see arguments either way. I would like to believe offering him love is of the Light though, and forcing him to a lonely place to choose all by himself has both Light and Dark in it. Just like Darien.

It also raises questions about Kim’s acts, her refusal to keep reshaping the world into weapons of war… but I think the pertinent point here is that to be in the Light is to always live with risk, and that there is no final victory because that final victory includes a degree of dominion and shaping of others that in itself contains the seeds of the Dark.

6. Other Thoughts

I read most of this section in a deep, heavy state of sadness, but at no point was it deeper or heavier than when reading about Dave thinking about his father.

For the sins of good men, I grieve.


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

  1. “There is no final victory because that final victory includes a degree of dominion and shaping of others that in itself contains the seeds of the Dark.” That is so true and your whole section on Light and Dark got me quite emotional! It does make me wonder what the end of this story holds (I am being a slow reader this month so I haven’t got to it yet). In one of my posts I think I was talking about the near pointlessness of defeating the Dark at the end of this, if Rakoth Maugrim is outside of the Tapestry and can’t die, but I suppose a big part of life in the light is always spent battling the dark for a better world and every generation will have a version of that… deep thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You just said something very interesting and I can’t wait for you to finish up so I can point at it.

      In the mean time, I think I could have not written that paragraph without the Wheel of Time, and its crystal clear encapsulation of the concept.


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