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text 2018-10-28 15:17
The Darkest Road, or how to get fired from an unpaid reviewing gig
The Darkest Road - Guy Gavriel Kay

Somewhere along about 1988, a friend who had connections with Romantic Times got me my first reviewing job.  Kathryn Falk, who owned RT, controlled who got what romance novels to review, and most of that was done in-house, but she spun off another magazine that she hoped would do for every other genre what RT had done for romance -- make her some money.  The new venture was called Rave Reviews, and I became one of the reviewers.


I can't say I enjoyed all the books sent to me for review. None, of course, were romance, so at best I got my second choice which was fantasy.  Further down the list was horror and science fiction, as well as the occasional non-fiction.  The Portuguese cookbook, for example.


For paperback originals, we usually got uncorrected page proofs, which had absolutely no value at all, not on any market.  Most of the authors were unknowns or relative unknowns, and in those days before the internet, these 8 1/2 by 14 inch printouts were just so much text.  Sometimes we got a cover flat to go with them.  Often we didn't even get that.  Our only tangible compensation came in the form of hardcover books sent out in advance of the paperback reprints.  (The Portuguese cookbook, for example.)


Because my friend knew nothing at all about fantasy -- there's a story to that, too, but I'll save it for later -- she passed almost all of those along to me.  Here I got lucky.  One of the books I reviewed was Judith Tarr's The Golden Horn.  Though it was the second book in a trilogy, it was enough of a stand-alone that I was able to enjoy it and give it a good review.  I also got Bruce Ferguson's The Shadow of His Wings, which still ranks as one of my all-time favorites.


We reviewers weren't required to give rave reviews, though that was the title of the magazine.  Like Goodreads years later, RR was intended to sell books for the publishers, so they'd buy ads.  Favorable reviews therefore were much preferred to unfavorable ones.  Sometimes it wasn't easy to find something good to write about a bad book, and often I just refused to be nice.  But I always justified why a given book didn't work for me, and no one seemed to complain.  Most, but not all, of my reviews made it into print.


Then came the one I simply couldn't review.


Our turn-around time was short, since everything had to go through snail mail.  It wasn't unusual for me to get four or five books to read and write reviews for in a week.  And in those days without internet, research was virtually impossible, pun intended.  So when I got the third book of a fantasy trilogy that wasn't a stand-alone, I didn't have sufficient time to order the first two books on inter-library loan and wait a week or two or three for them to arrive.  So I wrote back to whoever it was at RR that I simply couldn't review this book and it was grossly unfair for them to expect me to do so.


They weren't happy.  They wanted a review of some kind.


I don't remember now if there were phone calls back and forth or letters or what, but I was ticked.  Because I was also a writer, I felt an obligation to the author of the trilogy to give a fair assessment.  And I couldn't do that.  However, I also felt an obligation to myself.  I liked reading fantasy, and this looked like a wonderful trilogy.  I didn't want to ruin it for myself by reading the third book and not having the background and then hunting up the first two books but already knowing the end.


And now, almost 30 years later, I don't even remember if I wrote any review at all or if I completely refused or what.  I do remember that that was just about the last time I reviewed for them and they were pretty ticked at me.  Of course, eventually the whole experiment failed -- only the romance genre really played Kathryn's game -- and that was that.


I've become Twitter friends with Judith Tarr, who actually lives not too far from me.  I lucked out and picked up a paperback copy of the first book in The Falcon and the Hound trilogy recently at the library book sale, then bought the final book in Kindle format.


I've also become a follower of the author of that other trilogy, the one I have only Book Three of.  I never read the book, because I didn't want to ruin it for myself.  Yesterday, after doing some clean-up work in the studio, I came across that book again and thought, gee, I should see about getting the first two books and reading the whole set.


When I first looked to see if there were a Kindle edition, the three book set was something like $22 and I just wasn't comfortable with that.  Not now when my budget is stretched to transparency.  Even though I have a little bit left on a gift card, I'm extra tight with it.


I'm not sure why I decided to check on the prices of the individual books as opposed to the complete set, but I did that this morning.  Aha!  Book One is only $2.99 and Book Two is only $5.99, but Book Three which I already have, is the deal breaker at $12.99!


So I'll buy the first two books of Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry series in Kindle edition, and finally, after almost three decades, read that free hardcover edition of the third book.

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review 2018-03-01 21:40
Tigana / Guy Gavriel Kay
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered country struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the dark sorceries of the tyrant king Brandin that even the very name of their once beautiful home cannot be spoken or remembered. But years after their homeland’s devastation, a handful of men and women set in motion a dangerous crusade—to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the world the lost brightness of an obliterated name: Tigana.

Against the magnificently realized background of a world both sensuous and brutal, this masterful epic of a passionate people pursuing their dream is breathtaking in its vision. A spellbinding novel in which myth comes alive and magic reaches out to touch you.


Those of you who read my reviews regularly know that Guy Gavriel Kay can do no wrong in my eyes. I adore his novels and this one is no exception. The bonus this time? I met Mr. Kay at a convention last August and I can now hear his voice in my head, reading the novel to me (he has a very nice voice).

Tigana is a kingdom under a curse: the people were conquered and the name of their country can no longer be heard or remembered (except by those who lived through the conquest). When a former citizen says “Tigana,” others hear only a garble or an empty spot. Can those who remember find a way to break the curse and restore Tigana to its former glory? Their lives get braided together in some convoluted and heartbreaking ways.

As with any sweeping tale like this one, there are casualties along the way, some expected, some surprising. The ending was a bit messy, something I appreciate in a book, as I find that real life endings are rarely neat. I read most of the novel on a long plane flight and it was the perfect distraction—I was able to submerge in this fantasy world and ignore the passage of time.

Book 271 of my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project

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review 2017-08-01 00:00
The Lions of al-Rassan
The Lions of al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay 4.5 stars
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review 2017-05-06 20:22
Review: The Lions of Al-Rassan
The Lions of al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of Al-Rassan is the second book I’ve read by Guy Gavriel Kay, the first being Tigana.  I really enjoy his writing style.  One thing in particular that I’ve enjoyed about both books is that they each managed to satisfy my epic fantasy cravings within a single, standalone novel.  I enjoy a good epic fantasy series, but a standalone does have the advantage of being easier to fit into my reading schedule.


The story involves the cultural and religious conflicts between various factions in a peninsula on a fictional world.  We follow some of the more influential characters from those different cultures, most of whom are very likeable, as their goals coincide and conflict with each other.  The author writes characters and camaraderie very well.  Sometimes I thought there was a little too much melodrama, and sometimes events were a bit too coincidental, but mostly it was a well-written and engaging story. 

It did get to the point where I was laughing every time yet another person ended up in Ragosa, though!  And I laughed even harder when one of the characters remarked on it also.

(spoiler show)


It’s probably arguable whether this book really counts as fantasy.  It definitely has a solid epic fantasy feel, depending I guess on what you think of when you hear “epic fantasy”, and it’s clearly set on a fictional world with two moons.  However, there weren’t really any actual fantastical elements aside from one secondary character with an unexplained special ability.  The story and setting are inspired by and have some parallels in real-world history.


It was easy to decide on a 4.5 star rating on the sites where I can give half stars, but it was much, much harder to decide whether to round up or down on Goodreads.  In the end, I decided to round down.  There was just a little too much bitter in the bittersweet ending, however much I expected it.  I also felt frustrated with some of the characters’ choices, and there was the aforementioned melodrama and coincidences.  Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading this book and I was completely engrossed by it while I was reading it.  I’ll likely try to fit Kay’s work back into my reading schedule sooner rather than later.

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review 2017-04-19 17:01
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

Series: Under Heaven #1


Under Heaven is a standalone book that usually gets listed as coming before River of Stars because they both take place in Kitai (Kay’s version of China) and River of Stars takes place after Under Heaven (but at least a couple hundred years after).


Under Heaven follows the path of Shen Tai after a Kitan princess from a neighbouring country (she got married off) gives him a ridiculously extravagant and impractical gift because he’d taken it on himself to bury bodies from several battles in a remote mountainous area on the border during the mourning period for his father. So for two years he dug graves all day long while the ground was unfrozen and listened to the wails of ghosts of the unburied bodies at night. I think I mentioned in one of my updates that he’s a bit weird.


He basically has to stay alive long enough to try to claim the gift and figure out how to keep it long enough to make use of it without getting killed. Along the way we meet Wei Song, a female Kanlin warrior who serves as his bodyguard. I thought Wei Song was pretty cool. At one point it’s said that "She was small, and lethal." We also meet Tai’s sister Li-Mei who I thought stole the show, character-wise. She gets to exemplify that bravery is acting even when you’re afraid.


There are lots more characters and events at the Emperor’s court and a rebellion and so on, but I don’t want to give everything away (hopefully I haven’t spoiled anything as it is). I liked the novel but I didn’t rate it higher because honestly, Kay has done better, and the prose in this book isn’t as fluid or as lyrical as some of his other books. I’m used to Kay setting a rhythm and the text forcing you to follow it. There were also several asides to discuss the history as a whole because the later part of the book starts delving into macro-level events rather than following specific characters. Rather the narrative still follows the characters but the scope of the text broadens and I felt some human quality was lost in there.


At least I’m slowly catching up on my Kay reads?


I read this for square #24 of the booklikes-opoly board, “Read a book set in Africa or Asia” as I’m considering Kay’s alternate version of China to be set in Asia. Since this book has just over 600 pages, I get $5 to add to my bank.

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