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text 2018-12-30 04:11
The Summer Tree - Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 383 pages. And about the ten million . . . .
The Summer Tree - Guy Gavriel Kay

Disclaimer:  I'm not sure I ever posted a disclaimer about this, so here goes.  I bought the Kindle edition of this book in October 2018. I do not know the author personally, but I follow him on Twitter and we have had some brief exchanges there.  I also purchased the second volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, The Wandering Fire.  I obtained the third volume, The Darkest Road, in the late 1980s as a review copy when I was reviewing for Rave Reviews magazine.  I refused to write a review, or even read the book, because I felt it unfair to review the last volume of a trilogy when I hadn't read and couldn't even acquire the first two books.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance and various non-fiction.


So far, I've read the first 10 pages of this book about fourteen times since purchasing it in late October; it's now late December.  I keep getting interrupted, then have to go back and reread to remember what's going on.  This is not therefore a real status report.


It's a new year's resolution, of sorts.


My resolution, initially arrived at without a whole lot of thought, is to read 10,000,000 words of fiction in 2019.  I'm qualifying that here because I'm quite sure I read far more than ten million words of news and non-fiction and internet chatter every year.  And while I may include some non-fiction full-length works in this accounting, the real purpose of it is to boost my reading of book-length fiction.


I used to read almost nothing but novels.  My non-fiction reading was mostly research material for my writing.  When my writing career crashed and burned in 1996, I lost all interest in fiction.  In 1998, when I went back to college, almost all my reading was academic stuff.  Since then, I've sometimes had some difficulty getting back into fiction.  That's one of the reasons I've enjoyed the Halloween Bingo game so much -- it has forced me to focus my reading at least partly on fiction, especially genre fiction.


So for 2019, it's going to be fiction, fiction, and more fiction.  Mostly romance and epic fantasy -- like The Fionavar Tapestry -- but who knows what else might get thrown in!  I have a system in place for estimating the number of words per book, and I'm going to set up a spreadsheet to keep track of them.  Only completed books count.


I started with Phyllis A. Whitney's Window on the Square, and now I'm going to curl up in bed with the Kindle and The Summer Tree.  It's cold here in central Arizona tonight, so this sounds like a good plan.




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review 2018-11-13 09:39
“Tigana, let my memory of you be like a blade in my soul.”
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

Unforgettable. This year my big authorial find has been Canadian writer Guy Gavriel Kay – or “God” as I now like to call him – who with this and “The Lions Of Al-Rassan” has managed to get me very excited about the storytelling potential of fantastical alt-history. GGK sprinkles fantasy elements over real-world historical periods, emphasising their universal qualities but that’s like saying Shakespeare wrote a few plays. “Tigana” is a story that features sorcerer-tyrants casting crazy-powerful spells while still feeling painfully close to home and it is utterly wonderful in every way.

“Tigana” is about memory and the political power of language. It’s also a romping adventure story featuring a young farm boy who discovers a great secret and gets to unlock his fate. It features two tyrants, both of whom are complex. It is Brandin the Ygrathen who is responsible for an act of enforced cultural amnesia visited upon the region of Tigana and which drives the main characters of the novel to action while in the East we have Alberico the Barbadian, a gentleman for whom arrows are not a bother and who winds up being a rather good comedy character, constantly beset by the fools and events around him and dreaming of usurping his own coffin-dodging Emperor. Short-arse farm boy and talented musician Devin joins a travelling band of troubadours and quickly gets way more than he bargained for, not least from flame-haired Catriana in a cupboard during an important meeting. Structurally the novel comprises travel, meetings, assassination attempts, whispered confidences, the “Ring Dive” and much emotional intelligence. It’s a long book but doesn’t feel it, the prose is literate but uncomplicated while the flashes of violence (“Isolla’s head exploded like an overripe fruit smashed with a hammer”), sex and, above all, the focus on the emotional landscapes of the characters makes for a delicious, moreish, read.

As always, however, the devil is in the details and a straight precis of “Tigana” is laughably inadequate at conveying the riches on offer. For example, there’s the late in the day, kick-in-the-teeth, message delivered by Alessan’s mother which is a most unexpected plot twist and the epitome of “both good and bad news”. There’s the absolutely beautiful scene where quiet, serious Alais talks to her father about taking over the Sea Maid. There’s the end of Part 1 and Tomasso’s fate. There’s the trapped wizard Erlein who really. wants his freedom and while GGK is sexually progressive – at times breathtakingly-so – he still manages to have Alienor, Queen of Castle Borso, describe recreational sex as “a kind of insurrection in the dark that somehow stands against the laws of day”. There’s reams of this stuff. It would also be remiss of me not to mention the finale which GGK not only sticks but deals one of the most thrilling crescendos and resolutions I’ve come across since, oh, “The Lions Of Al-Rassan”. It is an utter knockout; Erlein saying “Link” and the Night Walkers Skyping in from across the Palm is right up there with the multi-army finale of ‘The Return Of The King’ and Dionara’s fate – no spoilers – is absolutely on point. This is a beautiful, humane and thrilling novel that lodges itself in your head and heart and does not let go.

That said, there’s something else that makes this novel chime with readers which GGK addresses in his interesting afterword. For example:

Wikipedia - Destruction_of_cultural_heritage_by_ISIL

“Tigana” has real-world atrocities on its mind, it’s not just mythopoiesis for the sake of it. ISIS would absolutely do what the sorcerer-tyrant Brandin does in “Tigana” if they could and, worse, they would do it because of ideology rather than grief. Brandin’s personal loss vastly complicates our reaction to him and embodying this is Dionara, sleeping with the enemy, hugely conflicted and well aware what she’s up to is surely going to get her killed sooner or later, probably by her own brother Baerd. The truly delicious thing about GGK’s writing is the ambiguity of his characters, he doesn’t do black and white not even when brutally depicting Tigana’s terrible predicament and, in my opinion, that is the mark of an artist. He make us see what drives even the worst of tyrants, an act of empathy incomprehensible to the likes of ISIS. In these polarised, binary times “Tigana” is an amazing novel to read. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve ever read.

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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 2018-08-09 21:57
“He was in Al-Rassan, land of terror and legend.”
The Lions of al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay

My first GGK and the rest of his oeuvre instantly becomes Must Read. If he ever does a London signing I’ll be there, just to check he’s real and not from outer space. This novel is utterly, exquisitely, wonderful.

A young Kindath (Jewish) Doctor, Jehane, practising in the Asharite (Muslim) city of Fezana, is summoned by the genial Khalif-killing Ammar ibn Khairan to administer to a sick family friend. To the north lies the split Jaddite (Christian) kingdom of Esperana and despite the tributes paid tensions are brewing. What follows in Fezana becomes known as the “Day of the Moat” and if you think “Game Of Thrones” has tailed off and George isn’t going to finish the books anytime soon stop everything, get thee to your bookseller of choice and put your phone on mute. “Lions” is intoxicating.

Sometimes, rarely actually, you come across a writer who, when it comes to writing a review of his material, renders you painfully aware that your facility with words is as naught compared to his. This is an exceptionally well written novel – you know you’re in safe hands right from the off – and once you get a handle on the geography and the alt-faiths in play the characterisations and storytelling verve sweep you away. The storyline is complex but clear (huge kudos for the clarity, at no point was I lost) with political maneuverings, divided loyalties, romance, sex, a fantastic arrow shot from Miranda Belmonte, a young boy with a touch of farsight, a young solider wondering whether he’s made the right career choice and above all peoples of different faiths coming together to do incredible things while the world burns around them. While the prologue scene of assassination is a great hook (and has far-reaching consequences) for my money it’s with the introduction to Jehane in Chapter 1 where Kay’s supernatural talent for characterisation kicks in. This novel has many passionate things to say about faith and civilisation but that difficult to pin down, secret sauce, to my mind, is Kay’s ability to really make you connect with the characters. No exaggeration, while reading this on the London Underground there were moments I had to put it aside because I was close to bawling my eyes out.

Kay suggests beauty, poetry, friendship, family and inter-faith solidarity as the hallmarks of civilisation and they all go straight out of the window when Kings start plotting. Ragosa has a carnival the day before horrifying things start happening and the contrast is stark. Characters of all faiths in this novel are merrily sexually liberal, Khairan and Belmonte both acknowledge their manly love for each other, while Jehane, woman of agency though she is, has at least three men in play at one point. Good for her. Kay calmly depicts people of different faiths getting on perfectly well with each other on the micro level, but viciously slaughtering each other on the macro. The growing friendship and respect is never hammered home, you just start to slowly notice it (“proof that men of different worlds can blend and mingle those worlds”) until events crescendo to that medical procedure which never could have occurred without cooperation and then the final, tragic, silhouetted encounter between Rodrigo Belmonte and Khairan, “the two most brilliant comets in the sky”. All of this plus knock-out lines: “The deeds of men are as footprints in the desert”; “Work was sometimes the only barrier there was between life and the emptiness beyond”; “Sometimes the heart’s arrow found its way to certainty despite the cautionings of a careful nature” and above all “Destroy Cartada”. Finally, leaving three full wineglasses on the rim of a fountain as your final image in a novel like this is beyond elegant. Bravo!

So yeah, I liked it. I’m pretty shell-shocked, actually. It’s so great when you have a first encounter with an author that makes you want to read everything they’ve ever written. Fingers crossed Amazon or Netflix or HBO or whoever don’t snap this up and turn it into just another piece of good-looking content. This sort of novel deserves to be cherished for what it is. Then again “some people you just couldn’t help, no matter how you tried.”

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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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