The Darkest Road (The Fionavar Tapestry #3), by Guy Gavriel Kay
This is supposed to be the last novel in an epic fantasy series, but I just did not feel that this novel was all that compelling of a read. It’s certainly not a bad read, but it was not nearly as good as the author probably thought it was. What made this novel less than fully enjoyable were two things. The second problem I will save for later because it is a far darker problem and deserves a bit more space for me to discuss in fuller detail that I would rather not do before summarizing the story. The first problem, though, is that this book wears its influence on its sleeve too closely. There is no shame in writing fiction that mirrors biblical themes of sacrifice and the attack of Gog and Magog on the holy city or a view of the end of the millennium and the struggle against evil, nor is there shame in writing about dwarven councils or the Arthurian myth, but doing all of these things at the same time while also trying to write a story that is relevant to the contemporary world is trying to for too much when the characters are this uninteresting.
This book begins towards the end of the war between good and evil at the end of a false millennium of relative peace. Jennifer’s demon spawn is growing alarmingly rapidly and faces a trip along the darkest road where his father ends up killing him without love and thus makes himself mortal and kills himself. Meanwhile Paul/Pywlll and some others are trying to reach a particular place which involves taking a ship with some dead people into a storm while some other members of the party try to convince dwarves to accept their old king back. None of it is really compelling since the reader is not likely to care about these people and thus the encounter with epic dragons and other various beasts as well as with members of the Round Table is out of place and just not very exciting, not nearly as exciting as the book would appear to assume. Finally, of course, there is an epic battle that turns on various mystical elements and then a very quick resolution. If the characters had meant more, than their sacrifices may have resonated, but alas, that was not the case.
What is most compelling about this series of books is also its most troubling aspect. The author is really going into dark territory here. His writings in general evidence a belief in magic and an attraction to very dark magical matters, including the binding of spirits to people as a way of promoting their control as well as the question of whether demons can indeed spawn children with unwilling human mothers. Even aside from the usual fantasy elements of a small band of brave heroes fighting against grim odds to win over supernatural evil, this book is particularly dark, even dealing with the question of reincarnation, as Jennifer (who just happens to end up being a far darker mythological character, inevitably enough) finds herself returning to the same problems over and over and over again. It is a great regret that all of this dark mythical matter with heavy heathen religious undertones involving incoherence between divine providence, a polytheistic worldview, and a dualistic struggle between good and evil is wasted on dull and bland and uninteresting characters. There is something fascinating here but the author just can’t quite manage to make it work fully. He would in later novels, even if the worldview incoherence has never really gone away.