The Summer Tree (The Fionavar Tapestry #1), by Guy Gavriel Kay
I’m glad I read this book (and its companion volume in this series that my library had, review forthcoming) after having read a few of the author’s other more accomplished works. This work really isn’t a good showcase of the author’s considerable strengths, as it shows him struggling to create characters that the reader is going to care about. Indeed, in reading about this book I kept on thinking to myself how convenient it was that the characters were chosen for specific reasons, and I have to say that there was a great deal about this book that I found to be highly unpleasant, but for the most part the characters were just there and I didn’t really feel any sort of emotional resonance to them at all. I mean, the author was trying to get this sort of response but he really just didn’t have the skills to make this book compelling. In the end the story was just there and didn’t seem very interesting at all to me. Perhaps others will disagree, but as someone who greatly prefers his series in imaginary worlds that are clearly historically based but not referencing obvious existing myth cycles, this book falls short.
This book is the first part of a trilogy and while it certainly sets up a situation, one can’t help but feel as if the author did not do a great job at assimilating the source material. A wizard from a magical world meets up with five Canadians and then convinces them to go on a brief vacation to celebrate his nation’s king celebrating 50 years on the throne. They agree, and four of them find their way to the palace and to the intrigues going on as the aging king deals with various advisers. The prince flirts casually with Jennifer and is shut down and then dangerously goes over into a neighboring country to seduce their crown princess. The book promises portends of evil that involve hunts, various sentient peoples struggling with their identities and the escape of the dark demon imprisoned under a mountain from his imprisonment, which promises some sort of apocalyptic battle that is only just beginning as the novel ends. The author evidently intends for the reader to feel more than I did about it, but while I could see where the author had borrowed a lot from various myths, I couldn’t be bothered to care about what was going on.
It’s hard to put my finger on what about this book fails to compel. A great deal of it, at least in my mind, has to do with the fact that we are presented with a fellowship of five characters from earth but little care is made to make sure that these characters are personally compelling. Jennifer deals with catty women in the palace and then is captured and then raped and impregnated by the evil demon guy who is supposed to represent Satan (!!). Paul/Pwyll The Stranger plays chess with the king and then gives himself up as a sacrifice to the Summer Tree where he hangs naked for three days and three nights (!) after having made a girl cry and faces up to his own dark past which apparently includes not moving fast enough to save his relationship with someone who left him for a needy paramour. And on it goes. We have a playboy prince, an elder son who had earlier been disowned but who thinks of the war against the escaped devil a personal conflict. Another character, Kim I think, instantly becomes some powerful seer. The book keeps on saying that these people are important but none of it really amounts to much except for empty prose.