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Guy Gavriel Kay – The Wandering Fire

February 18, 2008

21. The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay (1986)
The Fionavar Tapestry, Book 2

Length: 375 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 16 February 2008
Finished: 18 February 2008

Summary: In The Summer Tree, Brennin suffered under a drought, lifted only through Paul’s sacrifice. Now, it is winter in Fionavar, an unnatural winter that has lasted for months under the power of a malevolent will, intent on weakening the forces of the Light before the true battle comes. In our world, Kim summons the Warrior, and the five of them return with him to Fionavar. And while The Summer Tree was mainly the story of Paul and Dave, The Wandering Fire belongs mainly to Jennifer, shattered by her torture at the hand of Rakoth, and pregnant with his child; and Kevin, feeling inconsequential and helpless beside his four friends, yet drawn himself to a destiny he doesn’t understand. Each of the friends is pushed along a different path as they seek to free Fionavar from winter and fight back the forces of the Dark.

Review: From a technical point of view, this book is better than The Summer Tree. The writing is more even, the story is clear, and since it is the second book in the trilogy, the settings and characters and internal theology is more familiar and less of a struggle. However, because it’s the middle book of a trilogy, it’s not quite as powerful as the first one was. It’s almost inherent in the trilogy format: while stuff can happen, and minor conclusions can be reached, the second book always spends most of its time setting up the big confrontation in the last book. That’s the case here, and although there are some genuinely moving scenes, there wasn’t anything that had the power of Paul’s sacrifice on the tree, or the soul-stirring effect of Dave seeing the red moon rise over Pendaran Wood. I think the broader cast of characters in the Fionavar Tapestry makes it weaker than some of Kay’s other work – trying to keep us emotionally invested in the five main characters as well as another dozen or so secondary characters just spreads the impact a little too thin.

This is not an easy book thematically; Kay expects his readers to have a working knowledge of Celtic, Norse, and British mythology, as well as a solid grounding in Arthurian legend. His idea in echoing all of these things, I think, is that Fionavar is the first world, and so of course things like the sacrifice on the tree, the wild hunt, and the tragedy of Camelot are going to echo through all of them. He doesn’t explicitly draw the parallels, or explain the resonance, however, so a reader without the proper background could wind up missing much of the power of the story, at best, and at worst hopelessly confused. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Easier to read than the first one, if just for the familiarity of the story. Plot-wise, a little weaker than the first, but it’s necessary set-up to get to the third book.

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First Line: Winter was coming. Last night’s snow hadn’t melted, and the bare trees were laced with it.

Vocab:

  • p. 99: “He had been forced to flee from Galladan, did not even understand how he had crossed with Jennifer. Had needed to beg Jaelle to send them back, and knew she would hold that over him in their scarely begun colloquy of Goddess and God.” – a conversational exchange; dialogue.
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