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by Guy Gavriel Kay
676 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Historical

This is my third pass of Tigana and my second front-to-back read (the other time being a skim-through of Dianora's sections). I still love Kay's prose, overwrought as it sometimes is; the ending still killed me, though no tears. I love Dianora as usual; more unusually, I loved the riselka legend. Although I don't understand the last sentence of the Epilogue--three men see a riselka, one is blessed, one forks, one shall die. Devin, Alessan, and Baerd: which is which? The ending has very neat couplings--Devin/Alais, Alessan/Catriana, Baerd/Elena--I wish Dianora could have had a happier ending, but I know it's not meant to be. Alais is almost too perfect, but I grew to like her; Alberico is too conveniently focused on power. He is, as Brandin says, ambitious but nothing more. The theme of memory works perfectly to tie all the various plot threads together. And how did I miss the incest scene on my first two passes? Heh. The little things are what I like best about this novel; for instance, go back and read the first sentence of Chapter 1 after you finish the book (and do read the afterword if it's in your edition). Also, Kay's poetry is awesome. Not as good as the pieces in The Lions of Al-Rassan, but still awesome.

However, the espoused view of feminism is disturbingly cynical. Quileia, a matriarchal land to the south, is overthrown by Marius to become true king, and the high priestesses are thoroughly vilified. On page 504, Rovigo tells his daughter, "Alais, my darling, a woman cannot live a life at sea. Not in the world as it is." Even Dianora, the most powerful female character by far, holds influence solely through Brandin. It would be interesting, I think, to analyze Kay's oeuvre from a feminist point of view. He writes strong female characters, but the male characters are usually stronger.

What, you say, you actually want to know what Tigana is about? Well, it falls under the subgenres of high and historical fantasy. It is an epic story with lots of gray and skillfully shifting, poetic narration. The Ygrathen sorcerer Brandin has cast a spell that erases the province of Tigana and its capital city, Avalle of the Towers, from the entire world's memory--save for those who were born in Tigana before its fall. Ostensibly, the plot follows Prince Alessan of Tigana and his motley band, but it achieves so much more in surpassing cliché. I'm glad that I bought it, because this is a novel that I'll definitely be rereading in the future.
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Beyond This Dark House
by Guy Gavriel Kay
106 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Poetry/Literary/Fantasy

I ordered this book from (paying twice the discounted cover price for international shipping, too) in September, and posted my first poem excerpt in November. It's now March, but I've finally gotten around to posting everything I wanted to excerpt and writing a review.

However--how does one review a book of poetry, exactly? Especially one by my favoritest* author ever? Although less than half of the poems are fantastical, I love Kay's use of words. I've always admired the poetic, resonant quality of his prose, and it translates beautifully to (or rather, from) his poetry. Of the fantasy-related poems in this short collection, my favorites were "Avalon," "Guinevere at Almesbury" (which has an especially memorable first stanza), "At the Death of Pan," "Shalott," and "The Guardians." Many of his personal pieces are equally poignant, though: "Ransacked," "Wine," "Following," "And Diving," and of course the title poem "Beyond This Dark House." The collection is divided into five unnamed sections, but I didn't really understand the deeper meaning of that.

So. If you like beautiful, concise free verse, you should like this. Moreso if you like beautiful, concise, fantastical free verse.

*Yes, I know favoritest is not a real word. This is how much I love GGK.
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The last excerpt I'll be posting from Beyond This Dark House, review soon forthcoming. [p.p.102-103]

The Guardians )
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The title poem of the collection, excerpted from Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay [p.p.91-94]:

Beyond This Dark House )
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Excerpted from Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay [p.85]:

And Diving

Late night
in a cold bed,
far away.

Yesterday I dreamed
that you had died,

arcing from a bridge
to black water.

I arrived too late
and diving,

could only bring
your body back to be
whitened by moonlight.

I was crying, holding
your still hands.

Late night,
cold bed, telling myself
I do not love you,

remembering your voice,
your hands in my hair.
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Excerpted from Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay [p.76]:


. . . and so forgetting
what I came to say,
I sense a shadowed loom
in the room behind you.
There will be no windows
save one and, of course,
one river only.
Then the mirror,
lacking, suddenly, you.
What you are
forces the tapestry: your hands
shaping fables, my steps
on the twisted stair.
I must ride past,
not at all myself,
you must look down, the mirror . . .
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Excerpted from: Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay [p.62]

At the Death of Pan

Where the god fell--
mark the place with flowers,

red for blood
and the white . . .

there are no rules for this,
you know. Precedents

are somewhat limited.
Do something with the white.

Clear a space as well
for the hangers-on.

I have no idea
how many will be here

or how they'll behave.
There will be royalty so

it does make sense
to have a score

of maidens immolated,
to be on the safe side.

For the rest--yes, white
for the maidens! Good.

It ought to do, it ought to do,
if the rains hold off.
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"Guinevere at Almesbury"
by Guy Gavriel Kay
excerpted from Beyond This Dark House [p.43-45]

Guinevere at Almesbury )
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The Lions of Al-Rassan
by Guy Gavriel Kay
527 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/Historical

For the downtime during three straight days of All-State rehearsal, I needed an engrossing but not plot-compelling book (I had to be able to put it down easily). So I chose to reread a GGK novel that I'd picked up at the used book store, which also happened to be my first introduction to Guy Gavriel Kay--The Lions of Al-Rassan.

The elements of Kay's work that first entranced me--his prose, setting, and quietly enormous cast of characters--are still just as ethereal on second read. He is a poet as well as a novelist, and his language is modestly breathtaking. After studying world history in more depth, I picked up on many more of the historical allusions. This is a novel exploring the Crusades, the intersection of three faiths, and the everyday devastations of war (the parallels for Jaddite, Kindath, and Asharite are obvious). Sometimes Kay will introduce a new POV for just one short scene, but every character and image is referenced again in the course of the novel. He excels at ending lines, and though I prefer the style of some of his others (namely Sarantine Mosaic and Tigana), this ending is equally powerful. I want to linger, review memorable fragments, study the poetic themes of water and wine.

I loved all the characters, but especially Ammar--the poet, of course, as well as diplomat, assassin, and soldier. Plot-wise, Kay manages to pull off extremely difficult maneuvers; a love triangle and a trick ending, both satisfying. Everything fits neatly together, including--especially--the imagery.

Kay also includes several short original poetry excerpts, a la Tolkien, except that Kay's poetry is actually readable. My favorite, which I've memorized, is quoted below (slight spoiler):

Lament )

If you can't tell already from my effusive praise, The Lions of Al-Rassan is highly recommended, particularly if you appreciate beauty in writing. Kay is my absolute favorite author, but certainly this ranks among his better works and is an excellent introduction.
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From p.p. 36-37 of Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay:

Avalon )
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I have four bookposts to write up from notes, but the first two require some thinking. And the NaNo novel has not been worked on the past two days; I really should. But instead, I shall entertain with more poetry! From p. 30 of Beyond This Dark House:


Of you in the slowly dark I'm thinking,
feeling the twilight as music
marred by the chord of your absence.

One afternoon
you lamented the curl of your hair
and the shape of your toes.

I told you I couldn't possibly love
a freckled woman. And you
were laughing. My finger found

a blue vein running along
your throat and followed it down,
though I had said that if you ran

I would not follow.
And so I am entangled
in a promise I may break,

because I would have you want me,
at the very least, enough to take
these offerings for what they are:

craftings in the hollow of a sleepless night,
shot through with the discord
of your being far away, and not mine.
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Another excerpt today from Beyond this Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay.


The lights of houses
push into the village night
a little way and fail.

Drifting through fog
You strain towards windows.
Figures move behind curtains.

Islands of sound.
A baby cries.
Somewhere else

a woman laughs
and then stops laughing.
Wife offered and withdrawn.

In the morning the council houses
will be small, curtains drab,
women harried and wan.

But in fog-weighted night
the rush of tires
is a rushing of waves,

and unseen laughter
incarnates mysteries
and releases them.
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I'm currently reading Beyond This Dark House by Guy Gavriel Kay (among several other books), so every once in a while I'm going to post a poem from it that I found particularly powerful.

Today it's "Ransacked," which may be found on page 14.

There are no shadows
in the dream. The sun
is very bright. The wind
exceeds expectation.

Ransacked, we watch
everything blow away
and everything, blowing away,
watches us recede.

Soon, without appearing to move,
we are far from each other,
and I seem to have arrived
where no one needs my love.

The wind is done. Shadows
slide into place, bringing stars.
And then, in the dream, she comes,

her hands spilling moonlight,
to accept the sacrifice
with the naming of her name.
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Quite belated, considering that I finished the book a few weeks ago, but hey; better late than never.

Title: Ysabel
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
# of Pages: 421 (hardcover)
Rating: A
Summary: (from inside cover)
Ned Marriner is spending six weeks with his father in France, where the celebrated photographer is shooting Saint-Sauveur Cathedral in Aix-en-Provence. Both father and son fear for Ned's mother--a physician with Doctors Without Borders, currently assigned to the civil war-torn country of Sudan. This is not the first time she's placed herself in harm's way to help alleviate suffering--and Ned has inherited her courage. He'll need it.

While exploring the cathedral, Ned meets Kate Wenger, an American exchange student with a deep knowledge of the area's history. But even Kate is at a loss when she and Ned surprise a scar-faced stranger, wearing a leather jacket and carrying a knife, deep inside the cathedral. "I think you ought to go now," he tells them. "You have blundered into a corner of a very old story..."

In this ancient place, where the borders between the living and the long-dead are thin, Ned and his family are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing--and claiming--lives.

An amazing novel, as one would expect from GGK. I doubt that any review of mine could do it justice. The plot, characterization, setting, and prose are all excellent. I especially liked the little hints and inside jokes for loyal fans; this book is a side sequel of sorts for The Fiovanar Tapestry, with two reoccuring characters.

Detail-wise, I especially liked the Veracook/Veraclean distinction, because little things like that are so realistic, what any tourist family might do. Ned's defeat of the mountain is exhilarating and keeps him from Gary-Stu-ism, as he is far from perfect or powerful. A minor quibble I had was with the brand-dropping at the beginning--Ned goes running in Nikes and listens to his iPod. It seems like the author is trying too hard to maintain a modern setting, and it will date the novel quickly.

Cross-posted to [profile] scifantasybooks and [profile] fantasywithbite.


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January 2011



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