Skip to main content

Retro Friday Review: The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time!

Guy Gavriel Kay (and this series) has been on my mind lately. I'm not sure why. I am sure, however, that the inaugural Retro Friday review was Kay's Tigana, and it makes me happy to have started with that book. But these are the first of his books that I read, and I read them on the recommendation of my husband (then-boyfriend). Which memory also maketh me happy. He'd read them years before and guessed (rightly) that I would love them, too. When I went to the bookstore to pick up the first book, the red trade paperback had just been released. I snatched it up and stroked the cover. It has one of those buttery matte covers that catch ever so softly on your fingertips and make it impossible to stop stroking them. Ahem. It had been a little while since I'd ready any true high fantasy, and it was good to be back again. Though this series does have a bit of the urban fantasy about it to begin with. The main characters are all university students from Toronto. And I liked the fresh combination of segueing from one to the other. The Summer Tree was originally published in 1984 and was Guy Gavriel Kay's first book. It is the first in the Fionavar Tapestry (I've always loved that series title), which is a trilogy. They are very visceral, very Tolkeinesque in scope, and should most definitely be read in order.

Kim, Jennifer, Paul, Dave, and Kevin are friends. They attend the same college in Toronto. And, on one extremely fateful night, they attend the same lecture by a renowned professor. Dr. Marcus even invites them back to his home after the lecture, and that is approximately where things begin to run off the rails. It turns out Dr. Marcus is in fact a mage from another world known as Fionavar. Fionavar is the original world, Dr. Marcus (or rather Loren Silvercloak) informs them, upon which all other worlds (including Earth) are based. He would like to formally invite the five to return home with him, as it is the 50th anniversary of the current king's reign, and celebrations are in order. Confusion reigns as well, and before they know it, the two girls and three boys are far, far away. Thrown into a massively foreign and complex world, they each struggle to find a reason they were called to be there in this auspicious moment in Fionavar's history. Of course, there are a myriad reasons and they each find out (with a vengeance) the precise role they are to play in the violent and mythical conflict that is about to go down. Whether or not they will ever return to their homeland is a question that becomes increasingly irrelevant the longer they spend in this First of all Worlds.
After the war was over, they bound him under the Mountain.
While this series clearly inherits largely from Tolkein and C.S. Lewis (via The Chronicles of Narnia), I feel it's fair to say that you haven't read a writer quite like Kay. His language is poetic and sprawling, and he has a gorgeous talent for metaphor and poignancy. The Summer Tree definitely starts off with a bang, but it took me awhile to get my footing amid Canadian college students suddenly mingling with elves and archmages. It also took me a good number of pages to warm up to four of the five main characters. Paul was always where it was at for me. I liked him from the start, this haunted boy with so much music and loss in his past. It was without surprise that I found he was to have the longest road to walk of all. But warm up to the rest I did, and that is mainly due to the way they care about each other and the way that Kay wove them into their roles. The denizens of Fionavar are, well, awesome right from the start. I particularly enjoyed the politics and the expansive geography of this realm, all of it existing under the shadow of the Unraveller--Rakoth Maugrim. A fallen god himself, his specter taints every interaction in this sweeping tale. The whole thing builds to a ripping good (and excruciating) climax, in which my beloved Paul plays a pivotal role. Things get painful at the end. And violent. And I do mean painful. And violent. But know that it gets better. Also, there is a serious cliffhanger. So I would advise having book two in hand if at all possible. The incredible setup, the world itself, and the final chapters are what make this book. There are quite a few disturbing turns taken as well, and I can only say that the next two installments are thoroughly worthwhile. While I think The Wandering Fire is my favorite (I'm a sucker for middle novels), the entire trilogy is a feat of storytelling. If you're in the mood for beautiful prose and the highest of high fantasy, I suggest a trip to the K section of your library or bookstore.

Reading order
The Summer Tree
The Wandering Fire
The Darkest Road


Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic of Chachic's Book Nook reviews Life Without Friends by Ellen Emerson White
Cecilia of The Adventures of Cecilia Bedelia reviews The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip

Linkage
Chaotic Compendiums review
Fyrefly's Book Blog review
Keeping the Door review
The Literary Omnivore review
Speculative Horizons review

Comments

  1. I haven't read any Kay, but you've made a solid case for his works (and this title in particular). I am almost always in the mood for well-written, intricate high fantasy - though these days I prefer a stand-alone because my attention span has grown short. I'll be looking for this at the library!

    Great review. Also: thanks for the link!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cecelia, I hear that. I'm fond of standalones lately as well. Thanks for participating this week! Loved your review.

      Delete
  2. I think I need to pick this one up the next time I stop by - which should be soon! :o)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, my heart. These are some of my absolute favorite books, and just seeing the title of your post made me a little silly-happy. I return to GGK over and over--especially when I'm in the mood for that grand, all-encompassing, heart-wrenching type of experience. Definitely ones to lose yourself in.

    And in the spirit of Retro Friday, have you ever read Stephen R Donaldson's two-volume series Mordant's Need? (the books are The Mirror of her Dreams and A Man Rides Through) Another fabulous high fantasy using the modern character swept into another world device. (his Thomas Covenant books do the same, and are more well known, but I had serious issues with Mr Covenant. Maybe I've grown up enough to try him again. )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jolie, that last line of your comment really made me smile. I can't tell you the impression that dedication in THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE made on me when I was a girl. I remember Aaron telling me you both read them and loved them.

      I haven't read any Donaldson actually, though I've heard Mordant's Need is good. I'll look them up for sure now.

      Delete
  4. Love your description of the red paperback! That is exactly how it feels. I have a copy of this and the sequel as well as Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana. Bought copies based on your recommendation but I haven't had a chance to read them yet. I'll probably bump up the Fionavar Tapestry books once I get a copy of the third in the series. Lovely review, as always, Angie. :) Makes me more excited to read this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahhh, I love the feel of it! Sumptuous.

      Yeah, definitely have them all three on hand when you do dive in.

      TIGANA is always a good idea.

      Delete
  5. I think I would really enjoy this series, I've never heard of it. I posted about a fantasy trilogy that I really enjoy "The Chanters of Tremaris by Kate Constable". kaye—the road goes ever ever on

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kaye, ooh, thanks for posting! I haven't read any Constable yet, but she's on my radar. If you do give the Fionavar series a go, let me know!

      Delete

Post a Comment

You Might Also Like

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

It is a pleasure to be a part of the blog tour for Hazel Prior's debut novel Ellie and the Harpmaker. I confess it was the title that drew me in when Berkley approached me about a possible review. It sounded a bit fey, a bit on the ethereal side. The comparisons to the exquisite Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Finedecidedly did not hurt. And so I readily accepted and opened my review copy to the first page. A thought:
Some things are easier to hide than others.

A fact:
Harps come under the "others" category. So do small boys. As you know by now, I am such a sucker for a good epigraph, and this one did the trick nicely. As did the novel's opening lines: A woman came to the barn today. Her hair was the color of walnut wood. Her eyes were the color of bracken in October. Her socks were the color of cherries, which was noticeable because all the rest of her clothes were sad colors. And so we are introduced to one Dan Hollis and the particular way that he sees the world and …

In the Beginning, or the First Ten Books I Reviewed on the Blog

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish feature hosted at That Artsy Reader Girl
It's been awhile, but this topic was too good to pass up. When I thought about it, I genuinely could not recall which were the first ten books I actually reviewed here on the blog. So then, of course, I had to know. The thing is, I originally started the whole thing simply posting a once a month list of my favorite reads and rereads of the month. That went on for some time until lo and behold I went ahead and wrote and posted my first review on November 9, 2007. In hindsight, I probably should have known exactly which book pushed me over the edge into full fledged reviews. So this was a rather delightful journey back in time. Do you remember the first book you ever reviewed (in any forum) or what made you take the plunge? Here are my first ten (and I have to say, looking at this snapshot from the past, these remain some of my absolute favorite authors and a pretty spot-on array of the genres I read and love tod…

Review | The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary

All it took was hearing the basic bones of the premise of Beth O'Leary's debut novel The Flatsharefor me to determine I would absolutely be reading it as soon as I possibly could. I was so delighted to be granted access to an advanced reading copy by Flatiron Books. Even better, it became apparent from the moment I read the first few lines that this reading experience would take place in one headlong rush. No significant breaks allowed, let alone required. The Flatshare was published first in the UK and then slightly later here in the U.S. I dithered over which cover to buy as both have much to recommend them, but I finally decided on the U.S. cover (pictured here). I just love the two of them standing on either side of the same door, the tiny heart between the title and author name.

Tiffy is in a massive, massive bind. Out on her ear after breaking up with her exceptionally controlling boyfriend, she needs an inexpensive place to live and she needs it yesterday. Despite her …