Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Darkest Road

The Darkest Road
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Recommended Ages: 14+

In this third book of the "Fionavar Tapestry" trilogy, the surviving four of five visitors from modern-day Canada to the "first of all worlds" witness, and more than witness, the final battle between the Light and the Dark. Each of them has a crucial role to play in the build-up to the melee that will decide the fate of all the worlds, all of which share common threads in the weave of history - such as the tragedic legend of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot, and the chaotic myth of Owein and the Wild Hunt. Gods, goddesses, andain (a sort of demigods), nature spirits, dwarves, elves (by another name), giants (likewise), priestesses, wizards, kings, and seers are all bound up in it, along with Paul (who became the Lord of the Summer Tree in Book 1), Kim (lately the white-haired seer of Brennin), Jennifer (the latest reincarnation of Guinevere), and Dave (known among the Dalrei horse people as Davor, a berserker). And let's now have a moment of silence for Kevin, who made a self-sacrificing contribution back in Book 2.

The good guys are vastly outnumbered in the war that is now rushing upon them. The ultimate bad guy, Maugrim the Unraveler, has chosen his moment well. If I listed the forces he has marshaled against the side of the Light, I would be spoiling too many surprises. But with the powers they now command, the four young people from Toronto can make a real contribution to the cause of Light - provided they are willing to pay an awful price. Through it all runs the course of a wild card: the son Jennifer bore after Maugrim forced himself on her, and whom she set free to find his own way and make his own choice between Light and Dark. On his choice, and on a few other terrible points of crisis, all will hinge. Among those working against them, meanwhile, is an andain so filled with hate that he is determined to annihilate all life.

This is a powerful and magical story, written at a level of literary quality that puts it in the rarefied circle of Tolkien. An Occult Content Advisory applies, as the antecedents of this particular fantasy are decidedly pagan, even in its interpretation of the essentially Catholic Arthurian tradition. The judgment of its four main characters, driven by present-day values out of step with the period of the rest, is often frustrating and sometimes seems a poor match for the material. Kay at times seems to recognize this and allows his characters to criticize themselves or each other, as when Kim wonders why Jen couldn't simply, you know, love her own child, rather than subjecting him to a heartless program of absolute self-determination. It's a fantasy in which you sometimes have to make allowances for the heroes being full of it. But it is not without its sensual wonders and emotionally overwhelming developments of storyline and characterization.

This book is a sequel to The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire. Kay is also the author of the "Sarantine Mosaic" and "Under Heaven" books, about six other novels, and a book of poems; as well as the editor, with Christopher Tolkien, of J.R.R.'s The Silmarillion.

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