I’m on vacation though October 25, so for the next few posts, I’ll be sharing brief reviews of some of my favorite books.
I have to admit that I have never in my life convinced anyone to read these books. I was in maybe the seventh or eighth grade when I read them for the first time, and I had very few friends at the time who were interested in fantasy. Even the ones who were wouldn’t consent to try them though. To this day, I have no idea why, but I’m still holding a grudge…in fact, I’m pretty sure this could be my super villain origin story. It would unfold with a scene where I’m sitting in front of my bookcase lovingly stroking the tattered covers of some of my favorite books, and all of a sudden, I try to rip them to shreds, fueled by the rage of the perpetually ignored. (I say “try,” because, really, have you ever tried to rip a book apart? It’s ridiculously difficult.) I’m not sure what kind of revenge I could possibly seek for an offense such as this; most likely, the evil version of me would just feel instant regret for destroying books and the rest of the story would be about me trying to repair them, wracked with guilt. Which is one reason why I would make a terrible nemesis.
Nevertheless, I’m still sad that I seem to be the only person on the planet to have read this trilogy (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road). The story was so…forlorn. These were some of the first books I read that defined “angst” for me, and although now I don’t go in for such things (much), I still vividly remember the hold that story had over my innocent young heart. There are certain sections that are just worn away from me paging through them again and again. The characters were so quirky and flawed and lovable, and it all took place in one of my favorite fantasy realms.
Many years after I first found these books, I learned that Kay was recruited by JRR Tolkien’s son to help edit The Silmarillion. Kay has attributed his success in large part to that experience – to the opportunity to glean so much from one of the best fantasy writers of all times. If I’d known that years ago, maybe I would have had more luck selling his books to my friends. I don’t know. I’m not personally a big fan of Tolkien’s work (the only novel of his I truly enjoyed was The Hobbit), so it might have prejudiced me against Kay myself had I known (I can be a little quirky when it comes to that sort of thing). I do, however, agree that having such an incredible opportunity as a young man shaped him as a writer.
Even though I don’t love Tolkien’s work, he is indisputably one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time, and I can see his influence on Kay’s style. The story he tells in these three books is fascinating and heartbreaking – a precursor, for my heart at least, to the books I love by Lev Grossman, The Magicians and The Magician King. Although Grossman’s style is much more modern than Kay’s, like Tolkien, they channel the emotional resonance that exists as the foundation of the very best books this genre has to offer.
To learn more about Guy Gavriel Kay, go here.