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The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
Jun 04, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: arthurian, favourites, fantasy, based-on-myth-saga-etc

I've posted a general review of the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy before, here, but I never felt that quite cut it. So this a review of the first book, The Summer Tree, and separate reviews of the rest of the trilogy will follow. It's worth looking at my overview of the trilogy, too, because I'm not going to repeat all of it, necessarily.

Firstly, the trilogy does seem very derivative, mostly of Tolkien, although me and my mother once went through spotting myriads of possible influences. There are great points of similarity between this trilogy and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, but there are differences. The mythology is much more plainly taken from ours -- as is appropriate, given the idea that Fionavar is the true plane and our world one of many reflections -- and woven very deeply into the whole story. So much relies upon the gods, rituals belonging to the gods, etc, even though mortals are the ones taking actions. Gods are rather less present in Tolkien, particularly in Lord of the Rings. It's also quite a lot shorter.

Not that it doesn't pack a punch. In three hundred pages, I'm as invested in these characters as I ever am in Frodo. More about that in a minute.

It's not exactly perfect, even though I think it's powerful. The first few chapters don't really catch my attention, and seem kind of like a Mary Sue fanfic. The prose is a little odd, sometimes, sometimes rather closer to poetry, which I didn't like at first. If you go with it, it's fine, or so I found.

The characters were my main draw, really. Paul and Kevin in particular: Kevin's love for Paul, his yearning and desperation; Paul's helplessness, hardness, coldness, grieving, selfishness, selflessness. I feel their relationship very strongly. Diarmuid arouses mixed feelings in me: I know I didn't like him the first time I read it, but this time through, I read it with sympathy for him. This trilogy definitely doesn't suffer from rereads, for me, probably benefits from it because I'm already invested, despite the (to my mind) weak beginning.

The setting is another draw. The blending of mythology is lovely and appropriate.

It's also amazing how much gets set up for later. Tabor, Jennifer, Matt, Leila, Jaelle... Reading it now, and knowing how things go, I'm amazed at how well everything is set up in this book.

I can understand the beginning being a turn-off, but give it chance. It has a charm and a draw of its own. I feel like this review only began to touch on how much I love these books and why. Just for one more illustration... The Summer Tree is one of the few books that makes me choke up every time. The rest of the trilogy is also on that list. I find the writing extremely powerful, despite the first-novel pitfalls.

Reread again in February 2010. Must note again how much this book affects me -- and more every time, I think, the more I care about the characters. One thing I did notice this time, and I think a greater flaw than the ones that are easier to pick out, is the oddness of the scene with Paul and Rachel in the car. Everywhere else, Rachel's spoken of with a lot of love, and yet in this scene I totally don't understand her and her motivations for speaking to Paul the way she does. I understand the situation, and Paul's bitter reactions, but Rachel's dialogue feels more like a scene from a soap opera to me. I think it could've been more effective if the love was still there, from her, more strongly, and if she hadn't said things that made her sound awful.

Still, that scene is, at most, three pages long -- hardly a major flaw.
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Reading Progress

June 4, 2008 – Shelved
May 10, 2009 –
page 110
28.72% "Rereading again! Probably a bad idea, during exams, it always sucks me in so much..."
May 11, 2009 –
page 147
38.38% "Oh, Paul."
May 11, 2009 –
page 247
64.49% "Oh, Dave."
May 11, 2009 –
page 336
Started Reading
February 13, 2010 – Finished Reading
January 22, 2012 – Started Reading (Paperback Edition)
January 23, 2012 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
January 23, 2012 – Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)

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