Amy's Reviews > The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
Aug 11, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy
Read from June 01 to 03, 2011

** spoiler alert ** This is the first book of a trilogy set mostly in a parallel world, although small parts of the story occur in modern day Canada. The story is magical enough that I zoomed through all three books in four days, yet it lacked something which would have made it truly great.

Five characters are swept from modern day Canada to a parallel universe by a dwarf and a magician they meet at a university conference. They are told that this will be a brief visit, perhaps two weeks, to celebrate an anniversary of the king's reign. When they return to Canada, only hours will have passed. They are soon caught up in an epic battle between the forces of good and evil.

The beginning of the book felt a bit forced. It is implausible to me that the five characters, with the lives they led, would so quickly and lightly choose the trip to another world. Given the themes of choice and free will throughout the trilogy, I can understand why it is important to the author to have them make the choice and not be forced. Yet I felt like more character background would have made the choice more plausible.

The country they arrive in is in the midst of a long drought, threatening the lives and stability of the people of the kingdom. After a short time in the new world, Paul, one of the Canadians, makes the choice to sacrifice himself on the Summer Tree, in the hopes of bringing rain. The unfolding story of the tragedy of Paul and Rachel is beautifully written and moving. Yet Paul's actions seem more driven by a bleak disregard of his own life and not from a true desire to release the land from suffering. It is hard to believe that his sacrifice would be acceptable under those conditions.

The actions and stories told in this book foreshadow the actions in the remainder of the trilogy. One recurring theme is that of relationships between men: brotherhood, fathers and sons, and friendships. The brothers Diarmuid and Aileron vie for a kingdom. Matt Soren and Loren Silvercloak are locked in a close relationship which is the source of the mage's powers. Kevin and Paul have been friends since childhood.

Another horrendous event which is left largely unfinished is the brutal rape of Jennifer towards the end of the book. She is physically rescued but the consequences are left for the future. I disliked this aspect of the story but the scene itself was carefully written, as far as these things go. It did not feel voyeuristic or sexual but fully displayed the cruelty and horror of what happened.

At the end, Jennifer is rescued and the five are transported back to Canada, all with strong emotional ties to Fionovar, now on the brink of war.

This series shared commonalities with many other epic fantasy series. The transportation back and forth to Canada felt a lot like Narnia. Of course, the epic battles between light and dark, and the magicians and dwarves reminded me of Lord of the Rings. Some aspects reminded me of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain stories. Arthurian and Biblical themes are also easily recognizable. It was interesting to see everything melded together.
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06/01/2011 page 83

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