Thursday, October 09, 2008

"The Summer Tree" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Why I read it: The last GGK I read was such a disappointment, I wanted to see if he was really as good as I remembered. I've read this before, but it was at least 15 years ago.

Bookmark: Hard cover flap

Tastes like chicken: What I most strongly remember about this series from before is that it is definitely derivative. It feels like the sort of thing some well-educated person would write who wanted to write a best-selling fantasy novel (full disclosure: I have a draft around the house that is titled "Best-Selling Fantasy Novel", BSFN for short) would write.

There are dwarves, elves (lios alfar), orcs or dark elves(svart alfar), an unkillable evil, interventions from gods, an old king with two sons who have quite the rivalry, a neighbouring king with a stunningly beautiful daughter (people are never plain in a BSFN, are they?), wizards but not too many, various competing systems of magic... I remember it getting even more derivative as the series progressed. I'm sure I'll find out.

What I liked: One thing was that the characters had back-story. Another thing was, the story involves five people from Toronto being magically transported into a different realm, Fionavar. But who cares about that? I liked all the Toronto shout-outs -- philosopher's walk, UofT, Bloor St., etc. I am so shallow that way.

What I hated: Too many made-up words (why call the elves lios alfar? why call the orcs or dark elves svart alfar? Obviously it was just to confuse me...) Too many named characters. I really liked what Kate Elliot did, naming characters as the POV would name them -- shorter, taller, loud guy, etc., rather than names. It really helped me not need to consult a glossary. Glossaries are pompous and annoying.

Some of the sentences seemed too long with too many commas. I think that was a stylistic decision, by design. He was going for a mythic feel, like Tolkien did... These sections would probably sound great when read out loud. Unfortunately, I read this book in my head, and the sentences just confused me and slowed me down.

Lessons learned: I really liked what I think of as the "untapped possibilities", the immediate foreshadowing that starts a lot of sections. These are little statements of "if things had gone differently, they would have died right there." And then you read the section, finding out how much worse it could have gone. It diffuses the stress and makes the story seem more mythic. And interestingly enough, the same sections seemed so awful in "Ysabel", set in the present day.

I would like to try that technique in a story somewhere, and see if it works for me.

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