The Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've been falling into and out of this book in almost precisely the same way I had in the first. I love the short lyrical descriptions, I enjoy the mythic references, and I especially love how each character eventually gets woven into each of the underlying story structures. There is a great deal to love in these books, and I've enjoyed tracing much of the straight-line continuation of style from this fantasy novel into the types that have enjoyed much fame and popularity in the eighties and nineties.
But I'm going to be very honest with ya'll. It just wasn't for me.
There's very beautiful language, assuming you love pastoral (and glacial) story progression, filled with enough ooohs and aaaahs to stun every romantic bone in your body. This is what it is, after all. A romance. It's turning war into romance, rape into romance, summoning undead into romance, and all it's missing is Spenser's The Fairy Queen. Oh, wait... there's even some of that, and Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table, too.
I'm not saying that sexuality is the key to the tale, although there is plenty of it that makes magic either powerful or weak or unimportant. I'm saying that this novel is all about the romantic frame of mind.
If you like novels that gloss over the grimdark features of life, speeding through epic battles to focus on the epic heroics, or wallow in the myriad build-ups that are there to push the fully-engrossed reader into a paroxysm of legendary legends legending the legendixed legendonier, then you're in good hands.
I just couldn't get into it.
I finished it, and I'll do the next in the trilogy because I'm willful like that, but I just can't get all starry-eyed with a build up of prophesied and lost babies, the idea that women are the true strength behind their heroic men, (Why can't they be their own heroes, exactly?), or the fact that we've got not only a lantern hung on a specific character here (view spoiler)[Arthur Pendragon (hide spoiler)], but an entire lighthouse hanging on his neck like an albatross.
What do I mean? Even Kay knows he's cribbing the legend so much that he doesn't even bother to submerge the meme into any of his characters. He just brings him back through a universe-spanning curse and forces him to replay both his deeds and his lost love story as penance, nearly fourth-wall-breaking borrowed pathos, and the Weaver's serendipity.
The fact that Jennifer/Guinevere was fairly interesting doesn't spoil the fact that the rest of the novel was a slogfest for me. I really wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I tried liking it repeatedly as I was reading it, giving excuses to myself, tracing all the mythological elements and revelling in it, even trying to summon a truly heroic effort in my heart to like Paul, our resident mage, as he learned to walk the spaces between life and death, tickle fish, and beat back winter.
I have no complaints about the mythos. It's beautiful how Kay brings in so many cool elements, such as the basic connections between winter and death and summer and life, including the greater and lesser mysteries, and how it all interwove into the defeat of the Wolf.
If the novel had the speed and excitement of modern novels, I'd have been rocking hard to this.
As it was, it felt so old-fashioned and pedestrian and mild and old hat that I wanted to cry and plead that I had just read this novel too late in my life, that I have already read too many great novels that explored all these themes too well, that the characters just weren't strong enough to make up for that fact, or that I am, in the end, sad that I'm just an asshole.
These are just my opinions, of course. I might not really be an asshole. I'll leave that to others to decide.
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