Oct. 9th, 2005

pocketgarden: (Default)
Say it ain't so, Joe.

I have read, as promised much too long ago, The Last Light of the Sun. By Guy Gavriel Kay, who a year ago I would have said without hesitation was my favorite fantasy author. Not "still living," or any other caveats; just favorite. I was disappointed, as I had been disappointed by The Sarantine Mosaic. I should read Tigana again, to see if I've changed; but from talking with others, I don't think so.

I have a deep fondness for fantasies using the Northern myths and history; I'm tolerably familiar with the myths and history; Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon verse formed a large part of my senior thesis in college. I adore King Alfred, and his daughter Aethelflaed, and the Benedictine Renaissance. I loved GGK's writing. I love stylized writing, intrusive narration, and complex rhetoric. I was the audience for this book. And yet, it left me cold. The reasons were, pretty much, the same reasons for my problems with The Sarantine Mosaic.

I decided, some time ago, that one of the ways you can tell a particular author is going downhill is when he starts tying all his books together into one universe. Heinlein and McCaffrey did it. I know someone else did it, that I was thinking of when I formulated this rule, but I can't remember their name. I bet there are a lot that do it. I'm sure there are some that do it without managing to betray or undercut any of the worlds involved; but some fail badly. I didn't think Kay would fall into this trap, because his first series, Fionavar, relates to all his books. He did it early and thus escaped, right? All the subsequent books, through Lions, mentioned Fionavar; it didn't annoy me. It was like the ringing of a familiar bell with a lovely sound, a touch of nostalgia but nothing overbearing.

Kay is no longer referencing Fionavar: instead, The Lions of al-Rassan, The Sarantine Mosaic, and The Last Light of the Sun are all set in the same pseudohistorical universe. The interconnections do not feel like a gentle touch of nostalgic reminder; they are loud notes of authorial See, remember this? Wasn't I great? It grates on me. A lot. And the new books are hewing too closely to real history for my tastes, which means that the plot drags the characters along as needed.

The intrusive narrative voice is still there. I figured out in Fionavar that one of Kay's obsessions is the way small actions change the course of history. For the want of a nail, a kingdom was lost, and all that. I agree; I even agree that it's a theme worth pursuing. But I think he's caught it and beat it to death and is now flinging around the bloody remains like a child in fingerpaints. The narrator does not need to tell me this over and over and over, really.

Tangent: I remember something Kay said about Fionavar. People were apparently asking him what happened to Sharra: we don't see what she does after the great battle, now that Diarmuid is dead. I seem to recall that he said that he had deliberately left that out as an artistic choice, to show that things still had to happen in Fionavar -- the story wasn't over -- but that on reflection, that might have been a mistake. I might be misremembering this horribly. But I feel that he has lost the awareness of that artistic flaw. It's something he does all the time now. It drives me up the wall. I want it to stop.

I have just realized something that might make sense, or might not. The real character in Kay's books -- the thing that has a problem, and resolves it, and changes as a result -- is History. The people are there as actors in a play. But it's the world that matters. And sorry, beautiful as the worldbuilding is, I don't much sympathize with history personified. This idea makes sense of a lot of my complaints about Kay.

There is something wrong when Jehane and Catriona and Diarmuid and all the other characters of Kay's first few books, which I haven't read in years, are more vivid in my mind than the characters of his recent books. Even poor Aethelflaed (here called Judith).

This is not a bad book. For bad Nordic fantasy, look no further than Marrilier's Sensitive New Age Viking Meets Sensitive Wiccan Islanders novels. If you liked The Sarantine Mosaic, you may well like this, because I see the flaws as being very similar, and it does have great virtues. Kay's sense of place is second to none, ditto his sense of history. It's his sense of character that has gone walkabout.

I hope he gets it back.
pocketgarden: (Default)
Fool's Gold is an Epic Fantasy Trilogy written by the pseudonymous Jude Fisher. I believe she's an sf editor of some repute, though I haven't bothered to track down who. Perhaps I should not review a book by an editor, but here we go.

The first book in Fool's Gold is Sorcery Rising. What fun! Interesting characters, a neat world, a neat plot. Nordic echoes, rather than Celtic. A tough and bitchy and capable heroine. I was hooked.

In Wild Magic, the sequel, we also have an interesting book. No mid-series drag, interesting new places, neato stuff happening.

Then we get to The Rose of the World, the finale. It sucked.

The characters -- all of them -- go over the top into Too Stupid to Live land, all in their own special ways. While before some of them made bad decisions -- really bad decisions -- like normal people, now they're all just being idiots. Characters I liked in the first two book became completely unsympathetic in the last, because they deserved every fucking thing they got. I finished the book with a profound sense of distaste. The deus-ex-machina ending (literally) might have fixed things, but didn't redeem any of the characters.

If Jude Fisher writes any more of her own books, I'll certainly look them up. But if it's the first book in a trilogy, I'll wait for the reviews of the last book to come out before I start.

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