The Wandering Fire, by Guy Gavriel Kay

the-wandering-fire-by-guy-gavriel-kay coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: New American Library
Published: 1986
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the second of the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. Often the middle book of a trilogy is the weakest. Not so here; the story maintains the same high standard that you will remember from The Summer Tree (which you have just read, haven’t you).

I’m not going to spoil the book for new readers by describing the plot. However I want to discuss one aspect of it, which for me is the only real blemish in the trilogy. That is the introduction of a new character, King Arthur no less. This is done in a way that fits in perfectly well with the plot, Arthur’s character itself is believable under the circumstances, and the method of his resurrection is decidedly interesting. (Though the episode in question is not a well-known part of the myth, I looked it up in Le Morte d’Arthur and it’s there, at the end of book 1). Why then do I call it a blemish? Because the Arthurian thing has been done so often that it’s getting stale. The story already had a strong plot and plenty of good characters, so it wasn’t necessary to add more of either. The sub-plot fits in well with the main storyline but is never essential to it, and I feel that the trilogy would have been at least as good without it. On the other hand, the sub-plot itself is excellently done, and certainly doesn’t detract from the main story.

Let me balance that criticism of one feature with praise for another. In most of his work, Kay makes a point of depicting loving relationships. I don’t mean love-stories, but something in a family setting. Here there are two: the relationship between Kevin and his father; and the family of Ivor. It is a thing that most SF writers wouldn’t think to attempt; and if they did, wouldn’t do nearly so well. Which is a shame as, when done well as it is here, such things give an extra dimension to a story, provide a feeling of quality.

Back to the plot. The reason for the presence of all of the five original characters has now become clear, and three of the five are evidently custom-made for their roles. That is as it should be: this is one of those worlds in which an all-powerful creator-god refuses to confront evil overtly, and forbids the lesser gods to do so. However he is described as the Weaver of the world tapestry, rather like the Fates of ancient Greece, so the occurrence of otherwise unlikely events becomes plausible. But not guaranteed: Kay has provided a clever way of permitting free-will, liberating this fate-driven world from Determinism.

This book maintains the exceptional standards of The Summer Tree. By the end, all the elements are in place for the culmination of the trilogy in The Darkest Road.

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