The Darkest Road, by Guy Gavriel Kay

the-darkest-road-by-guy-gavriel-kay coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: New American Library
Published: 1987
Reviewer Rating: five stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the last of the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, following The Summer Tree and The Wandering Fire. The build-up continues towards the decisive battle between good and evil, which will determine the fate of this world and others. Considering the sort of story that this is, I am giving little away in revealing that good wins against the odds. How this successful resolution comes about flows naturally from what has happened in the first two books, but is sufficiently unpredictable to surprise when it occurs.

Among the good things in the trilogy are the idea of mage and source, providing that necessary constraint on magic that every balanced fantasy requires. Another plus point is the range of human behaviour on offer. In the alliance against evil there are some characters who are wholly good (cynics might say too good), while another is prepared to kill someone to dispense instant justice, and a third considers it normal to flog or kill her slaves. Also, what we see of the nature and character of the gods is well done. It is difficult to depict a deity: too normal, too understandable and they are just super humans, while too strange or inhuman and they will seem to act randomly, incomprehensibly. Kay tends towards too human; but his portrayal of the nature and motivation of Ceinwen gives a sense of the power and otherness that the presence of a goddess might induce.

In the previous reviews I mentioned a couple of minor imperfections in the books; here is another. Dwarves are artists with their materials, fashioning metal or crystal into objects that are not only beautiful but can possess strange and powerful magic. Fair enough, it’s the sort of ability that dwarves are often given; however here there is no basis or explanation offered for this ability, and yet this magic can be so strong that it can affect gods. Not a major issue, but it would have been nice to have a hint of its origin. (As you can tell, I’m really struggling to find things to criticize.)

Who could possibly like High Fantasy and yet dislike this trilogy? I suppose there will be clone-haters who see dwarves and ‘elves’, good versus evil, and scream “Lord of the Rings” (as if Tolkien had invented dwarves and elves etc). More reasonably, there will be those who prefer less intense, less emotionally stirring fantasy: the Eddings sagas, for example, where the main participants are guaranteed to survive unharmed. For everyone else: well, I enjoy and admire all of Kay’s work, but for me this is his best to date. There is the usual excellence of characterization and writing, plus his best setting and plot; and the balance of these is exactly right. Add the bonus of (for once) sufficient magic, and you will see why it is the only work since Lord of Light that I have read and then immediately re-read.

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