Saturday, December 18, 2010
Review: The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
It’s funny how a book can develop a reputation. It’s even funnier when the reputation of the book in question is based on nothing more than hearsay. One such book is Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree. It was Kay’s first novel written during the 1980’s and there is a perception that it is nowhere near as good as Kay’s subsequent work, that it has dated badly and that it should be slotted into the young adult category. Oddly enough most of these comments seem to stem from people who have either A) not read the novel in question at all or B) ‘got a few pages in before giving up’. I have learnt much to my pleasure that these people don’t know what they’re talking about.
The story begins with five university students attending a lecture and meeting a man who was much more than he appeared. Loren Silvercloack is a Wizard from another world, the first of all worlds in fact called Fionavar. Loren convinces the five of them to journey with him back to his world under the presumption that they were to be guests in the festivities celebrating the fiftieth year of the reign of Aielell the high king of Brennin. Loren, however, has an ulterior motive and is convinced that the drought affecting the kingdom is unnatural and that the five students will have a large role to play in shaping Fionavar’s future.
Like a number of other works from that time, such as that of Scott-Rohan, the story is told through an archaic style prose reminiscent of the epics, though Kay breaks this up nicely considering five of the protagonists are from modern-day earth. The story itself moves along at a good clip which works well though does lead to my only criticism. Namely that the five students agree too easily to accompany Loren back to Fionavar which struck me as a touch unrealistic. Paul and Jennifer’s reasons are explored a little later in the book and having Dave try to change his mind at the last minute was a nice touch, this is still an area I would have liked to have seen explored more. The characters themselves are well realized with their backgrounds from their different lives on earth effecting the way they perceive Fionavar. I found the scenes of Paul on the Summer Tree particularly powerful, I advise anyone who classes this book as young adult to have another read through those scenes and see if they still hold the same opinion.
Overall I believe that not enough people give Kay’s first book a fair chance as it is certainly both well-written and powerful. 8/10.