A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
Review by Jacqui Slaney
Some books stay with you long after you have read them. As I mentioned in my review on The Summer Tree, this authors books are re readable and I can probably pinpoint my love of reading fantasy to them, as there is just something different about them. This book is historical fantasy and is one of his stand-alone novels this is the description:Based on the troubadour culture that rose in Provence during the High Middle Ages, this panoramic, absorbing novel beautifully creates an alternate version of the medieval world. The matriarchal, cultured land of Arbonne is rent by a feud between its two most powerful dukes, the noble troubadour Bertran de Talair and Urte de Miraval, over long-dead Aelis, lover of one, wife of the other and once heir to the country's throne. To the north lies militaristic Gorhaut, whose inhabitants worship the militant god Corannos and are ruled by corrupt, womanizing King Ademar. His chief advisor, the high priest of Corannos, is determined to eradicate the worship of a female deity, whose followers live to the south. Into this cauldron of brewing disaster comes the mysterious Gorhaut mercenary Blaise, who takes service with Bertran and averts an attempt on his life. The revelation of Blaise's lineage and a claim for sanctuary by his sister-in-law sets the stage for a brutal clash between the two cultures. Intertwined is the tale of a young woman troubadour whose role suggests the sweep of the drama to come.
This to me this is one of the best books Kay has written, and as such has always been a personal favourite of mine. There is everything in this tale that as a reader you could possibly want; there are heroes and villains, intrigue and deception, action with some real brutal descriptions of what can happen in a war and carefully written descriptions of love and friendship. There is even a form of magic which is very subtlety used.
This is a historical fantasy and is set in a medieval era. Due to this is Kay is able to use the troubadour culture and show their importance in Arbonne. He shows how wide their influence can be and the wrong impression that can be given of a country that values music especially a love song.
As I mentioned before, I am not overly keen on too much romance in a novel, but the way it is dealt with here is brilliantly done. The love and romance is woven throughout the story and it shown in all its aspects and the damage it can do. For instance, the treatment of women in the south, allowing them to rule over men, gives the impression of weakness to the North, and so eventually along with other events that occur, gives the North an excuse for a war.
The story starts with a woman having an affair, a simple enough event it would seem. The woman though was the heir to the throne, and had been married to build a family alliance, but she had wanted more. This leads to her becoming pregnant, she gives birth and later dies, but not before telling her husband that the child is not his. This causes a heated feud down through the years between the different families involved. It causes problems with the leadership of the army and furthers the impression of weakness to the invaders, that this sort of behaviour could be allowed.
The writing is vivid and the characters really stand out. The main character is Blaise, who comes from the North driven by his hatred of his father, He first sees the peoples of the South as he had been taught, corrupt and soft. However, he soon comes to understand that this belief is wrong and that there is real power in the Goddess that the South worships. There are other great characters though; Bertran, Ariane and Lucianna Delonghi just to name a few.
This is no simple tale; there are complex twists of deception and violence. The excellent writing builds the characters levels for the reader so they can see what drives that person. Even the violence in the story is handled well; there is attempted assassination, poisoning and a large-scale battle, which is described superbly.
For a stand-alone book, there are enough events for the author to have actually written a series of novels. However, it makes the story better in a way that it is completed under one cover; for one thing, the reader is not left waiting endlessly for the next instalment. The pace of the novel is swift but it is not rushed, the author does not allow it to be bogged down on irrelevant events, but ensures there is plenty of attention when it is needed.
This is an absorbing story from start to finish, a brilliant world has been created and I would really recommend it to anyone.
10 out of 10