The Summer Tree – Guy Gavriel Kay
GGK is an author I have been meaning to try for a long time. Several people I know hold him in high regard and he regularly gets high reviews. I decided to start at the beginning of his work although I was aware that this was supposedly inferior to his latter work.
Five young people find themselves flung into the magic land of Fionavar, First of All Worlds, to play their part in the vast battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes. This is the first book in a fantasy trilogy in the "Lords of the Ring" tradition.
As a rule I am not a fan of mixing the real world with a fantasy world. I prefer my fantasy to be firmly that. There are exceptions of course, King’s Dark Tower series does it effortlessly and so does Enid Blyton. Most books though I think suffer for it.
The reason I don’t like it is demonstrated perfectly in the Summer Tree. Whenever, someone is transported to a mysterious realm it is hard to make it feel realistic. I would expect to see people scared out of their wits and struggling to get their head around the concept. Of course, I can understand why authors don’t bother with this as it would make for some pretty dull reading but GGK does not even attempt to deal with the situation. His characters so readily accept what happens to them that it completely dilutes its effect.
More so they do not seem the slightest perturbed by the use of magic or outlandish creatures and take it mostly in their stride. This annoys me to the point of distraction.
So that pet flaw aside are the character’s any good? Well to begin with, I would have to say, “no.” GGK flits around multiple view points but spends so little time on each that it is hard to remember who is who and get a sense of who they are. A third of the way into the book and I only just began to get a sense of the identity of one or two of them. Maybe that is just me but I would have preferred a little hand holding to begin with.
I have also read a lot about how wonderful GGK’s prose is, so I was therefore shocked how annoying I found it at the start. I have never been one that believes one should adhere to the common writing rules but one I do agree with is the overuse of adjectives spoils a scene. Also in dialogue if you need to use an adjective to describe how someone spoke a sentence rather than use “he said”, or “she replied,” then your dialogue is not clear. The reader should be able to discern how the character is feeling without being told. GGK does this in abundance at the start of the book, for example, “he intoned lugubriously,” Really?
So “The Summer Tree” did not get off to the best of starts in my opinion and this is where I am glad I begin my reviews 150 pages or so into the book. It is so easy it enjoy the climax of a novel and forget all that has come before it.
“The Summer Tree” did improve. It never reached the dizzy heights for me to rave about it, but the plot had a little more to it, the characters established themselves a little better and the prose improved tenfold. There was still far too much labouring on about the history of Fionavar for my liking, which rendered some scenes bland. But there were some very good scenes in there too. By the end of the novel, I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience enough to know I will be reading the next in the series.
My rating: 7.2