Guy Gavriel Kay is surely one of the greatest storytellers working in fantasy. The vividness of his prose and the power of his imagination is staggering. As I mentioned in earlier posts, the Fionavar Tapestry, one of his earlier works, was good but slightly less impressive in its first volume, becoming awesome in book two. But one of the marks of a great writer is how they end things, which brings us to The Darkest Road, the third and final Fionavar book.
Myth and Destiny
The mythical scope and texture of this series brought in ideas of fate from the very start, and much of The Darkest Road is occupied with paying off the destinies of its characters, exploring just how inevitable their fates are. In many ways it’s an exploration of freedom, and how free anyone can be in a world of active gods and complex relationships between different eras in time.
This adds a sense of weight to events, as the characters struggle with inevitability. Kay strikes a fascinating balance between fulfilling and denying destiny, giving his characters logical fates. There is a sense of inevitability even when they break with destiny, as Prince Diarmuid does in one of the most dramatic moments of the book. Such is the necessity to foreshadow and build momentum behind events, that this character’s act of defiant free will feels as much a foregone conclusion as anything that has actually been pre-ordained. His destiny lies in his personality, not the weaving of the world, something that reinforced my love of Diarmuid as one of the best characters in the series.
In a very real sense, this book was the most fitting way possible to end this series.
No, Not Freedom
But by fitting the tone of the series, and coming back to the issues raised in the first book, this left me feeling less satisfied than I hoped. This is a matter of personal taste. The grandiosely mythic seldom suits me, and I balk against the use of destiny to drive a story forward. I prefer to see characters making their own choices, not having them thrust upon them, and such was the sense of inevitability here, with even the moments of freedom permitted because of mythic forces, that I seldom felt like the characters were choosing, so much as they were following the path laid out for them.
There’s also a sense of distance that comes with this mythic sort of writing. I didn’t feel drawn into the inner lives of the characters to the extent I have with Kay’s other books, and that, together with the inevitability, made me care less.
Don’t Get Me Wrong…
Despite all those reservations, I enjoyed this book. It’s a reflection of just what a great writer Kay is that, even when he’s writing something that’s not to my tastes, he executes it so magnificently that I’m drawn along through every single page. I loved seeing the bond of friendship forged between Dave, Torc and Levon. It pained me when I thought terrible things were about to happen to Jennifer. I was left pondering questions of inevitability.
Is this Kay’s best book? No. It’s not even the best book in this series, which was the magnificent The Wandering Fire. But is it worth reading? Oh yes.
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On an unrelated note, my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on Kindle for one last day today – why not go grab a copy?