Read-along: The Summer Tree – week one

Welcome to the first of our Wyrd And Wonder read-alongs! This year, we’ve got two forest fantasy picks (of course!): Guy Gavriel Kay’s epic portal fantasy The Summer Tree and Holly Black’s faerie fantasy The Darkest Part Of The Forest. Today, we’re starting discussion of The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree

Book Cover: The Summer Tree (Fionavar Tapestry)When a visiting professor of folklore turns out to be a wizard from another world, five Canadian students agree to visit his home to help mark the 50th anniversary of his High King’s rule. But shadows are gathering in Fionavar. Ill omens indicate evil is afoot, and the ageing King is reluctant to make the traditional sacrifice.

Plunged into the politics of a world that lives by very different rules, Paul, Jennifer, Kevin, Kim and Dave must survive on their wits. Can the five face their fears and find a way home? And if they do, what will they return home to? For Fionavar is the first of all worlds, and what happens here will resonate throughout creation… 

Expect high fantasy and epic adventure as Guy Gavriel Kay weaves Celtic and Scandinavian myths into his heartbreaking design.  

Each week, a ‘host’ shares questions for discussion – this week we’re discussing the Prologue through to Chapter 6, and I’m in the hot seat to get things started.

How are you reading along with us? (Book, digital, audio) Is this a first time or a reread? Show us your book cover!

I first read The Summer Tree just after I moved to London, so this is a reread for me (although the first in about ten years, and that was the first in a while). I’ve have a battered paperback with John Howe’s ominous artwork: [image]

The prose style is as distinctive as choosing to call the prologue an overture. How are you finding it / does it suit you?

I’m very curious to hear how this hits other readers. I love the unapologetically mythic flourishes and poetic nods, but I have a nostalgic bond with both book and this sort of style as I grew up on Tolkien and Garner and a stack of authors who went all in with this sort of thing.

Most hated by the Dark, for their name was light

My heart skips a beat. And then there’s Kay’s trademark sideways looks at characters: all implications and layering of feelings over straightforward observations (how little we know about these people really). I love it, but I don’t know if I would love it if I met it for the first time now – I’ve changed as a reader, and this sort of teasing can annoy me sometimes.

Each visitor gets a little moment to define them before they arrive in Fionavar. What are your first impressions of our travellers? Any you particularly like or dislike?

I have such different reactions every time I read this book (I’ve still got my notes from my last reread). I recall not loving Dave when I first read it; now he’s a favourite for me: so bruised, not so much a chip on his shoulder as a whole tree (and ugh, when you meet his family, you can see why). I love Kevin too, who is too observant and compassionate (and clever) to be dismissed as ‘just’ the charming one. It’s hard not to feel for Paul, although I do feel Kay is flirting hard in this opening week in terms of telling us how much pain Paul is carrying without giving us many clues as to what happened to him last summer.

But I have a grievance for the lacklustre portrayal of women, who are already in the minority in the cast. Jennifer is more of an adornment than a character so far. She is beautiful and regularly tells us she is afraid (and is this her way of influencing a room without generating conflict; or an act of naked honesty / vulnerability/?). I don’t think we even know what she’s studying; she’s just Kim’s desirable housemate. Eh.

Kim clearly has a Destiny lined up: she’s special and unafraid, but we haven’t seen much of her POV yet. I feel like Kay has spent a lot more time setting up interiority for his male cast, and he needs to do better.  

…and what do you make of the characters and politics of Paras Derval?

I had forgotten what a toxic mess greets us on arrival! I was also pleasantly surprised by Diarmuid, who I remember as a playboy prince, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. Like Kevin, he switches on and performs in public, and like Paul, he’s keeping a lot hidden. But he’s as shrewd as he is flamboyant, so I’ll give him a little rope in spite of his flagrant womanising (his greeting of Jennifer makes my eyes roll).

Besides, I’m too busy being annoyed at the entire male court for the way they interact with Jaelle to single out Diarmuid. It’s far too early to know where I stand on Jaelle, but I am here for her scornful fury and her refusal to let all these patronising men diminish or sideline her. I’m probably not meant to like her as much as I immediately do.

The obvious question: would you accept Loren’s invitation?

…I mean, yes, obviously. If you don’t know he’s keeping secrets, they can’t scare you and even if you do what fantasy reader could resist? But I think that reception from Diarmuid and Gorlaes (so much dirty laundry! So many implications!) would have me wondering what I’d got myself into and starting to question just how far out of my depth I’d got. 

Threads for the Tapestry

But wait, this is a read-along – what did everybody else have to say?

Links will be added once they go live.

Don’t see your blog / handle here? I may have missed you are joining us – tag me and add your post to the Wyrd and Wonder master schedule and I’ll pick it up and include you here!

Reading Schedule

Everyone is free to read at their own pace, but we will only discuss set chapters each week to give everyone a chance to keep up:

  • Week 1: Prologue through Chapter 6
  • Week 2: Chapter 7 & 8 – hosted @ The Fantasy Hive
  • Week 3: Chapter 9 – 12 – hosted by Ariana @ The Book Nook
  • Week 4: Chapter 13 to the end – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager

Questions will be posted each weekend on the Twitter community (DM me for an invite) and I will cross-post them to Litsy and Instagram when I get the chance. I’ll be posting my responses each Thursday, but you are free to choose any day that suits your schedule.

If you don’t have a blog (or Litsy or Instagram account), you can still join the discussion via the comments on the week’s host blog or in the Twitter community (please be mindful of spoilers for other readers). Wherever you post, always avoid spoilers for future weeks if you read ahead (or have read it before) – and please remember to add your link to the Wyrd and Wonder master schedule once your post is live!

Want to join us in the read-along? Jump on in!