Read-along: The Summer Tree – week two

It’s back to Fionavar for the second week of our read-along. Our earthborn five are scattered: Dave has disappeared, Kevin & Paul are buddying up with Diarmuid, Kim has come face to face with Destiny and Jennifer… seems like she might have a Fate. Let’s talk The Summer Tree!

This week we’re focusing on Chapters Six (ahem, yes I forgot I was meant to read and propose questions for Chapter Six last week; I am the worst this year) through Eight. The lovely team at The Fantasy Hive have set our discussions prompts (and covered for me; you beauties).

If you haven’t read the book, please be aware this is a discussion not a review so expect spoilers – there are major developments this week!

Talking of Chapter Six… what do you make of the Pervy Prince and his antics across the border?

Me last week: huh, Diarmuid isn’t as much of an asshat as I remember, I’m kinda enjoying the way he manipulates a room and is clever and observant underneath the charm.


Here’s the thing: I vaguely think that when I first read The Summer Tree – back in the late 90s, when I was young and impressionable – this didn’t bother me so much. I thought Sharra was glorious and I loved how she kept Diarmuid at arm’s length, but I could also see why she’d go weak at the knees for him.

Now, I’m just furious at him for indulging in what looks like a massive ego trip – not least because of how he seems to celebrate it as a conquest afterwards. I also have plenty of side-eye for Kevin and Paul supporting Diarmuid in this, although – to be fair to them – they weren’t exactly fully briefed. Isn’t it awfully lucky all our lads are such sporty (as well as cerebral) types, though?

I’ve also got side eye for the way Cathal is presented: slaves, eunuchs and casual strangulation. It doesn’t feel like its meant to invoke any particular culture, but our otherwise omniscient / neutral narrator seems to have a great deal of disdain for the ‘dissolute’ country that smacks of cultural bias. None of this sits quite right with me.

Loren continues his mysterious antics, have your opinions about him shifted at all? Or is there a certain other mage you’re now more concerned about?

I liked that Loren’s actions this week acknowledged that he has a responsibility to our travellers – he goes to find Dave, rather than just abandoning him – but I did find it curious that he went without Matt. He’s good with a sword, Diarmuid assures us, but I suspect Loren’s decision here reflects a horrifying lack of trust in anyone other than Matt to look after Kim and Jennifer; and perhaps an unspoken admission that he needs to travel fast, and Matt really doesn’t get on with horses …which leaves me with a few questions about how these two usually travel, but anyway.

As mages go, the revelation about Metran certainly explains how everybody seems to know about Loren’s oh so secret mission to another world; and – Occam’s Razor! – with rather less credit needing to be given about the extent to which all these people are spying on each other. Except Jaelle, maybe. It seems unlikely that she is getting briefings from anybody at the Palace…

All of which begs the question about the third mage, who has made such a major impression on me that I can’t recall his name. Something beginning with T? Maybe. And explains why we got the story of Nilsom and Aideen: just how loyal is Denbarra, and how far will he support Metran?

Between the children’s game and Kim’s dream, not to mention Ysanne’s mutterings to herself, prophecy is a key element weaving through this story. What are your reactions to the various foretellings thus far?

I love it; from the perspective of a rereader, it’s always fascinating to see what got seeded where when you know where it’s all going!

I always loved the ta’kiena though. That combination of children’s game and eerie repetition work so well together; a creepy prediction of… what, exactly? Well, that remains to be seen, but the other glimpses we’ve had of Brennin’s ancient beliefs and traditions aren’t exactly reassuring. Sorry, Finn. Sucks to be you, I guess.

Let’s address the massive sacrificial magical tree in the room – would you have offered yourself in Paul’s shoes?

Oh hell no, but then it would never have occurred to me that I would be allowed to. Aileron banished his heir for requesting the right to go to the tree on his behalf; how arrogant is it for an offworlder to swan in and say ’dude, let me’? As for Paul’s high tragedy, this is another narrative I responded to better as a twentysomething than a fortysomething: older me has very sharp words for motivationally dead girlfriends, and some gentler but still mildly chiding words for people who are so unwilling to face up to their feelings that they volunteer to be treed to death.

On the other hand, I’m a lifelong fantasy reader and this is a big heroic gesture and yes I cried my eyes out starting at Kevin’s song the whole way through Paul going to Aileron, okay? Okay. Not entirely heartless and judgemental.

What I really like is what happens next: Paul drifts into a fugue state awfully quickly (to be fair, hella hot days in Brennin that summer), but I like the way his perception alters and he hears the rumbling of the thunder god; and I like that he does finally start to face – rather than flee – his feelings about Rachel’s death. And then, of course, there’s his visitors…

There were two pretty major battles this week. The lios alfar were slaughtered by Galadan, and Paul witnessed a truly moving fight between Galadan and his mysterious canine protector. What were your reactions?

On the one hand, it’s very, very hard not to read aspects of The Fionavar Tapestry as Middle-Earth fanfic (o hai, the elves and they’re singing and undying and they sail west). On the other, I have to admire how Kay spun it: Fionavar is the first of all worlds, and everything is an echo of Fionavar. Everything should feel familiar. As for Tolkien, well Kay is weaving from overlapping sources; Tolkien can’t actually take credit for Elves, although I’m pretty sure we can lay the singing and the westering at his door…

I remember being so frustrated on my first read that I couldn’t figure out who the dog was (and when it finally becomes clear, I kicked myself, although I think in retrospect I was being a bit hard on myself). While I rooted for the dog (obviously; not a monster), I’m a sucker for a villain with a code. Galadan’s stated motivation is quite literally to see the entirety of reality burn and die, but in the meantime he is going to do things right (so offers Paul an easy death, and stops Metran torturing Jennifer although WTAF, GGK. Here, have some side-eye I save specially for authors who lead with sexually-charged torture). Galadan is what happens when the villainous corner of a YA love triangle gets left in a magical forest to brood too long. But I love him anyway, in a ’damn good villain, well done’ sort of way.

Last thought on these battles – although it also chimes back to Diarmuid’s execution of the farmer on the road – is that while this is far from grimdark, I feel the encounters between the svarts and the lios goes a long way to warning you as a reader that this is not a bright, heroic feelgood fantasy in spite of what Loren sold in Toronto (okay, okay, Loren had no idea what was happening back home; I’m sure he’s feeling pretty damn guilty right about now).

For me – sticking with that Tolkien lens – it is all rather more Silmarillion than Lord of the Rings: aeon-long grudges, endless bloodlust, dark gods with terrible servants, ill-conceived treacheries, high tragedy at every turn. Sure, Lord of the Rings has these too, but The Silmarillion is the one that just starts torturing and killing people in about chapter 3 until you’re steeped in the heroics of fighting an unwinnable war, uncertain who will survive. Do I feel anybody is safe? Hell no, although Na-Brendel is clearly a bad-ass.

There’s still no sign of Dave! First time readers – any theories? Revisitors, do you recall if you had any opinions on this before?

…it’s entirely possible as a first time reader that I would have entirely forgotten about Dave if Diarmuid and Loren hadn’t brought him up this week. I wasn’t the closest reader in my twenties, and I didn’t like Dave very much on first meeting. As a fortysomething, I am glad everybody keeps worrying about the tall grumpy one they’ve mislaid.

Any other thoughts?

I just want to come back to Kim and Jennifer, as we all noted last week that the opening chapters do them a disservice. Arguably so does this second week – at least in terms of how it works out for Jen – but I appreciated getting to spend more time with them. Oddly, although we probably spent more time with Kim, I don’t really feel we got a better sense of who she is vs who Ysanne is turning her into; but I appreciated that her response was basic massive overwhelm. It’s a LOT to process; they all cheerfully jumped worlds on the back of Loren spinning an illusion in thin air, but this is another level.

I was kinda mad on Jen’s behalf that everyone up and left her alone with the vipers in the Palace. Thank heavens for Matt and Laesha, who are both sweethearts. I thoroughly enjoyed Jen’s handling of the court ladies, and admired her presence of mind in dealing with Jaelle (who is – yep – still angry). She deserved a lovely evening with the lios; she absolutely doesn’t deserve where that has lead her. But but but what about that hint that she looks like someone? My lips are sealed, but hope you all caught that. Here, let me put some flashing lights around it just in case.

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 5 – hosted here at There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week 2: Chapter 6, 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!