Read-along: The Summer Tree – week three

The third week of our read-along of The Summer Tree is a rollercoaster of love and gods – and unexpected friendship. Yes, I’ve spent most of the week sobbing into my pages, so let’s see if I can explain why…

This week we’re focusing on Chapters 9 through 12 and our discussion prompts have been set by Ariana of Book Nook Reviews.

Given where we are in the book, please be aware that even the questions can be considered spoilers (let alone the answers).

We’ve seen some extreme behaviour – we learn that Galadan wants to unravel the world because it witnessed his rejection. Ysanne’s sacrifice takes her out of the Tapestry entirely. What were your reactions to these and other character motivations?

I love that the villains of this are writ so large: Galadan is all DID YOU SEE THAT HAPPEN? THEN DIE while Rakoth blows up a mountain to announce himself like KNEEL, YOUR FUTURE LORD AND MASTER IS BACK. It’s all so extra, but it paints a very clear picture of antagonists you can’t reason or compromise with – there’s no halfway point to destroying the world, after all. But there’s a little tiny glimmer of hope: Rakoth may be an immortal power outside the Tapestry, but mere mortals have bested him before. We know from the start that this may seem like an awfully uneven battle, but it’s not hopeless – and this week, we start to see some of the other divine forces lining up to take sides (but I’ll hold that thought).

I also like that while the villains feel mythic in their showy single-mindedness, the underlying motivations of pride/shame and ambition/envy are awfully human. Which brings me right back to what I think makes a good villain, which I bang on about a lot but have never sat down and tried to codify. Perhaps I should.

Ysanne’s sacrifice is simultaneously a spectacularly convenient narrative cheat – no further need for Seer training montages, or for Kim to muddle through fundamental cultural misunderstandings – and also an act of love so great it could scarcely be assimilated. It hits me hard every time: I do this out of love for my entire world, and because I have seen it. On the one hand, it seems fate in Fionavar cannot be dodged; you may not understand what you’ve seen, but it will come to pass exactly as it was seen. On the other, she doesn’t even try. And oh, Ysanne. That’s a heck of a sense of duty.

And speaking of sacrifice, Paul has spent his final night on the Summer Tree and all his defences have been stripped. How are you feeling towards Paul now and what do you think might happen to him next? Rereaders – do you remember your first reactions to this?

I am unashamed to admit I cry every time: both for Paul confronting his deepest guilt, and even more so for Dana’s intercession. Shit, I’m crying now. Yes, I am a deeply sentimental reader and goddesses stepping in to tell humans that you failed because you are only human, and that’s okay leaves me in bits, apparently. I’m still going to be mad about motivationally dead girlfriends, but I approve of the way Paul is forced to face himself – and to accept forgiveness.

I’d actually forgotten the details of Paul’s guilt. I knew he blamed himself for Rachel’s death and that there was a car involved, but I vaguely thought he left her and she had a crash on the way home rather than the other way round.

Alongside (or because of?) Paul’s time on the Summer Tree, some cosmic forces seem to be moving in Fionavar again. Last week we talked about prophecy, but how do you feel about the role of deities and mythology in the book?

Once you cast a god as your antagonist I think it’s very hard not to involve opposing forces of equal power. Because epic fantasy loves high stakes and narrative tension is always a sensible idea, there’s almost always a reason they can’t openly get involved – and that’s what we see in Fionavar. Gods are watching over the world, but they very rarely act directly (and their intercessions must usually be bought, often in blood – Mörnir demands sacrifice on the Tree; Dana’s temples centre on sacrificial altars).

I don’t know that I have any big feelings about this; it’s a trope so deeply embedded in my fantasy reading over the years that it takes a question like this for me to even stop and acknowledge it. But I do find it interesting as a central genre trope in contrast to mythologies that focus on telling stories about the gods rather than confrontations with them. And I still don’t have any feelings about it, but I might let that bubble away at the back of my head as I read for the next few months and see if I cook up some more concrete thoughts.

We have (officially) met the banished prince Aileron! Impressions? And does his presence and return to court give us any further insight into the politics of Brennin?

I absolutely love these scenes between Kim and Aileron. We’ve heard relatively little about the heir except that he was vanished; his character emerges very quickly in these pages – and gosh, isn’t he a contrast with his brother? Stern and stubborn and unlikeable and impatient, but surprisingly self-aware and not unable to apologise or cry. I like him here; and then he picks up a sword and holy shit he’s a badass. He immediately and instinctively feels like he would make a far better king than Diarmuid.

But woah he takes himself seriously. I love the way Kim teases him from the start; and appreciate that he takes it and is embarrassed rather than enraged by her knocking him out of his certainty.

I can absolutely see from these scenes why the likes of Gorlaes and Metran would have been delighted to get Aileron out of the way; and I’m a little nervous that Aileron only seems to see his brother’s public face – there’s no love lost here, which begs the question of exactly how he will be received at court…

At last, Dave has returned to grace the pages! His absence has caused much speculation, but how do you feel about him now that we know what he’s been up to?

I said up front that Dave is one of my favourites as a rereader and this week I’m happy we get to see more of him: a bit socially awkward, uncomfortable being in the limelight (and mistrustful of those who seem to seek it, or at least live in it), a whole baggage train full of daddy issues – but fundamentally decent. He doesn’t hesitate to defend Torc against the urgach, he doesn’t push back or whinge when it’s clear that he’ll have to stand watch at the grove (nor does he push to go south as soon as possible to get home), and he’s willing to let Ceinwen kill him for his trespass even when there’s an obvious out. The tall, quiet, honourable one? Yeah, of course I like Dave, even if he has a few issues to work through.

Did you notice that he never snuck off to study those Evidence notes?

Any other thoughts?

A random set today:

The first is about Ailell knowing that power teaches patience and how well that resonated with me – until I realised that sure, it turned Ailell into a good king, but this same sentiment also applies to Rakoth Maugrim, who the Overture tells us remained bound under the mountain as an act of will until the time was right. OH SHIT.

My heart broke in tiny pieces when Kevin said of Paul’s sacrifice let him die for you if he can’t live for himself. Oh, Kevin. Oh, Paul.

I was also impressed at some threads woven in this week that sit entirely naturally in the context of what is happening right now but that – rereader alert – will be fundamental to trilogy overall. Take my word for it, it’s rather elegantly done because damn it’s casual. But when you know, you know.

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

Our read-along is nearly over – we’ll be reading from Chapter 13 to the end next week, with prompts set by by Mayri @ BookForager. As usual, prompts will be posted in the Twitter community (DM me for an invite) and I will cross-post them to Litsy and Instagram when I get the chance.