Read-along: The Summer Tree – week four

It’s the final week of our read-along of The Summer Tree and that sound is me sobbing and my fellow read-alongers screaming as Guy Gavriel Kay serves up a vicious finale of family conflict, double-edged fates and the endless hatred of an undying god. Questions this week by Mayri the BookForager!

Even the questions are spoilers at this point; proceed with caution (but rest assured I have avoiding spoiling future books).

Paul is now the Lord of the Summer Tree. What do you think this means/ will mean?

Firstly, let’s acknowledge how much this has changed him – and how it hasn’t. From the start of this book, Paul has held himself aloof – he’s observant, he’s a smidge judgemental (although nowhere near as hard on others as he is on himself, as it turns out), and he’s unafraid of conflict – from that early call out of Loren Silvercloak in the Park Plaza hotel…

…and here he is in the throne room, caustically calling bullshit on Aileron’s dramatic claim speech.

That’s my boy.

I absolutely love that Guy Gavriel Kay sets up his would-be king with a big traditional tropey speech and then has Paul skewer it by pointing out how utterly self-absorbed it is and how many other people are already in the firing line. Your war, Aileron? Really? REALLY?

Might as well get full mileage out of being the fabled Twiceborn, Arrow of the God, Lord of the Summer Tree – whatever all that may mean.

Compare and contrast his interactions with Jaelle, which – to me – are less typical of the Paul we’ve seen so far. Jaelle is as confrontational and pompous (and oh, so jealous) as ever this week, but Paul never reacts to her with anger or irritation: he’s surprisingly gentle at the Temple – scornful, unbending, but he never counter attacks – and then he pushes back on Aileron to put the Priestess in the role of kingmaker.

Paul isn’t from Fionavar. He doesn’t have Ysanne’s memories. Mörnir didn’t gift him with an understanding of tradition and history – as far as we know – but apparently he now has an instinct for how things should be done here; or a deep respect for the goddess. Crucially, he doesn’t claim the right for himself as the Arrow of the God. Pride is a recurring theme this week, and here Paul’s pride is nowhere to be seen; and for all everyone in Brennin associates him with Mörnir, perhaps he’s the agent of more than one of the gods…

What are your thoughts and feelings on Jennifer’s plight, and how have you made sense of it within the scope of the story so far?

This is the I’ve been dreading since we started the read-along, because I knew what would happen to Jennifer but I couldn’t remember how GGK handled it. And this was written in the early 80s, so it was unlikely to be explicit but there was also a huge chance of it being awful.

And it is, but not in the way I feared.

On the one hand, yes this quickly gets sexual, but thankfully it’s far less graphic than Metran’s magical nipple attack (I am still WTFing over that). Instead, it’s couched in terms of Rakoth violating her mind / soul, inflicting the violence that he perceives will most hurt her. It’s still absolutely nightmarish all the way down, but the one thing that stands out for me through all of it is that the narrative is very, very clear that Jennifer has not committed any sin. This is not her fault. This is entirely and completely on Rakoth and Blöd (and perhaps a little on Loren Silvercloak for bringing her to Fionavar in the first place). No victim blaming. No blame shifting. This is an evil act of malice.

How awfully human this villain is, lashing out at whoever he can reach because he wants to hurt someone – because Jennifer isn’t even his true target; she’s a convenient stand-in for the lios and for Brennin and its mages. Poor Jennifer.

And also: I have so much respect for Jennifer, because while it’s clear from the start that there’s absolutely nothing she can do, she never feels passive; she resists all the way down.

You will have nothing from me that you do not take

While I have some conflicted thoughts about how it’s okay not to be able to resist in the face of such overwhelming violations, there’s been a few threads woven in already about enduring when hope is gone. So, erm, consider yourself warned for the rest of the trilogy, yeah?

What did you make of the many events in the throne room, from the assassination attempt to the showdown for the crown?

I’ve already talked about Aileron and Paul, so let’s focus on Sharra and Diarmuid, starting with Sharra and the cultural absurdity of the statement that ‘no other assassin could have navigated with such instinctive ease the maze of [the palace]‘. No, no, no, no, no, different human cultures do not all build their palaces around the same principles, actually. This is absolute horseshit. Sharra gets really fucking lucky; and then a little unlucky because – no surprise – she’s not the only person willing to stab Diarmuid (get in line, sweetheart).

Apparently I have strong expectations of architecture as a form of cultural expression to be considered in your world-building. Nitpicking? Yes, okay, I’ll move along.

Besides, I can’t help but howl with laughter at Sharra through all this. There’s really nothing to unpack beyond teenage rage and hurt pride and how very dare not least how very dare he still be so damn sexy and I am endlessly amused that her answer to all that is I must kill you now. But I grew up watching and loving Willow, and I think Sharra and Sorcha would have a lot to talk about. And Sharra has a lot of growing up to do, rather fast.

And then Diarmuid – performing like his life depends on it here (which it doesn’t, because – as usual – he’s given very careful consideration to what’s about to happen and put strategies in place; and he clearly knows his brother awfully well) – who is absolutely insufferable until we get that tiny glimpse beneath his mask

Both of you?

On the one hand, I want to give Diarmuid a hug. It seems there are people other than himself that he cares about and who he would apparently like to have care for him in return; and neither of them hesitated to try and kill him. On the other hand, D, you totally asked for it. Reap as you sow, my man. Maybe try being less of a prick and more straightforward in your interactions with the people that matter to you.

But no, Diarmuid is wedded to his persona – and salves his bruised soul in Lady Rheva’s arms, no less. Somebody hide that dagger from Sharra, she’ll be itching to use it again.

Wait, one last thought on Aileron – notice how he did stop Sharra from murdering his brother, even though he had just lost his opportunity to have him shot? Maybe he doesn’t despise him all the way down after all. Or maybe he’s just very, very confident about his own abilities to cut someone to ribbons with his sword before anyone can stop him.

There’s been a surfeit of signs, a plethora of portents in this week’s reading. Now is the time to air your opinions on such things as flying unicorns, getting lost in the woods, the Cave of the Sleepers, magical Horns and unearthed Cauldrons.

I grew up reading The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Black Cauldron, so I have always screamed at these final act reveals and continued screaming until these plots play out.

Screaming commencing in 3, 2, 1…

For those unfamiliar with these myths, brace yourself (and get some ear plugs).

The Dwarves did it, in the darkness, with the Cauldron of Khath Meigol! What do you make of this last-minute revelation? And care to make any predictions on future developments?

Screaming intensifies.

With a pause to give the Mattery a big hug. Oh, Matt.

Any other thoughts?

I’ll leave you with possibly my biggest laugh of the entire book:

“I need a drink,” Kevin exclaimed. “We all do. And you,” he pointed to Dave, “haven’t met Diarmuid yet. I think you’ll like him even more than you like me”

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 done – but the clamouring to continue to Book Two (The Wandering Fire) shall not go unheard. DM me on Twitter if you would like to be added to our Twitter Community to join our discussion of (when we should start reading) the next book in the trilogy.