Read-along: The Wandering Fire – week three

Banner: The Wandering Fire - A Wyrd & Wonder Read-along

The fire has ceased wandering as we come to the end of book two of The Fionavar Tapestry, but there is a great deal to discuss as snows melt, boats sail, armies ride and feelings are thoroughly exercised…

A read-along is a group read with weekly discussions of set chapters (not a review, so ’ware spoilers!). This week we’re discussing from Chapter 12 until the end of the book, using prompts devised by Peat Long.

Five questions for five friends seems right and the first concerns Darien. We’ve seen a lot of the young and slightly less young andain as he goes through a rapid and terrible coming of age. Do you think he’ll be alright?

Poor Darien. He’s very young, he’s got strange powers and abandonment issues and strangers hang around and say helpful things like why was he allowed to live where he can hear them. DUDES, NO. SHH. ZIP IT.

I like that Paul at least tries to reach out to Darien, but Paul is such an emotionally unavailable character from the get-go – and increasingly stern as the weight of his new role resonates through him – that he wouldn’t be my first pick to try and comfort a confused and grieving young boy. No, that would be Kevin – dammit – but at least Kevin sent a lios as a literal embodiment of what living in the light looks like. Bless you, Kevin.

I do have some side-eye for the way the narrative (or is that just Paul?) seems to equate physical and emotional maturity. Force-growing a kid like rhubarb won’t emotionally equip them with the experience or context to make better decisions. At least Darien opts for an adolescent form, which feels like a more honest representation of the maturity he’s bringing to his situation than if he had zoomed up to full adulthood.

What Darien desperately needs – as Vae predicted at the beginning – is to be loved very much by people who don’t leave him. I wonder how he would respond if Jennifer had come back for him (that would be a first for him: someone coming back) – but I suspect it’s all too late now even if she did. He’s adolescent and understandably raging and primed to head off and do ill-considered things. He is a(nother) wild card waiting to derail the best laid plans of just about everybody; and …well, let’s wait and see how that turns out. But I don’t think he’s alright at all. And I feel for him: he deserved better than this; every child deserves better than this.

If one thing has dominated the thoughts of the four survivors in this part, it is the memory of the fifth. Are there any reactions to Kevin’s sacrifice that particularly caught you?

I really like the way the different forms grief takes for each of them: Kim ridden by the guilt we feel when we lose someone unexpectedly and get no closure; Paul able to find tears as his grief for his intuitive friend becomes inextricable from his grief for his ex-lover; Jennifer unexpectedly freed by Kevin’s sacrifice, grief hammering down the wall she has built between herself and her feelings; Dave continuing his journey to a bigger, less toxic emotional landscape where it is permitted – even rewarded – for a big tough guy to love and to cry. I just want to give them all a hug, inevitably.

Maugrim’s reaction to the defeat of General Winter is predictably violent. Tell us of your reactions to the Battle for the Plain.

Ah, Mr Kay, tell me the third book is going to be BRUTAL without telling me the third book is going to be brutal.

Peat commented last week that reading The Wandering Fire was mostly making him want to reread The Silmarillion and this battle in particular hits me hard in my Beleriand feels. The lios riding singing out of the Shadowland, the endless armies of a raging dark god, the tragic clarity that Aileron can’t possible arrive in time, the epic death toll of an inconclusive battle… This is off the charts epic fantasy and the fact that it’s only one thread of the proceedings – and (much like Aragorn at the Black Gate) arguably not even the most important one. Maugrim’s forces had to be stopped, but stopping them here won’t end the war. Ouch.

Also, rereading loses all its comfort when you get to a pivotal battle scene and think shit, I thought this happened at the end of the LAST book. I’ve known from the start what summoning the Wild Hunt would mean (and I think that was true on my first read also; every depiction of the Wild Hunt has taught me they are never reliable allies to be summoned at need), but I was not ready for them to be unleashed already …although now they have been and Dave understands the cost, my narrative instinct is that he will face a fully-informed choice of whether the cost is worth paying in the final book? I am not ready, and I am not sure, and I’m kinda hoping my instincts are misplaced. After all, there’s still Tabor and Imraith-Nimphais in reserve – and Lancelot now.

But there are other battles too when you sail north into the north wind. The soulmonger! The cauldron! Yet more sacrifice. How much of this did you see coming? How much surprised you? Would you have made Matt’s demand, or Arthur’s choice?

This part of the reread is better etched on my memory, so no surprises for me here – I could sit back and enjoy the way it unfolds. I will never avoid goosebumps at the casual line that only seven survived Arthur’s last voyage to Caer Sidi or the booming of the waves on the walls of the castle after they enter it (Alan Garner and Lloyd Alexander primed me long ago).

It’s also nice to see Diarmuid nonplussed for once – willing and ready to be the distraction that will give Loren his chance, but stymied and left with nothing to do. I admire Diar’s willingness to sacrifice himself, but in this mythical place it feels entirely right that it must boil down to the purest battle of wills between Brennin’s mages (and let’s be real, I’d’ve been shocked for Diar and his band to have been destroyed as an hors-d’oeuvre; surely there is some grand act of heroism awaiting them in the final book).

…which doesn’t stop me having all the feelings about Matt. I love Matt Soren as a character. He is gruff and no-nonsense and deeply compassionate and you always know that his unwavering commitment to Loren is balanced by the relentless tug of his mountain home. Who but Matt would have the roots and stubbornness to match Metran here? I am delighted not to have lost him here, and also for his resurrection to become an opportunity to change things up. The mages have had their time; now it’s time for others to step forward – and this suggestion that now Loren must become Matt’s support? I’m very much here for it.

I like to think that yes, I would make Matt’s choice – especially with the world on the line – but I admit I’m not sure I’d make Arthur’s. The Warrior – that original sin excepted – truly is the best of souls, isn’t he?

And so concludes The Wandering Fire. It has struck, and it has kindled great pain and suffering. Looking back over the whole, are there any moments of foreshadowing you particularly appreciate? Book arcs you love or hate? Questions you need answered right frickin’ now?

It’s Paul who stands out for me this week (indeed, I’ve been mulling over Paul a lot all book long). He has moved on from questioning his role to leaning into it magnificently: the summoning of Cernan at the Summer Tree (ill-conceived though that notion may have been), the summoning of Liranan both on the shore and again on Prydwen. I may not love the way Paul pushes Jennifer or handles Darien, but I cannot fault the way he rises to the occasion to go toe to toe with the gods.

On a tangential note: when the raithen were described as golden with silver manes I suddenly remembered the Western Hunters of Deverry, Katharine Kerr’s most desirable Elf-bred horses. I tend to think of Celtic myth focusing on white or grey horses – now I’m curious to know the inspiration for these gold and silver beauties!

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.

That’s it for our read-along of The Wandering Fire – watch out for news of when we will tackle The Darkest Road.

Art credit: banner features the gorgeous cover art created by Janny Wurts & Dan Maitz for the Canadian editions