Read-along: The Darkest Road – week one

The Darkest Road: A Wyrd & Wonder Read-along

It’s time to return to Fionavar where mere mortals stand together in grief and fury to resist the hatred of Rakoth Maugrim and his hordes. Brace yourself for most epic fantasy adorned with mythic trappings and a great deal of screaming. Some of it mine. Welcome back to the Fionavar read-along…

A read-along is a group read with weekly discussions of set chapters (not a review, so ’ware spoilers!). This week we’re discussing Part I, and Ariana of the Book Nook kindly stepped in to save me by providing our opening set of discussion prompts.

We’re straight back in where the last book left off – how are you feeling about returning to Fionavar?

For me I think the joy is less about returning to Fionavar (although that’s cool!) as re-immersing myself in Guy Gavriel Kay’s prose. He’s got such a specific style – drifting in and out of points of view, tangling sentences up in feelings and half-thoughts, constantly alluding to things rather than saying them out loud. Now we’re deep in it, that often looks back rather than forward: I’ve been less conscious of dark hints about what is to come (o hai The Summer Tree, looking at you) but very aware of characters still reeling from things that have recently happened to them (such as Dave processing Kevin’s sacrifice). I’ve always enjoyed Kay’s style, although I know plenty don’t; it wrings every ounce of emotional engagement from me as a feelings-first (re-)reader.

There are a lot of characters that, whether through long life, immortality, or reincarnation, have long memories. How do you find this shapes the story?

Forget fantasies that are shaped around generations of encouraged hatred, Fionavar is all about personally remembering how you were wronged and fostering your grudge forever. FOREVER. It was Pendaran Wood that stood out for me in this regard this week, with its annual day of mourning for Lisen when even the river runs red. I love just how haunted the forest feels; sure, Mirkwood was overgrown and full of spiders and the paths played tricks, but Pendaran is full of ghosts and spirits and rage and way, way spookier to me. I always felt you might pick your way through Mirkwood with luck and resilience; Pendaran is an enormous trap beyond the scope of mere mortals to escape.

I also love tales that feel so firmly rooted, and while there’s a number of ways authors can do this, I quite enjoy the directness of Kay doing it through characters literally remembering the past (and the occasional horror of realising some of them can’t remember far back enough to know some crucial detail).

On the flip side, although so many characters are steeped in the past and everyone is literally facing up to a threat from outside Time, it still feels like there’s room for people to have meaningful lives in the present (Rakoth notwithstanding). It makes me appreciate characters like Aileron and Diarmuid, who seize agency and carve out a space to respond, defining themselves rather than being defined by their overwhelming circumstances.

See me manage not to jump straight to Galadan and the Paraiko yet? Yeah, we should talk about Galadan and the Paraiko…

What do you make of Galadan’s point of view and what do first time readers think he might do to Jennifer?

I have more time for Galadan than I ought given he’s a man who literally wants to destroy the world because the girl he liked fell in love with someone else (and someone he considered lesser, just to add salt). Lisen didn’t owe Galadan anything. They weren’t an item. But here we are 1,000 years later, and he’s still treasuring her memory and doubling down on revenge. DUDE WTF.

Lisen’s perfectly preserved room at the the Anor finally reminded me of Jon Irenicus and the Queen’s bedroom in the opening dungeon of Baldur’s Gate II. Thankfully, while I can see way too many echoes of Galadan in Irenicus now it’s occurred to me, Galadan’s relationship with Rakoth – and his perspective on it – sits slightly differently to the ambitions of an arrogant elven wizard.

I reflected back during The Summer Tree that I enjoy his brand of villainy. I even suggested he had some sort of ethical framework / moral code. He’s less well-behaved when his temper and patience are fraying – as we see in The Wandering Fire – but gosh, this week really landed his utter disregard for the lives of mortals. I’m not sure why I was surprised that he was behind the bloodless murder of the Paraiko – Galadan is clever and ruthless and entirely goal-driven.

…okay, so he’s still my kind of villain even though I’m utterly appalled.

While the implications of his loyalty to Rakoth vs his personal goals hadn’t been lost on me, it was interesting to see him acknowledge them. It’s an interesting tension: he knows Rakoth sees through him and is irresistibly powerful, yet he works tirelessly on Rakoth’s behalf. I guess it’s hard to motivate anybody else to destroy the world, so he could hardly usurp the crown and mobilise forces on his own behalf…

All of which is a long winded way of me getting to the thought that Galadan is both the best possible lieutenant (in terms of ability and just getting shit done) and the least reliable as you know he’s always looking for a way to take advantage of circumstances to switch the endgame. Which leads me to consider Rakoth’s arrogance; and reflect that that is one of my favourite Achilles’s heels for big bads… so we’ll see. And worry about Jennifer, because I don’t recall what happens next.

We have finally met the Paraiko and there is a lot to unpack. Here’s your chance to talk about it!

Where to start? This is one of the few instances I can think of where an epic fantasy series puts pacifism front and centre and doesn’t subvert it. Yes, Jordan has the Tinkers and the Way of the Leaf, but (spoilers) he also has some of them pick up swords in extremis. I am utterly bowled over by Ruana’s all-encompassing kanior and by the Paraiko’s steadfast refusal to betray their beliefs in spite of everything they’ve been through.

However, I wasn’t expecting Kim to use Jennifer in the way that she did and frankly it sits really fucking badly with me. Firstly, what gives Kim the right to share Jennifer’s pain and horror – and to do so in such explicit, shot by shot detail? Secondly, Rakoth’s forces have literally just committed genocide in Eridu and tried to commit genocide in Khath Meigol. Why should the attempted destruction of a beautiful woman be more convincing than these more immediate truths? I don’t know where to start with this, other than baring my teeth and being disappointed in Kay and Kim both.

Being a rereader, I won’t go into thoughts / expectations for the rest of the book – I’ve forgotten most of the detail, but know the major plot outcomes – although I’m agog to see what everyone else says. I would say (especially having just got grumpy about how Kim persuades the Paraiko), that I am loving being back in Fionavar and I especially enjoyed meeting Dalreidan, who I had forgotten about. Curious to see if any of our first time readers have figured out who he is!

Threads for the Tapestry

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

  • Week 1 | Book Forager | The Book Nook | The Green Tea Librarian | Peat Long | There’s Always Room For One More (that’s this post!)

Links will be added once they go live.

Reading Schedule

Fancy joining us? It’s not too late – we’re reading at a steady pace across the month, with weekly discussion check-ins. This book is conveniently split into Parts of about the right length, so we’re following the structure of the book itself! Its fine to read ahead, but we will only discuss set chapters each week to give everyone a chance to keep up; and there’s no shame in falling behind – wait to dive into the discussions until you’re caught up on the week’s chapters and you won’t get spoiled.

  • Week 1: Part I – hosted Ariana @ The Book Nook
  • Week 2: Part II – hosted here at There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week 3: Part III – hosted by Mayri the BookForager
  • Week 4: Parts IV & V – hosted by Peat Long

Questions will be posted each weekend on the Twitter community (DM me for an invite). I’ll be posting my responses at the end of each week, but feel free to post any day that suits your schedule.

If you don’t have a blog, you can 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. 

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