Read-along: The Darkest Road – week two

The Darkest Road: A Wyrd & Wonder Read-along

Fates are gathering faster than storm clouds in the second week of The Darkest Road as Darien seeks somebody willing to accept him and Prydwen brings her cargo of grief to shore at the Anor Lisen. When even Jaelle is showing compassion, you know we’re in trouble…

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 II, with discussion prompts set by yours truly.

Who wears this next shall have the darkest road to walk of any child of earth or stars. Would you try to win Darien over or set him free to choose? What do you make of the various reactions towards Darien, and to his actions?

I’m circling back to questions pondered in The Wandering Fire this week, as Darien goes in search of somewhere to belong. If I had side-eye for Jennifer for abandoning her newborn son in the first place, I struggle even more with her refusal to engage with him now. He has to be free to choose, she says, but he chose to come to her. Apparently, that doesn’t count.

Sharra – in an unexpected flash of empathy – sees straight to Darien’s loneliness; set apart from the world and now actively rejected by those he has turned to for support. My heart was rain when the Circlet of Lisen died on his brow; I’d forgotten this moment where even it seems as if the Light itself turns its back on the poor boy.

For all his lashing out, I can’t hold it against him. He is, after all, a child (a baby even); he’s allowed to exhibit the emotional maturity of a child. Besides, how many of us could claim the resilience to handle even inanimate objects damning us?

And three makes a triangle. Thoughts on the trope and on this specific trio? …and now that we’ve seen Lancelot in action… reaction shots are Go.

Everybody knows that I loathe love triangles. While I’ve always been fascinated by tales of King Arthur, I’ve never been interested in the courtly love triangle injected by the French retellings. So while I like Kay’s Arthur and Lancelot as characters a great deal, I still hate this on principle. I also hate that the way the narrative is presented – with endless emphasis on how this is the greatest tragedy in all the worlds, oh these poor souls – diminishes the far great tragedies (to me) of Eridu and the Paraiko. Three souls are bound together to have a bad time? Sucks to be them. Do not expect me to feel worse for them than I do for the full-on genocides going on across the country, thank you.

On the other hand, Kay is undeniably doing a fine job channelling a specific tradition here, even if it’s not one adult me has a lot of time for (…and he went on to do it all better in A Song For Arbonne, fite me). And we do get Lancelot being The Greatest And Most Honourable Of All Time, which I have absolutely no argument with. Let’s face it, carrying Arthur out of the sea in his arms is the sort of epic shot to make even this reptile weep; and his dogged, bleeding, unending battle with Curdadh is heartbreaking (although I have nothing but eye-roll for his attitude that ‘involving someone else in my single combat was dishonour worthy of the Dark’).

So I get why Guinevere might find it hard to choose between two such peerless heroes, I do. I just don’t enjoy reading about it.

Jaelle has warmed up since Maidaladan. Any thoughts on our formerly icy High Priestess and her actions?

I have made no secret of my fondness for Jaelle as a character in this trilogy. She’s angry, she’s judgmental, she’s ambitious, she’s a little insecure, she’s sharp in every sense. All of which is to say she’s not at all likeable – but we see her evolve under the pressure of life-as-we-know-it-ending threat.

She fascinates me as a character. I love that her response to finding Paul on the Summer Tree in book one is to cut him down and save him and to rage with jealousy because why did the Goddess talk to a man (although I think – although she might never acknowledge – that she’d be just as angry if the Goddess spoke to another woman, because is she honestly going to accept another as more worthy?). I’ve enjoyed the path of thorns they have walked since then on the way towards a tentative friendship: an acknowledgement from both sides that the agents of God and Goddess probably can’t afford to be at loggerheads; a dawning acceptance that each is a very difficult human being to deal with; and a willingness to give one another a little more room rather than reacting badly to everything each one ever says.

Seeing Paul and Kevin sacrifice themselves has had a profound impact. Hearing the Goddess accept those sacrifices has had an ever deeper one; Jaelle has had to set aside some of her instinctive prejudices and acknowledge the chip on her shoulder. But I remain absolutely flabbergasted that she offered to draw on the earth root to bring Kim to Pendaran and that she forgave Amairgen. Truly, the world must be ending.

…as a side-note, I am far less amazed by her up-ending Temple hierarchy to deputise Leila. Sure, the kid is gifted and terrifying and clearly attuned to higher powers; but I mostly think Jaelle would burn the Temple to the ground before letting Audiart take over. We’ve had little hints of their poisonous relationship and it mostly makes me want to go reread The Tombs of Atuan. It’s a whole sideshow that this series isn’t interested in, but I appreciate it as a reminder that there are a heap of very human struggles continuing in spite of Maugrim trying to end the world.

It also makes me think that if this were written now, each book in the trilogy would have been much, much longer 😉

Our understanding of the Weaver and the lore of Fionavar has deepened this week. Any insights, theories or reactions to share?

…I had thoughts and reactions (Curdadh!) but I have been sick all week and they have disappeared into the ether. I’m very curious to see what everyone else has to say though!

Based on the evidence, do you think any andain have sensible relationships with their parents? Or a handle on their feelings?

Okay, so I asked this question primarily as snark but the scenes between Cernan and his sons (aaaah Galadan and Flidais are brothers! Did we know that already?) stood out for me this week so I wanted an excuse to mull them over a little; and consider whether there’s a broader theme here about divine parentage that gives us food for thought where Darien is concerned.

First up: if Cernan is any guide, gods don’t make good dads. Cernan clearly likes having mortal flings, but his follow-through leaves a lot to be desired. Nope, gods have bigger concerns (don’t give me any of that nonsense about gods not being allowed to get involved in mortal affairs)so he’s a hands-off helicopter dad full of shitty excuses that don’t sound any better coming from a god than they do from any disengaged bad human dad 😉 That said, I do enjoy a pantheon that are so fundamentally human in so many ways; and I’m intrigued by the stratification of Kay’s pantheon here – Cernan and Ceinwen exhibit human traits, Dana and Mörnir feel so much more remote and inhuman, and the Weaver is just the most distant observer.

Still – on the balance of the evidence, Darien shouldn’t get his hopes up, should he? Even before you factor in that Maugrim doesn’t have a shred of interest in or compassion for others (I was going to say other people, but I’m not convinced Maugrim acknowledges other people are people).

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.

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