THE SUMMER TREE by Guy Gavriel Kay – READ ALONG Week 2
We’re super excited to be taking part in another Wyrd and Wonder read along!
This year, Beth, Nils, and Scarlett will be joining in Imyril’s read along of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.
We’ll be sticking to the following reaching schedule, and posting a weekly discussion of that week’s chapters. Imyril will be doing the same on her blog, and everyone is welcome to join in! If you don’t have a blog, feel free to join in the conversation on Twitter.
- Week 1: Overture – Chapter 6 (hosted by Imyril)
- Week 2: Chapters 7 & 8 (hosted by the Fantasy Hive)
- Week 3: Chapter 9 – Chapter 12 (hosted by @queenzucchini)
- Week 4: Chapter 13 – end (hosted by @bkfrgr)
SPOILERS AHEAD: This post is a book-club style discussion of the novel, rather than a review to tempt new readers in. We do discuss plot points, character motivations, and twists – if you have not read the book and do not want it spoiled, please do not read further!
The first volume in Guy Gavriel Kay’s stunning fantasy masterwork.
Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.
Week 2 – Chapter 7 – Chapter 8
1. There was a little confusion last week on whether chapter six was supposed to be included, so let’s explore this one first. We discussed the Pervy Prince last week – would you like to weigh in on his antics across the border?
We chatted about chapter six last week, check out what we had to say here.
2. We’re a sizable step into the story now, so how are we all finding the pacing?
Beth: Despite the super long chapters, the pacing’s actually pretty good? I was surprised, when my physical copy came, to see how far into the book we are! The plot is tripping along at quite a steady pace to be fair!
Nils: I was surprised too Beth, we’re around halfway, aren’t we? I do find the pacing a touch uneven though. I feel like some scenes drag on, and I think those are the ones with our Pervy Prince, sometimes Jennifer, and Kevin, basically the characters I’m less interested in. Yet the parts with Paul and Kim go too quickly! I really want more of Kim’s seer abilities and training.
Beth: This really made me lol Nils 😂
Although not necessarily the fault of the pace, I am having trouble with everything sticking in my mind, I’m struggling to remember things after the fact.
Nils: Oof, you’re not alone there.
Scarlett: I’m a bit with both of you. I found the previous chapters more jarring than 7 and 8. There is much more storytelling happening now, as it started in chapter 6. I do feel like I am learning to adjust to GGK’s prose and style. The world though behind it all…is brilliant.
Nils: I really like the world too Scarlett.
Beth: I’m with you there Scarlett, it’s definitely a strength of the book!
Scarlett: I didn’t want to admit that, but I feel the same Beth. I am getting the gist and am enjoying the moments, but there is sooo much! I wonder if this will be a reread for me.
Beth: I think I would get more out of it from a re-read, but I’m not sure whether I’d want to surrender that reading time to this!
3. Loren continues his mysterious antics, have your opinions about him shifted at all? Or is there a certain other mage you’re now more concerned about?
Beth: Ok I was not expecting whathisoldname to be a bad guy! (I’m really struggling with names in this book for some reason).
Scarlett: Oh, me too. I’m kinda stumped, but it also makes it so much more interesting!
Beth: lol Scarlett! Like an extra puzzle?
Nils: Oh hell, me too!! I’m having to write the names down on my phone just to copy and paste them in these answers!! I think the wizard you mean is Metran?
Beth: Yes Nils, thank you! Metran! I’d kind of dismissed him as the doddering old wizard who Loren is trying to take over from, so I was really surprised when he rocked up in that clearing with Galadan. And was grossly sinister about having been promised… Jennifer? Was that the implication?
Nils I know you were super curious about Loren sensing something had happened. I was a little frustrated at that part of the story, it felt like GGK needed him out of the way or he’d have stopped Paul, so he sent him for a rather pointless jolly on his horse 😂
Nils: Agreed! That scene just spoke of plot convenience! I mean Loren only makes it halfway on his travels to find Dave and then has to rush back because he knows trouble is coming, and he even knows he won’t make it back in time! That felt a bit clunky, no? However I did like the sense of impending doom that plays out for both chapters seven and eight.
Scarlett: Ahh, you all noticed that too. I was wondering how GGK is working it all out.
Beth: I’m always here for a bit of impending doom. At this point, I’m feeling really sorry for Dave. It’s like no-one’s taking his disappearance seriously?! None of the main four seem to care very much that he’s still missing?
Scarlett: Oh yeah, he has been out of the picture, but I do feel that he has come up just in passing dialogue in regards to Kim wondering about him.
Beth: poor Dave, only Kim cares!
Nils: What do we make of this cauldron they want? What do you think the cauldron will do?
Beth: It’s hard to tell with this book whether it’s a literal cauldron – another magical item like the ones Ysanne has squirreled away – or if it’s something more metaphorical, like a person or a place. Not sure on this one yet!
Scarlett: I love how everyone is picking up different elements and they stick differently. The cauldron is real, I think. But I am also trying to figure out what is metaphorical and what isn’t.
Nils: There’s so much to unpack, Scarlett.
And yes Beth, that bit with Jennifer reeked of being really creepy. Especially the magically squeezed nipples as a form of punishment!
Beth: that was pretty bizarre!!
Scarlett: It may be just me, but so fare all of GGK’s references/scenes of sexual nature and situations have been a bit odd!?
Beth: Only a bit??
Nils: They have!! Hence the name Pervy Prince!
4. Between the children’s game and Kim’s dream, not to mention Ysanne’s mutterings to herself, prophecy is a key element weaving through this story. What are your reactions to the various foretellings thus far?
Nils: Confession! I adore prophecies! They are like my biggest weakness in fantasy books, if there is a prophecy I’m fully invested to see how it goes.
Beth: Prophecies are always pretty fun, but I’m glad that little girl is off the streets and can stop terrorising all the other little kids.
Scarlett: The girl is an element I really like. It has this horroresque sort of vibe! I do love prophecies too and there have been quite a few so far and I am intrigued by who Kim is becoming and where it will lead.
Beth: Intrigued but also slightly worried!
Nils: I really do enjoy seeing Kim’s dreams, her obscure riddled visions of what is to come, her veiled prophecies.
Beth: *bzzbzz* Nils – WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS BETH???
Nils: Yes Beth, what do you think it means?!
Beth: I think it means everything and nothing!!
Nils: I also like Ysanne, who is hiding so much from Kim, she’s mysterious and I can’t fully puzzle her out but I like that. Yet both characters frustrate me in the way that they never try to work out what these visions foretell, they never try to prevent what is to come, and for me, the whole point of a prophecy is to do exactly that, even if you don’t stop them from playing out you at least try. Therefore in my opinion the prophecies are becoming redundant.
Beth: Oh Nils that’s such a good point, I hadn’t really considered that. It is frustrating that everything Kim and Ysanne are doing seems to be super super important, and Ysanne seems really sad about something she knows is to come, something that will happen to Kim, but there seems to be a staticity about them, a lack of urgency to their actions.
Scarlett: Yes, very good point. I usually don’t like it when characters don’t have the agency to stand up for something or begin to take action. There is is veil over their part of the story and I do think Ysanne knows something, as you said, Beth.
Beth: ooh beautifully put Scarlett! That’s exactly what it’s like!
Scarlett: At the same time, I am enjoying the flow of these two characters, it’s sort of quiet…but not for long I venture.
5. Let’s address the massive sacrificial magical tree in the room – would you have offered yourself in Paul’s shoes?
Beth: I mean, no?? But then I’m not in the kind of dark place Paul seems to be? I’m not sure what to make of his reasoning.
Nils: Do we know exactly why he blames himself for Rachel’s death? Why did she die? I feel like that either hasn’t been revealed yet, or I’ve missed it.
Scarlett: I do want to know who Rachel was to him and what exactly happened. That has not been revealed so far. It was quite dramatic though. I feel Paul’s struggle, but I am not sure if I would have offered myself as he is.
Beth: Yes, same here! I feel sorry for him, but I’d like to know why now. The mystery of Rachel – there’s only been hints, something about a dark rainy night, and ending up in hospital – my gut says car crash and he was the driver?
Nils: That’s a really good theory Beth. If he was driving that would explain the guilt he seems to feel.
Beth: I guess, if he’s going to end his life, doing it in a way that helps others is… something.
Is it selfless? Or is it some kind of martyr complex in play? The king has apparently shirked his responsibilities, and I really don’t think it’s fair Paul has come along and done his job for him.
Scarlett: Very good point, Beth, about the martyr complex. What difference does it make though in Fionavar is my thought!?
Beth: That is the question!
Nils: If I’d been in Fionavar longer and had some sort of emotional connection to the land, then yeah I’d sacrifice myself for it. No way would I sacrifice myself because the selfish king won’t, and certainly not after only being there a few days.
Beth: It’s almost impulsive, isn’t it?
Nils: It feels too impulsive, to the point of not really believable. I guess in a way though it reflects how unstable Paul is, how much his character is suffering.
Beth: Unstable’s a good word for it!
Scarlett: I’m not sure about this one. GGK is offering a complex set of characters and situations.
Nils: I don’t feel the characters are overly complex though? In some ways they feel stereotypical but that might just be me as I like to really delve deep into characters and their mindsets.
Yet I’d like to make it clear, if I knew my best friend was depressed and suicidal as soon as I knew they were missing I’d try my damn best to find them, not get distracted by a song in the tavern!! Ugh I was so mad at Kevin for that!
Scarlett: Lol, so true!
Beth: Aw Nils! I’d come find you too <3
Nils: Beth if you haven’t texted me in a day, I’d search everywhere to find you! lol!
Beth: Oh! What do we make of, presumably, the missing son (who is also Ysanne’s handiman?) turning up and berating Paul?
Nils: Ooh Beth is that who that was? Aileron?
Beth: I think so?
Nils: I was confused by that part. What did you think Scarlett?
Scarlett: I was irked by it. Nice interlude on GGK’s part or how can this happen? It felt out of place for me.
6. There were two pretty major battles this week. The lios alfar were slaughtered by Galadan, and Paul witnessed a truly moving fight between Galadan and his mysterious canine protector. What were your reactions?
Nils: Ok this was my favourite part we’ve read so far, that fight scene was so captivating and brutal.
Beth: It really was set apart from the rest so far, wasn’t it? It felt properly momentous.
Scarlett: It also came on quickly, I thought. It just all shifted and here we were!
Beth: I’m finding a lot of things like that, I figured it was part and parcel of the head hopping!
Nils: You’re right but I kind of liked that though, Scarlett.
I’m glad you felt the same Beth! I was so eager for you to reach that chapter ! I also enjoyed Kay’s prose during the scene too:
Over and over on the sodden ground they rolled, indistinguishable, one contorted shape that embodied all the endless conflict of Light and Dark in all the turning worlds.
Then the world turned enough, finally, for the moon to rise above the trees. Only a crescent she was, the last thin, pale sliver before the dark of tomorrow. But she was still there, still glorious, a light.
I love how poetic this is, and how striking the imagery is. I’ve seen a lot of people call Kay’s writing as “purple prose” but I haven’t really felt that way, in all honesty I haven’t been overly impressed with his style until now. This was written so beautifully and reflects my favourite type of prose, flowery yet dark.
Scarlett: This was a very beautiful prose passage, I remember and a big part of what I enjoy in fantasy. It implies so much beauty and endurance or pain simultaneously. It’s timeless and worth a reread over and over to pick up different vibes every time.
Beth: He really did manage to convey that sense of endurance Scarlett!
I totally agree with you Nils, I hadn’t really considered it as all that purple, but then for the most part I don’t usually mind purple prose, so if something is just, I don’t know, lilac, it kind of goes under my radar.
Nils: Lilic is a good word! It reminds me of Donna Tart’s prose, but let’s not piss off all the Donna Tart fans!
Going back to Galadan and the hound’s fight, I also liked that neither side was killed, so you just know there is more conflict to come.
Beth: That felt symbolic in of itself, didn’t it? These two forces coming together and unable to exist either with or without each other.
Scarlett: Yes, yes. Very much that, Beth.
7. There’s still no sign of Dave! First time readers – any theories? Revisitors, do you recall if you had any opinions on this before?
Beth: Considering the missing prince was hiding in plain sight the whole time, I’m wondering if something similar is going on with Dave. He’s been missing for the majority of the book, which seems an odd story-telling choice! My bet is on the dog…
Nils: I really like your theory!
Scarlett: How interesting. I didn’t even think of that, Beth! What a great thought. All I am thinking is that we will be in for a surprise, I bet. There is definitely a big reason for it.
Beth: Yes! It definitely feels like we have some big twists in store! At least, I hope we do 😂
Nils: I kind of hope it is Dave, and that his hound form has turned him into a nicer character than he was at the start of the book!!
Beth: I don’t think he was necessarily not a nice person at the start, just grumpy and not sure what to do with himself around others, like he had some kind of social anxiety. So again, I do hope it is him and it’s like an opportunity for others to see his true worth? Like he’s literally the underdog
Scarlett: Ahhh, yes. That would be amazing.
Nils: Yes, the literal underdog! And I think you’re right actually, he’s just the grump of the group.
Any other thoughts this week?
Beth: Did Ysanne kill herself? It left her on quite an ominous note, didn’t it!
Nils: I wondered that too! I remember WhatsApping you asking what Ysanne did with the dagger and we were both stumped.
Scarlett: I thought so. Again, with GGK’s prose, it is hard to tell when he lingers and doesn’t say.
Beth: So much subtlety!
We also went back to Princess Sharra… there was something said between her and her father and it seemed important but I can’t remember what it was now… OH and she had the guard whipped or something didn’t she? Do we think the prince has potentially started a war here??
Nils: Ooh interesting!! I hadn’t even given that much thought! You could be right there though.
Scarlett: So observant, Beth.
Beth: I’m observant at the time, then promptly forget what it was I observed 🤣🤣
Scarlett: In that moment, I felt like it was important, but then the story goes on and my thoughts just get buried in the next scene, to be honest. Overall though I am enjoying it. It is so mysterious and fantastical. And I know that wolves have such a stigma attached to them, but I am so loving that they are in this novel. With so much “purple prose” and beautiful scenery, I feel they are the perfect choice in this story and he describes them so well too.
Beth: I’m a little sad that they’re playing the part of the dark side, but I guess this story is part of the body of cultural work that today’s fantasy is in answer to
We hope you enjoyed this week’s discussion!
Next week, we’ll be discussing chapters nine to twelve.