fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsGuy Gavriel Kay A Song for Arbonne reviewA Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

In this homage to the troubadours and the “court of love” of medieval France, Guy Gavriel Kay comes down from the dizzying heights of The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy and creates a beautiful and memorable tale of mere mortals ensnared by political intrigue, enmity and love. (GGK does allude to Fionavar quite nicely, however, in a brief lullaby.)

While the plot is perhaps too complex for adequate summary here, it’s certainly not too complex for your reading pleasure. At the heart of this tale of an alternate medieval reality is Blaise of Gorhaut (Germany), a knight who has traveled to “sun-blessed” Arbonne (France) for the primary purpose of leaving his past behind. As events unfold, however, Blaise is carried higher and higher into the ranks of Arbonne’s ruling class, and soon he must confront the daunting destiny that his past has placed before him…

Guy Gavriel Kay writes well, as always, and like a good troubadour, he pays tribute to the fantasy genre while ensuring that the reader/listener is surprised and touched by his work. Perhaps most importantly, GGK believes in the beauty of Art and power of Art’s beauty to make more beautiful the things which it depicts, in this case Mankind, Men and Women striving to preserve what is good and noble — that is, to ensure that life’s music does not become harsh noise, but remains forever a soft, bright song… (Thus savor the book’s lyric harmonies.)fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

~Rob Rhodes

Guy Gavriel Kay A Song for Arbonne reviewBlaise, a sellsword from Gorhaut (a violent and chauvinistic northern country), has moved to the warmer country of Arbonne. Blaise doesn’t have much appreciation or tolerance for Arbonne’s womanly culture which is highly influenced by the Court of Love. He also doesn’t have much hope that Arbonne — which values singers over soldiers, and troubadours over troops — will put up much of a fight if Gorhaut decides to try to eradicate Arbonne’s goddess worship.  But what is Blaise doing in Arbonne anyway? Is he hiding, or is he spying?

I immediately fell in love with Blaise, whom we meet as he’s commanding a small group of soldiers who are sneaking onto the holy island of Arbonne’s goddess. They plan to kidnap a troubadour who is sulking after being humiliated by his employer’s wife who screamed loudly when he tried to make good on her disingenuous flirtations. Blaise thinks all of this is incredibly ridiculous and he has little confidence in the men he commands. How can they be manly when they live in this gentle culture?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI guess I liked Blaise because I was thinking the same thing: these guys are a bunch of wusses and this courtly society is shallow and immoral. But Blaise and I learned that when their lives and lifestyle are threatened, the passionate people of Arbonne respond.

Much of the novel’s background information is delivered by several characters’ emotional interior monologues, a technique I like when it’s not overdone to the point that it really slows the action. It’s nearly over-the-top in A Song for Arbonne, but I liked Blaise so much that it worked for me when we were in his head (I won’t mention the occasional head-hopping). I can imagine, however, that this style won’t suit all readers. Kay invests his work with a lot of passion, and sometimes I can sense the purposeful manipulation of my emotions with his fervid prose. A writer is supposed to elicit feeling from me, but I don’t want to notice it happening.

The plot of A Song for Arbonne is original and interesting, though some of the antagonists’ motivations, revealed at the end, seem contrived. I might have believed them if they’d been hinted at earlier, and this would also have helped the bad guys not seem so one-dimensionally bad.

But overall, A Song for Arbonne is a beautiful, sumptuous, emotional novel. I listened to this on audio, performed by Euan Morton. This was the first time I’d heard Mr. Morton and I thought he was perfect for this title. He did a terrific job.

~Kat Hooper

A Song for Arbonne — (1992) Available for download at Audible.comClick here for audio download.  Publisher: Arbonne is a lush, fertile land near the sea, and its people revere music and the Goddess Rian. In Gorhaut, the God Corannos and war are the only considerations. These two countries are on a collision course, which ends in a war where brother fight father — and a life-long friendship ends in death.