A Song for Arbonne: Reverberates with the slow, sweet music of humanity

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.

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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. Solid review, I read Song recently and have many of the same thoughts. This book manages to be sexy, action-packed, intriguing and spiritual all together. Every once in a while GGK’s prose becomes a bit overwrought. That’s the main complaint besides the shallowness of one or two evil characters (I’m thinking now of Blaise’s nasty-ass father- still entertaining as an obsessed baddy). Thanks

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew. It’s time for me to read this one again. It’s been a while. I loved the audio version and I’ll choose that format again.

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