fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsepic fantasy book review Guy Gavriel Kay The Fionavar Tapestry 1. The Wandering FireThe Wandering Fire by Guy Gavriel Kay

It’s been 1½ years since I read The Summer Tree, Guy Gavriel Kay’s first novel and the first in his Fionavar Tapestry. I mentioned in the review for that book that I’m an adoring fan of Kay’s later stand-alone novels but that I found The Summer Tree derivative and heavy. I would have happily skipped its sequel, The Wandering Fire, but I had already purchased it at Audible, so I thought I’d give it a chance to win me over. Simon Vance, the narrator, is one of my favorites and his bad Canadian accents were toned down this time, which made him pleasant to listen to, as usual.

In this installment, the five college students are back home in Toronto after Kim whisked them out of Fionavar when she heard Jennifer being tortured after being raped by the dark lord, Rakoth Maugrim. Jennifer became pregnant and has refused to get rid of the baby. Will the son of the dark lord be evil? Are genes destiny, or might love overcome their effect? Meanwhile, the unnatural winter grinds on in Fionavar. The people are starving and the minions of the dark lord are attacking, so Kim goes to Stonehenge to summon Arthur Pendragon and takes him and the rest of the gang back to fight evil in Fionavar.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI felt pretty much the same way about The Wandering Fire as I did about The Summer Tree. Here we get to know our heroes a little better, but they still remain rather shallow even though we spend plenty of time viewing events from their perspectives and watching them act and speak with an abundance of emotion. The villains are similarly thin. The story advances, though not much has been accomplished by the end, and I had the familiar feeling that The Fionavar Tapestry could have been done in two books instead of three.

The story, though derivative (there are so many Tolkienesque elements here), is intriguing, but the addition of King Arthur (and the foreshadowed love triangle with Jennifer and Lancelot) is strange and seems out of place. There are bright patches of humor and wit, especially in the blossoming romance between Sharra and Diarmuid, which has been my favorite plotline in this series.

My main problem with The Fionavar Tapestry is that it’s so unrelievedly heavy and histrionic. The characters, even those from modern Toronto, express almost every thought in intense turgid prose. Everything that happens — every conversation, every fight, every sex scene, every meal — is treated as if it’s the climax of the story. It’s often beautiful, but frankly, it’s exhausting. This is an area where GGK has markedly improved over the years. His later novels are still full of passion, but in these earlier books, each character feels as if he’s likely to explode at any moment if the temperature in Fionavar ever gets above freezing.

Overall, then, The Wandering Fire is a rather conventional high fantasy that suffers from excess weight and pomposity, but it’s easy and exciting to see the early stages of Guy Gavriel Kay’s later greatness here. Fans who are interested in this author’s evolution will want to be familiar with The Fionavar Tapestry, especially since its mythology is alluded to in his later novels.

Published in 1984. The Summer Tree is the first novel of Guy Gavriel Kay’s critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry. Five university students embark on a journey of self-discovery when they enter a realm of wizards and warriors, gods and mythical creatures–and good and evil…It all began with a lecture that introduced five university students to a man who would change their lives, a wizard who would take them from Earth to the heart of the first of all worlds–Fionavar. And take them Loren Silvercloak did, for his need–the need of Fionavar and all the worlds–was great indeed. And in a marvelous land of men and dwarves, of wizards and gods, five young people discovered who they were truly meant to be. For they are a long-awaited part of the pattern known as the Fionavar Tapestry, and only if they accepted their destiny would the armies of the Light stand any chance of surviving the wrath the Unraveller and his minions of darkness intend to unleash upon the world…

The Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest RoadThe Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest RoadThe Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road


  • Kat Hooper

    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.