Recently I decided to reread the Fionavar Tapestry books by Guy Gavriel Kay. It has been at least twenty years since I read them, but they have remained strong in my memory all that time. Rereading them has not altered my perception. Kay’s blending of memorable characters, mythic themes and a sense of hope still resonates with me. Some people might argue that the books are a poor imitation of Tolkien, however I think they are a powerful statement of hope in time of war in a story with some grimly, dark scenes like some modern fantasy books taking prominent positions now.
The trilogy takes place on the world of Fionavar, the first of all worlds created by the Weaver, the main god who weaves all creation at the loom. On Fionavar are many lesser gods such as Ceinwen the huntress, Dana the moon goddess and Mornir the sky god. The are not supposed to intervene in human affairs, but sometimes do. Many are responsible for the Andain-half human, half god children who can work either for or against humans. The dark, evil lord who needs to be defeated is called Rakoth Maugrim. He has been imprisoned for a thousand years, chained under a volcano. When he breaks free, the struggle for Fionavar and the universe begins.
The Summer Tree begins the trilogy with five Canadian college students transported by a wizard to the world of Fionavar. Once there, they find themselves caught up in the growing troubles of the world. There is an unending drought in Brennin, the main nation that takes the lead in the story. The kingdom has an elderly king whose two sons are questionable heirs. One is in exile and the younger son Diarmuid tends to be wild and unpredictable. Jennifer, Paul, Kevin, Kim and David begin to find different roles in the story. Kim finds herself being trained as a seer by Ysanne. Jennifer cements her friendship with the mage Loren Silver Cloak and his source Matt. Paul and Kevin are adopted into prince Diarmuid’s band. David is separated from his friends, lost among the nomadic Dalrei. Kay weaves various mythologies together to create vivid images and uneasy resolutions for the characters in the book.
In the second book, The Wandering Fire, things change for everyone. Mr. Kay introduces new elements into the story adding Arthurian characters to the epic fantasy and enhancing the story with a new theme. The students return to Fionavar facing an endless winter created by Rakoth Maugrim. They return with the Warrior who is King Arthur. He has been condemned to relive his life over and over until a final battle as punishment for killing the children to try to circumvent his fate. It is discovered that Jennifer is Guenevere and their tragic story begins to play out again on Fionavar. Two groups break off to go on separate quests. One group goes to an island to stop a traitor mage. The other group travels to the temple of the goddess to seek an end of the winter. Some events are resolved while new ones emerge making this a strong middle book.
The final book, The Darkest Road, finds all the characters must come together for the final battle to save Fionavar. Mr. Kay emphasizes the importance of the theme of the choice given by free will over fate or destiny. This theme is demonstrated through different characters. Jennifer’s son Darien must decide whether to serve Evil or Good on his own without any advice from anyone. The author uses the Wild Hunt as the random thread of the tapestry. Finn is the character who leaves his loving family to lead the Hunt, which kills indiscriminately. A young Dalrei boy, Tabor, rides a winged unicorn. Every time he rides her, he becomes more distant from his family and world, seeing to fade away. The Arthurian characters strive to break their endless cycle while the remaining students from Canada play their roles to the bittersweet end with their own decisions. The trilogy comes to a satisfying, poignant conclusion.
Rereading the Fionavar Tapestry brought back my emotions and memories from the first time I read these books. The author’s blending of Arthurian characters, mythic themes and epic fantasy tropes make the books a powerful, memorable reading experience. I gained a new perspective from the rereading and the twenty years of life experience that helped change my perspective. Readers will experience sad moments that bring tears and happy ones that give hope. The books are worth seeking out and reading.