readalong · Wyrd And Wonder

The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay: Read-Along Week 1

One last time, we lovers of a readalong enter the magical world of Fionavar, first of all worlds on the Tapestry, to discover whether the forces of Light will defeat Maugrim at last, or if all will fall to darkness. This is the third book in a series, and these posts will be discussing everything in detail, so please beware of spoilers if you ever plan to pick this story up for yourself! Week one is hosted by yours truly, and there is a lot to talk about, so let us dive straight in!

We’re straight back in where the last book left off – how are you feeling about returning to Fionavar?

Unlike some of my fellow readers, when I first re-entered Kay’s world and his very unique prose style, I almost bounced off. Entering The Summer Tree I didn’t know what to expect and was quite enchanted (minus the very rushed Toronto bits), and coming at The Wandering Fire I was sucked straight in, but it took me a moment to recalibrate when starting The Darkest Road. Maybe because I had just been reading a few stories that are very different in terms of setting, content, and writing style, and my brain was still lingering on them. But I appreciate Kay for picking up where he left off with book two, and especially focusing first on Kim’s plight, because that was the biggest question I had at the end of The Wandering Fire and it did work well to settle me back in.

There are a lot of characters that, whether through long life, immortality, or reincarnation, have long memories. How do you find this shapes the story?

I find it so interesting, because this phenomenon has grown from book one to know. In The Summer Tree we mostly have human characters that are just living out their one lifetime, and though Loren knows a lot about lore (hah, Lore-n) he hasn’t been there to see it happen, and we only have glimpses of the lios alfar. And then Kim becomes a Seer, and Paul embodies a god, and it all builds up from there with old myths coming back to life. It really gives the feeling that things are playing out across all of time, both in the past and in the present, and is an excellent way to give historical exposition without someone just telling a dry story. People who walk the earth still remember the events, and still feel those joys and pains. There are a few moments when I’m a bit annoyed that certain characters suddenly become someone else from the past (yes, this is about Jennifer and Kevin), but overall I think it works really well with the narrative.

What do you make of Galadan’s point of view and what do first time readers think he might do to Jennifer?

I was glad to have this brief point of view, because the last time we were really close to Galadan was in the first book, when his history and his evil scheme are revealed. In some ways I pity him, but mostly I think he’s ridiculous. Dangerous, yes, but ridiculous still. A little like Darien, I feel like Galadan’s story could still go both ways, because while he has sworn himself to Maugrim, they do not share the ultimate goal, and I could see Galadan having a last minute act that unravels some evil plans. But he could also just keep stewing in his anger and make everything worse before the end… I do still appreciate how dramatic he is, though. It makes for good reading even if I am very nervous as to what he will do next, given that his last act was the horrific killing of the Paraiko!

We have finally met the Paraiko and there is a lot to unpack. Here’s your chance to talk about it!

And speaking of the Paraiko… man I was so keen to meet them after the glimpses in The Wandering Fire but at what cost!! These poor gentle giants break my heart more than any other thing has done (yes, I am a bit weird for this) because of how pointlessly evil it is. They posed no threat, and in fact until Kim comes along they had no intention to oppose Maugrim even through peaceful action, it seems, and yet the Dark decided they had to die because they did not serve its cause. I could read a whole book about these majestic beings, especially with such long lives and memories, older even that the lios alfar. In some ways they make me think of Tolkien’s ents, because there seems to be a slowness and majesty to them, but I also like that they are different to anything else I’ve encountered in my reading (though I am sure someone more well read could tell me if they are based on any real-world mythology).

I feel it was somewhat inevitable that they would be drawn into the conflict, because even though Kim would definitely rescue them anyway, there is such an urgency to everything right now that it wouldn’t make sense for her mission to just end with the Paraiko’s freedom. But I really hate what she did, and the way she did it, and how she always talks about shouldering an extra weight every time she brings someone into the conflict, when they are the ones that really have to bear it. Even though her constant mention of the burden of what she is doing is meant to give weight to her actions, for me it cheapens it in a way. I can’t explain much better than that, but it’s almost like it’s drawing too much attention to the pain before it even happens, and so I am not as emotionally invested in the pain of those it really affects. Like, with Arthur, I know he is sad and regal and heavy-hearted because Kim told me he will be, rather than simply seeing it in his actions and speech. I fear this makes no sense, and it’s just me being hung up on writing techniques, so back to the story…

Was it really necessary for Kim to give so many people a front row seat to Jennifer’s worst pain? That really made me recoil. The Paraiko don’t know Jennifer, they don’t have a right to see what she went through, and it’s not the only terrible thing Maugrim has done since he returned. Why couldn’t Kim have shown a montage of the suffering that has gripped Fionavar since the end of book one, the starvation that came with winter, the massacres in battle, the deadly rain, and maybe a glimpse of Jen’s pain, without broadcasting every horrible detail. As a younger reader I might not have questioned this, and I do want to know what reception of it was at the time, but there’s something icky about it that I can’t ignore now as an adult woman…

As both of the previous books, The Darkest Road is very heavy on sacrifice and it doesn’t seem to be easing off anytime soon. As we’re near the beginning of the end, do you have any predictions or thoughts for this book?

At this point, I would not be surprised if Christ himself were to come in and offer his sacrifice, except we’ve already had someone hanging on a tree so maybe not… but yes, sacrifice is rife, and it seems the only way to defeat evil. Starting with Paul and never really stopping from there, so many characters have already given so much of themselves – and a lot have given, or are giving, their lives – to further the cause. Some, like Paul and Matt, get their lives back, though they are changed by the experience, but others, like Kevin, must live on only in memory. It makes for a very emotional story, and one in which anyone might die before all is said and done. I have just read the Book Forager’s post, and she predicts that almost all our main people won’t live to see the end, and I can very much see where she’s coming from. All except Dave have this tragic aura hanging over them, and even if all of them make it, they most definitely will not be who they were when they first entered Fionavar. But I am also holding out for Dave to make it through, and maybe go and confront his family now that he is more sure of himself, and then return to Fionavar and marry Torc.

Of the natives to Fionavar, many others are also quite tragic… I don’t fully know what is happening to Tabor, but I think his demise is a given, as I don’t see him sitting out of the last battle. Aileron, too, is way too willing to sacrifice himself to the cause of victory, and it may be that Diar becomes king after all, perhaps more mature given all he’s witnessed and with smart queen Sharra at his side. I wouldn’t be surprised if after everything, any remaining lios alfar decide to leave and said West, in true Tolkien style, grieving all who died and all who never made it across the sea through the centuries. We haven’t seen Darien at all yet, but he will obviously be a key part of events, and I really can’t see which way things will go with him, and how Maugrim can truly be defeated if he is outside time. Will it not all be futile? How will those left feel at the end, if their hard won victory does not guarantee permanent safety? All this to say, that whatever ending Kay has in store for us, it will certainly be bittersweet, as all his stories seem to be.

10 thoughts on “The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay: Read-Along Week 1

  1. Galadan is the Most Dramatic and my word the world could have been saved some pain if he’d had a good therapist. I’m fascinated by the lengths and depths he goes to to orchestrate Maugrim’s return because he can’t see a way to destroy the world without him even though he knows it isn’t Maugrim’s goal. I’m not clear whether he’s willing to accept Maugrim ruling over the ruins as second best, or if he really thinks there’ll be a point where he can derail the evil train and destroy everything. But it does make him very unpredictable, whilst still being the sort of efficiently evil, ruthless mastermind I kinda enjoy on the villain team.

    I think the key to Galadan targeting the Paraiko is that _when_ they have engaged in the past – and it seems like that was only ever Connla? And they banished him in punishment for doing so – they are capable of unimaginable feats of magic. Connla bound the Wild Hunt (albeit at the Hunt’s request; I don’t think it would have been possible without their consent) and created the Cauldron – if a rogue Paraiko agreed to oppose Maugrim, who knows what they might do? So I can see why he’d target them, but it breaks my heart that he does (and how he does it).

    I am 100% in agreement with you about the way Kim used Jennifer. I didn’t remember this AT ALL – and it made me so mad. As you say, Maugrim is responsible for so much horror and pain and terror; I have so much side-eye for this being the thing that somehow makes the Paraiko agree that they will engage with countering Maugrim’s evil (albeit in their own way, by mitigating his harm; and I love that they do this). Plus it feels like another violation for Jennifer, and it’s just not okay.

    Yep, still mad.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I completely forgot that the Paraiko made the Cauldron! Duh, that makes a lot more sense… but I am very eager to see how Galadan’s story plays out, and by eager I mean: terrified of what he might do before he meets his end.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Everyone loves the Paraiko it seems…

    I think it’s a good point that we don’t really get much in the heads of the people affected by what Kim does. I think it’s to try and keep the story lean, but it’d be nice to get a view inside. I think it’s worth noting though that GGK doesn’t spend much time in the heads of the more inhuman participants – brief glimpses inside some of the Lios Alfar and Galadan, and quite a bit inside Flidais, but the more remote and different a character is, the less he shows us inside.

    I never questioned Kim using Jenn though and I think now I’ve thought about it, I still don’t. I’m not saying Kim does the right thing, but instinctively reaching for the evil that’s the most personal to her, both in terms of knowing who went through it and having been a witness? Makes total sense. And I think we’re very clearly meant to see Kim’s actions aren’t 100% right here too – her levels of angst make that too loud for me.

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