readalong, Wyrd And Wonder

The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay: Read-Along Week 3

We left so many of our characters poised on the brink of action last week, and now many things that were foretold have come to pass. It’s time for part 3 of this epic read-along, with questions very kindly provided by the mighty Bookforager. As ever, this is a discussion post and will contain spoilers for the entire series up to and including Part III of The Darkest Road.

As a warm-up exercise, let’s talk about Amairgen’s ghost ship, shall we?

This is a section I wouldn’t have minded going on for longer, though at the same time was wishing it to go faster and get back to the action. It was fascinating though! I knew the living passengers would sort of slip out of the real, but to sail in the past was a very cool touch. I mean, I was very sad at the thought of all those people long gone, who are nevertheless real in their lives and happiness hurtling towards their doom. Sighh.

It made me think of the Odyssey in some ways, and I half expected someone to try and leap out of the ship and be lost to time, especially after all the warning, but I suppose it’s good that nobody did. But overall, a perfect physical manifestation of the dance between past and present that pervades this series.

Finally, we’ve met the Dwarves en masse. What were your reactions to the army in the forest of Gwydir, our whistle-stop tour of the Dwarves’ mountain home, the second word-striving between Matt and Kaen, and the judgment of Calor Diman?

Goodness, these dwarves are complex! Though I would have thought that *someone* in the army would have questioned the fact that they’re on their way to support the forces of literal evil? Especially since most of them seem quite happy to accept Matt back after he is crowned again…

But as for the home of the dwarves, it is truly stunning in its descriptions but what I loved even more was the word striving. Whereas last week I found Lancelot’s battle tedious and a bit dramatic, this word-focused challenge was absolutely my cup of tea. As a side note, from a craft perspective I fully understand Kay writing most of Kaen’s speech by focusing on the effect and feel rather than the words themselves.

I did side eye the whole ‘rough and genuine is always better than polished and beautiful’ thing, not because I disagree with it, but just felt it was a bit on the nose. Although, Kay does also like his polished and beautiful (women, mostly) so I suppose I’m just being picky.

Calor Diman was very cool, and I was a bit worried Matt would lose there, but very much enjoyed it. I am a big fan of dragons, so I loved the small inclusion in the story. Also, all of the dwarf section, from the setting to the tension to the dragon and hidden lake, made me think of Eragon and I do wonder if Christopher Paolini ever read these books… it’s also made me want to reread that series quite soon!

Thoughts and feelings on Leyse of the Swan Mark’s chapter, if you please.

I am very torn… it was a lyrical chapter and held a lot of beauty but it made me sad. And not ‘so sad that such beauty is leaving the world’ sad that I get at the end of Return of the King but sadness that this woman, much desired for the entirety of her very long life, can only find her love sparked by the one person who could never love her back. And that her experiencing love means her doom, essentially.

Now I am not well versed in this particular side of Arthurian legend, so I’m not 100% sure what Leyse is supposed to represent, but it just seems a bit ridiculous that she’s waited her very long life for this moment of heartbreak, if you want to call what she experiences love in the first place… also, if I were Lancelot I’d be like: ‘ah here is a beautiful woman who loves me, let me leave the unattainable Guinevere to Arthur and make my happiness elsewhere’ but that type of attitude doesn’t make a worthy saga I suppose.

Kim makes a choice, overruling the demands of the Baelrath. All thoughts and feelings welcome, obviously, but also, why for the Dwarves, but not for the Paraiko??

To quote Grima Wormtongue: a just question my liege. Why not for the Paraiko?? I mean, I am very glad she didn’t bind the most beautiful of all beings to war, especially if it means the end of the magic of Calor Diman, but surely a dragon could do more than peaceful giants…

I suppose Kim’s connection to Matt made her realise the consequences, and that she wouldn’t be able to hide from them but would see them in her friend’s face every time. But it does also make sense for Kim to finally have a moment of rebellion at this, and in a lot of ways I wish we knew more of why the Baelrath was made (if we were told I am sorry I have forgotten) and for it to have a bit more presence on her mind even during the times it’s quiet, a bit like the Ring of Tolkien. Or would that make it too evil? It would be interesting if it manifested itself in a constant nudging at Kim to do something, and that she had to genuinely choose every time.

And here’s the big one: “There is a point beyond which the quest for Light becomes a serving of the Dark.” There has been a lot of talk about the nature of Light and Dark this week. As we approach the completion of this weaving, now seems like a good time to reflect on our understanding of Light and Dark, paying particular attention to how Darien fits into it all.

A big one indeed… I’m not sure I fully know where to start with this! What I have liked this week is the way Kay has brought this blurring of Light and Dark, noting that everyone is capable of both and that it has to be a constant choice. And I’m terms of Darien, his constant choice so far has been to run, not necessarily towards the dark, but towards what he feels is his only option. I really feel for him, and I still don’t think pushing him away was the best choice. But I do think Darien will be the decider, in the end, and I hope for his sake that his ending is not a tragic noble one, and that he is able to know some affection in his life.

In some ways, this whole Light and Dark question would have been more interesting had the forces of Maugrim been more than just creatures of evil with no redeemable qualities because then it would make it harder to justify the killing and war that the Light is gearing up to. I don’t dislike it and it definitely has a place, but I’m glad that a lot of more contemporary stories are opting for more complex morality on both sides of the conflict.

But yes, I am hopeful and scared both for baby Darien. And I was listening to the song ‘White Owl’ by Josh Garrels and thought it quite apt to Darien’s current predicament!

3 thoughts on “The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay: Read-Along Week 3”

  1. Leyse ties to Elaine of Ascolat / the Lady of Shalott who fell in (unrequited) love with Lancelot while she nursed him from a wound to his side and then died of grief when he didn’t reciprocate her feelings – so very similar to what is presented here, although in her case she left instructions to be placed in a boat with a letter and floated down river to Camelot so everyone would know what had(n’t) happened. Lancelot felt awfully guilty to have caused her death and paid for an extravagant funeral.

    I’m with you – I don’t understand why the Dwarves were so very biddable. Kaen beat Matt in a word striving but never actually tried to claim the crown, yet they were willing to join the army of their ancient enemy Rakoth Maugrim on his say-so? And beyond Blöd, nobody offers any argument, they just switch back? There’s a rigid obedience to authority implicit in this that bewilders me given the Dwarves we actually meet!

    …and no, I don’t think we ever find out who made the Baelrath or why. It’s just this power in its own right, flaming commands from Kim’s fingers at key moments.


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