The Fionavar Tapestry

The Fionavar Tapestry

by Guy Gavriel Kay

In the three novels that make up the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy collected in this omnibus edition (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road), five University of Toronto students find themselves transported to a magical land to do battle with the forces of evil.

They join mages, elves, dwarves, and the forces of the High King of Brennin to do battle with Maugrim, where Kay's imaginative powers as a world-builder come to the fore.

He stunningly weaves Arthurian legends into the fluid mix of Celtic, Nordic, and Teutonic, creating a grand fantasy that sweeps readers into a heroic struggle that the author makes all the more memorable because of the tributes he pays to past masters.

The trilogy is a grand homage to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, but while the echoes of Tolkien's masterwork are very real, the books offer the wonderful taste of a new fantasy writer cutting his teeth at the foot of a master.

Kay is undoubtedly one of the Canadian masters of high fantasy, and The Fionavar Tapestry is one of his most enduring works.

  • Series: The Fionavar Tapestry
  • Language: English
  • Category: Fantasy
  • Rating: 4.21
  • Pages: 792
  • Publish Date: 1995 by HarperCollins Publishers Canada
  • Isbn10: 0006479502
  • Isbn13: 9780006479505

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This trilogy has taken over the TOP SPOT on my list of "heroic" fantasy trilogies, knocking the standard, LOTR, down to number two. In many ways the plot of The Fionavar Trilogy follows the classic heroic fantasy script created by LOTR though, in my opinion, in such a way as to be wholly original and of its own making. The execution of the plot is superb and the tension and the threat builds up through each book until you get to, in my opinion, the single best ending to a fantasy trilogy ever.

though, I must confess that as much as I loved LOTR, The Fionavar Tapestry far surpasses it on so many levels. The Fionavar Tapestry now holds my #1 top spot of Best Epic Fantasy Trilogy of All Time. In truth, there's isn't anything in this story that I'm likely to forget. To paraphrase: "There were so many things warring for a place in my heart: joy and deep sorrow, pain and infinite relief." This sums up how I felt upon completion of this most exceptional story.

As fans of The Fionavar Tapestry rightly point out, clichéd fantasy is not necessarily bad fantasy. I shall compare The Fionavar Tapestry unfavourably with The Briar King , a book which I called, "formulaic fantasy at its most derivative." Nevertheless, there were tiny, inscrutable angels-on-the-heads-of-pins moments in The Briar King where I thought the book might improve. Paul is depressed and so naturally goes to hang himself on a tree but then gets resurrected and becomes a moody not-quite-powerful person. Jennifer gets raped by the Dark Lord and his Dwarf minion because the Dark Lord is horny after spending 1000 years beneath a mountain, even though he knows that if he has a son it will be his undoing (apparently the "true world" has no contraceptives). Few things annoy me more than when a book puts its protagonists in mortal danger only for a god to suddenly come along and save them, or for one of the protagonists to realize how to use his or her untapped power, or for one of them to simply stand up and say, "Dude, no. I'm, like, Lord of the Summer Tree, so you, like, can't do that to me." Once or twice is fine, because this is fantasy after all. But these deus ex machina rescues are routine in Fionavar, even though the gods aren't supposed to interfere and love to say, "Oh, I'm going to pay the price for this." Related to this problem is the mutability of the main characters' powers/responsibilities/identities. Even as some of them, like Jennifer, discover past identities or, like Kevin, destinies involving sacrifice, the only sense of difference they manifest is that they suddenly "know" what to do and tend to speak in highly stilted, formal language. Yet it's the former phenomenon, this sense of "knowing" that Paul has when he sees Fordaetha or Kim when she decides to help Aileron, that undermines the entire story. If the characters just "know" what to do, because it's part of their destiny or because they're fighting their destiny, the book becomes boring. I just noticed that a large percentage of the unmarried female characters in this book sleep around, and that in general the various societies of Fionavar seem to condone this. The Fionavar Tapestry is 774 pages of the same person talking, albeit through different mouthpieces. I do have one compliment to pay The Fionavar Tapestry: it would make a very good 774-page public service announcement about why you shouldn't take up a mage on his offer to transport you and four of your friends to another world simply so you can be "guests" at a festival.

I prefer reading actual books to electronic versions, but I will purchase the electronic versions also so that I have another fall-back option. So thank you to the people at GoodReads for making this App, thanks to my sister for finding it (the App and the books), and thanks to one of the best reviewers, Stephen, for praising it so highly that we took notice and read them.

Firstly, the characters in this tale are three dimensional with real feelings and conflicts.

The Fionavar Tapestry is among the dwindling numbers of portal fantasy storiesI cant help but feel that if more people read it, then this particular sub-genre would make a roaring comeback beyond the realm of fanfiction. Marcus wastes little time in revealing himself as a mage named Loren Silvercloak from another realmFionavar, the first world created by the Weaverwho has been sent to collect willing travellers from our world to attend an auspicious anniversary of the Kingdom of Paras Derval in Fionavar. Kim, Kevin, Jennifer, Paul, and Dave agree in quite short ordertheir few qualms explained away by Marcus or by each other. Kim, Kevin, Jennifer, Paul, and Dave are held together by varying degrees of friendship. Despite the celebrations at hand, Kim, Kevin, Jennifer, Paul, and Dave discover a world on the brink of not only drought and strife, but a darkness that has not been known there in over a thousand years. I like having someone to root for, characters to care about not just in spite of their faults and their transgressions, but because they are good people trying to do the right things to fix their broken relationships, offer help where it is needed, and triumph over evil. The Fionavar Tapestry is about a world facing a battle of good and evil, but its also about the individuals who find themselves being drawn deeper into that fight than they may have ever imagined. And for all the feelings Lord of the Rings gave me, The Fionavar Tapestry gave me tenfold more.

There are so many facets to this story and Kay manages to balance them all and keep them active and interesting. With all the various situations occurring and escalating, Kay manages to keep the story moving forward in such a way that the excitement escalates. In the first two books, the characters are somewhat flat in that with all thats happening to them they feel no surprise or wonder or amazement. But by the third book Kay has learned to bring depth to his characters. Kay hones his story well and brings all the elements together in a phenomenal way. Kays style has a poetic and mystical feel to it and he manages to pull this trilogy together and tell a marvellous tale. The characters gain depth, they gain feeling and a sense of awe and wonder, the story pulls together in a multi-layered and intricate telling that keeps the reader in suspense.

But this gets a mere three stars because despite my love of the classic stories, I do prefer magic and myth with a little more realism, as you might find in George RR Martin (indeed even in Tolkein with the struggle in our hearts over the love of power). No character is allowed to stay a mixture of good and evil, and love conquers all. Though on the flip side despite a lack of actual sex scenes, the characters do have a lot of sex that seems recreational and light-- in one of the tribes it is the women who seem to do all the partner choosing- indeed I might even call it a theme of this book!

Folks, if you haven't read this trilogy, you can't say you've covered the basics of high fantasy. There is, of course, a Really Bad Guy, because that's a given in high fantasy. Someone might very well die, and there will be mourning but mostly it's about how Noble it was, and you know that in a few more pages it will be someone else's turn. Remember that thing that happened on page 80 of book one and was never mentioned again? Once you've put this in your brain, you can read some of Kay's later work, which is less vast but perhaps even better written. And then you can read some other attempts at high fantasy, and see how far short some of them fall.