I once remember an English teacher scoffing at sci-fi/fantasy novelists as people who couldn't really write, and just used exotic setting to cover this cover-up.
After reading Guy Gavriel Kay, I realised she was right - about most writers. But she made a mistake in dismissing a whole genre - Guy Gavriel Kay shows us that a fantasy can be written with rounded characters who actually develop, and what's more, he actually makes you care what happens to them!
In fact, the traditional story of normal people teaming up with magical beings and strange creatures to defeat evil is merely a backdrop for the personal journeys the five main characters make.
It's a story about overcoming insecurities, working through loss, and pain, and guilt, and learning to live again.
Which happens to be set among princes, elves, mages and dwarves.
It's precisely because Kay uses such well-known fantasy icons that we can see how good a writer he is. It's as if he's thumbing his nose at the scoffers, and saying "look, I can create a moving, touching story with multi-dimensional characters even with these threadbare tools of a traditional Tolkienesque/Aruthurian fantasy". (Although he probably wouldn't put it quite like that!).
And who better to attempt to follow in Tolkien's footsteps than the man chosen to co-write one of his books? (The Silmarillion - though admittedly I haven't read it. Just pointing out the genealogy).
Anyway, if you find most fantasy characters a bit wooden, read this! If you like traditional scenery and sorcery, read this and see it in a differnt light. If you're after different scenery, read one of his other books.