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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 13 June 2009
Anybody who remembers the cartoon series of Dungeons and Dragons from the 1980's will be familiar with the premise of this book - 5 college kids from modern day (well, circa 1983) Toronto are taken to a parallel world where magic and fantasy creatures abound.

The concept has been done before, most famously in the Narnia series. It's not a particular favourite of mine but I was willing to give it a try as the book had several good reviews.

To be honest the first quarter of the book isn't too promising. It's a bit slow and the narrative style seems to swing backwards and forwards between a Lord of the Rings style (lots of foretolds and forebades) and a more modern vernacular. This swinging starts to jar a little after a while. At one point even the author seems to get a bit confused and has one nomadic plains rider saying "We did all right back there" and I almost expected them to start high fiving.

The book also seems to fall into the common fantasy novel traps in that (i) the world they are taken to seems to have been stuck at a 13th century level of development for the last thousand years and (ii) despite this the students seem to have little difficulty in assimilating to their circumstances .

It is worth sticking with the book, though as it really picks up pace after the first 100 or so pages and the storytelling style becomes more consistent. The action starts to come thick and fast and it starts filling in a lot more of the history and backstory that it alludes to at the start of the book.

It does seem to set up the second book well, which I have yet to read.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book, with the warning that it might not immediately appeal.
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on 27 February 2001
The Summer Tree is the first book in The Fionavar Tapestry series (continuing with The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road).
At Loren Silvercloak the mage's bidding, Kevin, Kim, Jennifer, Paul and Dave, five University students from Toronto, 'cross' into the Kingdom of Fionavar, the First of all Worlds, to help him in an oncoming war against Rakoth the Unraveller, and thus fulfil their destinies.
Like the five heroes, the reader is teleported into a land of magic and fantasy which the author only describes little by little. Although certainly used as a stylistic device, this sometimes makes it hard to understand the ins and outs of certain characters' actions. In the same vein, I also found the few sex scenes somewhat a bit out of place and unpoetic. Anyway, looking back upon it, I realize these were just details.
And indeed, as you turn the pages and learn more about the people and history of Fionavar and about the role the heroes have to play in it, the book really turns out to be enthralling and hard to put down. I particularly enjoyed the third part, where Dave is taken in by a tribe of hunters called the Dalrei, and learns about their customs and rites, to finally risk his own life for them.
Although at first I was a bit sceptical about the mixing of today's world with fantasy, in the end I really liked this book a lot and I'm looking forward to reading the next two. So don't let the first 150 pages or so get you down and read on, it's definitely worth it!
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on 18 September 2001
I more or less reluctantly started reading The Summer Tree, after fierce recommendations from a friend. Two days and a good cry later, I had finished what turned out to be one of the great reading experiences of my life so far. And I read A LOT! The five main characters, all in their mid twenties, are transported from modern day Toronto to a world beyond ours called Fionavar. That basic premise has of course been done plenty of times before, but what kept me locked in my flat for the whole weekend with an unplugged phone wasn't the initial plot or lure of a magical world beyond ours. It was the absolute conviction that these characters, every single one, had a life and a past and a future which I couldn't wait to find out more about. It is obvious that Guy Gavriel Kay researches his novels in both mythology and our own history with meticulous care so that the framework of the people inhabiting these worlds is seamless and sparkling with individual life. Much of the story of The Summer Tree and the two sequels comprising the Fionavar Trilogy, follows the various journeys of the five Torontians plunged in to this ancient, often perplexingly different world. Their journeys and adventures are highly physical, there a mountains climbed and oceans crossed, but as in all good storytelling, the inward journeys match the outward plot in complexity and tension. Paul, Kim, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their reasons for choosing to "escape" to Fionavar. Dave, always the gruff outsider, is - reluctantly - drawn into the community of the Dalrei, a plains people embracing his qualities of physical courage and determination. Kim and Paul discover powers of their own which can help to match, and battle, the evil unleashed in the Unraveller, a god outside time whose comparison in our world it is not difficult to guess at. Jennifer faces a dark destiny, but with the glimmer of a promise of something both unexpected and healing lying further ahead. Surrounding them are gods and goddesses, mythical creatures and humans, all of which are given a character you are made to believe in by the sheer force of the writer's imagination and skill. I would describe myself usually as a non-fantasy reader but all the same this is a great novel starting a great trilogy and I recommend it for everyone, whatever your usual reading habits are!
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on 25 October 2003
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.
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on 7 October 2006
Book 1 of the Fionavar Tapestry is very enjoyable. It's original, intriguing and promising. The mythology described in this book is every Fantasy fan's dream: it has been thoroughly thought of and provides a wealth of information as to a different world's creation and history. The characters are also very well conceived and described. consistent and you will not have a problem identifying with any of them.

The only drawback is Kay's inclination to whip the reader with overly complicated descriptions of his characters' psychological states and landscapes which quite frankly feel a little cheesy after the first 3 pages! In addition, he tends to stick to stereotypical descriptions that are quite banal by now (dwarves are miners, elves stick to the woods bla bla bla) which kind of drags down the originality element which is a real shame as the story itself is very unusual!

Apart from the different strands of the story being slightly predictable this book boasts a great ending which literally leaves you hanging in suspense and reaching over for the second book where the story starts to get boring... (see review of 'The Wandering Fire' for more information
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on 1 September 2011
There are many Lord of the Rings clones out there and this is definitely one of them. What marks the Fionavar Tapestry out is that it actually tries out new ideas and explores some ancient ones.

The milieu of Fionavar is more overtly Celtic than LOTR. Both books draw heavily on both Germanic and Celtic source material but the balance is more the opposite way round here. A closer antecedent are the excellent children's fantasies The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath by Alan Garner, which use the same mix of svart and lios alfar (goblins and elves) plus dwarves.

There have been criticisms of the portrayal of the races elsewhere. To my way of thinking, if you are drawing upon stereotypes then you should largely stick to them - otherwise you end up with a travesty such as Orcs: Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, Warriors of the Tempest (Gollancz S.F.). Yes, in fantasy, you expect dwarves to live underground, elves to be tree-huggers and goblins to be little, nasty and vicious.

The author adds some new races of his own; the urgach with their six-legged mounts, the Paraiko who are not your typical giants (although a nod towards the giants in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever: "Lord Foul's Bane", "Illearth War" and "Power That Preserves", perhaps?) and the demigod race of the andain, whose lord is a servant of evil but they are not themselves committed to one side or the other.

In a final word, although the themes are to an extent hackneyed, the story itself is not and contains its own unique path towards the inevitable confrontation between good and evil. That, surely, is the mark of a successful genre novel.
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on 20 April 2006
Guy Gavriel Kay and the Fionavar Tapestry - what can I say except it is one of the best trilogies I have ever read and, in fact, this trilogy was the first one I ever read, several years ago when it was first published. I have read a great deal since, and with, perhaps, the exception of Tolkein, Maggie Furey and Katherine Kerr, I have found nothing to match it!! I have lent it (which I tend not to do too regularly) to a number of friends who have also all loved the story. It really is hard not to get involved and is certainly, in my view, "un-put-downable". If you do buy it, make sure you buy all three together.

Very briefly, it tells the story of five young students (who all know each other)who get transported into another world and eventually discover they all have a part to play in saving that world, Fionavar, though it is at a great cost to themselves. It really is quite a complex story; very moving in places - and nothing I can write here will do it justice. I read a review from "grumpy old man" on another book recently and he stated that he hated it when books were over-rated. I can assure you that this trilogy is not. It is one of my all-time favourites and I would recommend that you buy it!!!! Make sure you don't have any plans for the weekend!

It is very different to his other, more recent works, ie. Tigana, Last Light of the Sun, etc.
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on 1 December 2004
Brought to Fionavar, the five young people are brought into the fight against the Evil One, Maugrim. At the crucial moment of transportation, their bond is broken and they find themselves isolated, without knowledge of the fate of the others.Different positions and tasks seemed to be set just for them, waiting for their arrival, old prophecies come true. Paul(Pwyll), a depressed, sensitive young man has his suicidal path to take, Dave(Davor)the quarterback soon gets respected in his desert tribe... The women find even harder and much worse tasks, one even ending up in Maugrims lair..
The book is full of new Fantasy creatures and places, mixed with Norse and Keltic lore. Many creatures are similar to those we know, many themes familiar to us.

Kay manages to bring forth an exciting story well worth reading!
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on 22 May 2015
it took me a while to get into, it is very much like Lord of the rings. It has however got its own spark of originality and I am currently enjoying the second book with the third waiting in a near by shelf.
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on 2 June 2000
It's quite a while since I read the first of the trilogy; but I still remember the way it started in a familiar setting and I thought, "it will never work for fantasy. If you start off in the real world, it's never going to carry you beyond it." That's what I still remember most vividly about it: how did I ever think that? A man called David has his name changed to Davor, a barbarian-type character; and you're thinking, "yeah, right." Then, seemingly within minutes, you're thinking: he's both, and I just want him to win. No matter what, it becomes really important. Possibly the strongest empathy for characters I've ever felt, and I can't remember the particulars of their circumstances. This is a sign of great fantasy, I think. You can't tell your friends you've been reading about goblins and fairies; but you can tell them how you got carried along with the characters. Great book. Looking for more of the author's work.
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