A fan’s review of The Fionavar Tapestry, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Let me begin by saying I dislike Terry Goodkind. It’s not because he writes poorly (although he definitely could write better) or because of that cowboy hat I see him wearing on the inside cover. I dislike Goodkind because he blatantly plargiarises Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Those of us who picked up Jordan (which came out first, btw) before reading Goodkind will recognize many elements from Goodkind’s story that came from WOT, such as the Children of the Light, The Aes Sedai, the Black Ajah, the Seanchan’s adam and damane, and many others. It’s not ‘reusing elements of a fantasy story.’ I’d be surprised at anyone familiar with both stories to say that Goodkind coincidentally came up with his stuff.
Which leads me nicely to Fionavar. You won’t really know about this, but when it comes to Kay, I’m rabid. I’ve read everything else (except one) by him before embarking on FT, and boy was I excited. Up to the first 50 pages.
I’m reading an LOTR clone. There were so many elements borrowed from LOTR I had to check the spine a few times to be sure it’s Kay. Not only were characters similar (lios alfar are elves, svart alfar are orcs, the Council of Mages, a warrior king, dwarves dammit!), but the plot devices as well, most notably the traitor in the midst, and the lonely journey to evil stronghold.
It was like opening your favourite pack of Hobnobs and finding cookies you’d bake in a lazy afternoon.
Granted, not everything’s the same. The story starts with five people from our reality (read: Vancouver) gets transported to Fionavar for a ceremony of sorts by the resident Gandalf named Loren Silvercloak. When they are there, things are not as simple as they seem and before you know it, all five has a hand in saving the First of all worlds. As I mentioned, the main protagonists actually came from Vancouver and isn’t 4 feet in height. While Kay didn’t invent a new Elvish script, he did imbue a sense of history to Fionavar and its populace – a lot of work went into building Fionavar.
I have to say, however, that the story gets better later in the first book, much better in the second, and much much better in the final book, with an excellent and satisfying ending. I persevered because it’s Kay, to be honest, despite my initially strong sense of dislike. I’ve read enough of him to know what he can do, and trusted him to lead me back. And he did (or I would be very mad).
There is a plot twist in the middle of the second book that completely blindsided me. The best way to describe this twist would be: cameo appearance. Suffice to say, I became very interested from that point onwards. Also, an incident in the third book made me inadvertantly say ‘Cool!’ aloud, something no book has done before. There are aspects of the story that seems to add on to the Tolkien original. I’m specifically thinking about the fate of lios alfar who ‘hears their song’ and begins to sail west to a place ‘the Weaver at the Loom built for them alone.’ Sound familiar? There is a twist here that I thought added depth and emotion.
Make no mistake, the Fionavar Tapestry is a very well written piece of fantasy, and if you’ve not sampled good fantasy, you can do much worse than this trilogy. However, it was still, in my mind, an LOTR clone, and my personal bias against something that I can readily identify in another piece of work. Upon finishing this work and savouring the ending, however satisfying, it simply underscores the fact of how much more accomplished his latter works are. Having read this, I have a sudden urge to re-read his Sarantine Mosaic duology, with a renewed sense of anticipation.
All I can say is, if you’ve enjoyed Fionavar and would like to read more, boy, are you in for a ride.


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