The first thought I had when I read the description was, "Gawd, not again *groaning moaning*". I've read attempted to read enough Tolkien wannabes with elves, orcs, and swords, and had enough.
Then, I read extremely favorable reviews on GR about this book. It piqued my curiosity. Wait, what
? This is how Tolkien should be written
Frankly, upon finishing this book, I'm inclined to agree with the favorable critics. This is
very much like LotR, so much that I can see many fans either loving it or hating it. Kay plays and works his magic in Tolkien's idealistic framework. The good v. evil conflict is the same, the inhabitants of Fionavar mirror that of Middle Earth's, and even the characters (particularly the women, though I will get to that) are strikingly similar to the leading lady cast of LotR. So many elements overlap that I initially felt annoyed at the sameness, but, as I got further into the book, I was surprised by how unique this entire story was.
First off, this was an EPIC STORY
. Fionavar, as the first of all worlds, is the core for all our mythology and legends. All other worlds spin off Fionavar, which means Fionavar is home to all these myths. Even though we are viewing this world through the eyes of five seemingly ordinary Canadian university students, Fionavar never ceases to lose that EPIC STORY feel, partially because of the EPIC heroes and villains, and partially because the students themselves attain somewhat EPIC status themselves.
Initially the characters felt a little awkward. Maybe it's a demi generational gap, but the their thoughts and behaviors did not feel natural or all that interesting. I constantly got confused between Kevin and Paul, and felt that the rest were more cardboard-y than alive, especially when they arrived in Fionavar. I took issue that no one questioned how freaking bizarre it was to be taken to a whole different world
But after getting over that initial hump, well, Mind. Blown.
The tale of five university kids stumbling into Fionavar unfolded beautifully. I initially cringed at the thought of modern day people bringing their modern day ideals and airs into a swords-and-sorcery age. But instead of trouncing on customs and cultures, the five took their own unique paths, be it light or very dark. In walking this road, the five were quickly swallowed into Fionavar, body and soul, and became more than just Kevin Laine or just Jennifer Lowell. It actually seems more appropriate to say that they became avatars
of the complex ideals that make up Fionavar. This world is alive
, people. It has its own customs, its own mythos, and its own presence. Very quickly, the book became as much about Fionavar, as it was about the five.
Fionavar is no happy fairy land. It has beauty, grit, complexity, darkness, and corruption, all subtly woven into the narrative by Kay's gorgeous prose. The man can write
, and he does so tastefully. Unlike many modern fantasy writers, nothing about his prose felt gratuitous, and the quality, rather than quantity, of his prose communicated the mood of the scene. I felt completely enraptured by the world of Fionavar, and very, very few books have transported me mind and spirit into its world.
The one major thing that I do take issue with is his treatment of women in the book, particularly Jennifer's story. The reviews prepped me for something awful, and I'm glad I got some notice. Now, since I am affected, I am going to assume that this rape scene has a purpose that will be utterly mind blowing...or else, what the hell, GGK? Elizabeth noted in her review
that GGK writes how he thinks women should behave, and I am inclined to agree. He groups his women into two broad categories: they are either honorable (Kim, Jennifer), if not a bit psycho (the Priestess), or petty and slutty (the Court women, the various tavern girls Diarmiud sleeps with). (Kay's rendition of high fantasy is a little raunchier and sexier than what I remember from LotR, woohoo). Women, perhaps unjustly, are depicted less three dimensionally than others, and do suffer more than men. The ending scene is one example. Another is: the prince embarks on a "quest" with his men to seduce a foreign princess, gets away with it, and in the dizzying elation that follows a mission well accomplished the boys bond over alcohol and more sex with tavern wenches. Later, when the vengeful princess tries to assassinate the prince for her loss of honor, he ends up covering
for her when she is found out. It's a weird dynamic that switched the victim-attacker role in favor of the prince and effectively glazed over the fact that what the prince did to her was a scumbag thing to do.
Overall, a solid four stars to this initial book. Despite some hiccups and my own personal issues, this book was a fantastic introduction to what seems to be an exceedingly epic and personal tale. I am definitely a fan, and will be continuing to read.
And if that doesn't convince you enough, I already bought the next book and have begun reading it at the time of writing this review. 4 STARS AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, especially for fans of epic fantasy and high fantasy.