Behind him now Devin heard a sound and realized that Catriana was weeping. Baerd said, "Brandin made it come to pass that no one living could hear and then remember the name of that land, or of its royal city by the sea or even of that high, golden place of towers on the old road from the mountains. He broke us and he ravaged us. He killed a generation, and then he stripped away our name."

The story:

The Palm is split in two. Two tyrants who, between them, occupy most of the Palm.

Then Sandre, Duke of Astibar, dies. Devin and his fellow musicians are to perform the mourning rituals, which will, if done well, ensure their career.

But Sandre's death is just a part of a plot to overthrow the tyrants. To kill one of the tyrants will only permit the other to gain control over the whole penisula. So they must both die at the same time.

Thoughts about the book:

This is one of Kay's best books. After Fionavar, he took off in his own direction, with his own setting(s). This one is somewhat based on Italy in the middle-ages. Both are split into smaller states, rather than being united.

In his later books, he will use settings far closer to old cultures of our own world, more recognisable. The two moons, he will keep, though.

Perhaps the most compelling thing about Kay's books is how well he writes. He has a way with words that is, in my opinion, pretty much unsurpassed. Like this: "Devin really didn't know why he did it. Even afterwards when so much had come to pass, flowing outwards in all directions like ripples in water from this moment, he was never able to say exactly why he followed her."

There is a promise there, of things to come. And more. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but something about the way he uses words grabs hold of me in a way very few other authors can even come close to.

I have also fallen in love with the concept. To punish a nation by taking away their very name, their history, everything that makes them what they are; and none but the ones born in that land can hear its name and hold it in their memories.

Another thing I find intriguing, are the gods. Or rather, the god and the goddesses. The Triad. They become more than just vague deities that are mentioned in passing, and it is obvious that Kay has put some thought and work into them. There are festivals, priesthoods for each of the Triad, and customs tied to the Palm's religion.

Then there are the characters. There is a depth in the characters here that I find goes deeper than the characters in Fionavar; they are more human, more of a past, more personalities.

The characters are human, in so many ways. They have flaws and strengths, dreams and wishes, they have reasons for what they do. Though the main characters are fairly obviously the good guys, it is difficult to actually put that label on them, because it is too limiting. There is no shining armour, no white horse. There are simply humans.

Kay manages to let us see the tyrants as well as more than just evil conquerors. While they do things that definitely would be defined as evil and cruel, we also get some of their thoughts, some of their reasoning, more complex personalities than just the average main bad guys.

Also, the two tyrants are rather different, in motivation, personality, behaviour, the people they surround themselves with. In pretty much every way apart from both being tyrants and invaders.

There are many minor characters who also have personalities of their own. I really like that. Not just the important minor characters, like Alienor, Rovigo, Alais and Scelto, but the really minor characters, such as the innkeeper Ettocio. He is mentioned in one single scene, and then disappears out of the story again, but he has a personality, he becomes more than just a random innkeeper. For that short time when he is in the story, he becomes alive, like the other characters.

And Kay writes convincing female characters. My impression is that a lot of male writers are unable to create really good, believable female characters. Not so with Kay. It is difficult to describe what, exactly, makes his characters so convincing, but they are.

Take Dianora, for instance. We get a good look at her personality, but also her thoughts, her background, what moves her and so on. And it feels real. Often, I have the impression that male writers tend to use a handful of stereotypes, making the female characters, especially minor ones, indistinguishable from each other. Kay manages to give each of his characters, male or female, distinct personalities.

I would, for instance, very much like to know what happened before the book's start, between Marius, Pigeon One and Pigeon Two. Or perhaps not. Maybe that would have taken away some of the magic of Kay's book, that the characters have pasts that we only get hints about, where we never learn what actually happened.

And then there is Finavir. One of many worlds sent into Time by the gods. The world closest to where the true gods dwell. Finavir. Finvair. I like that touch. It is a reference to the Fionavar Tapestry, to Fionavar, the first world.

I have read it many times. I still cannot read it in one sitting. Not because it is too long; it is not. But simply because it is still too powerful. It deserves and needs to be read in smaller portions, to let the story truly come alive.

This is an excellent book. It is my list of "must read", and on my "must read more than once" list as well. It also was, until Under Heaven, my favourite book by Kay.


About the author Guy Gavriel Kay

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