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The Darkest Road (The Fionavar Tapestry, Book 3) (original 1986; edition 1992)

by Guy Gavriel Kay

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2,201342,948 (4.09)67
Member:violetchimaera
Title:The Darkest Road (The Fionavar Tapestry, Book 3)
Authors:Guy Gavriel Kay
Info:Roc (1992), Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
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The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay (1986)

  1. 10
    Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay (Cecrow)
    Cecrow: While it's not an official sequel (thus not tagged with this series), there's some recurring characters from Fionavar.
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Our heroes, once students from Canada, now transformed into part of the warp and weft of legend, commence the final struggle against the Unraveller. Paul, Arthur, and their comrades from Brennin have vanquished Metran at Cader Sedat and brought Lancelot back to complete the Warrior's path of suffering. As her love sails to the seat of the Cauldron of Khath Meigol and her son seeks out her love and understanding, Jennifer awaits in Anor Lisen, where Amairgen's lover once stood her own vigil against his return. Kim goes to free the Paraiko from the svart alfar, but the Baelrath she bears will bend all to a single purpose, one that conflicts with the giants' very nature. The Dalrei, accompanied by Dave, narrowly escaped the destruction of Owein's Hunt unleashed, and fresh from their costly victory against Maugrim's ambush they join with the lios alfar and the men of Brennin and Cathal to mass against Rakoth's forces.

I've been rereading the Fionavar books alongside some friends from a book club, and one of our first time readers felt that Kay has been pulling his punches when it comes to the price paid by the heroes so far and to people staying dead. I've had to bite my lip to refrain from telling her just how much I think this book will change her mind. There's not a single punch pulled here. The final act of the Tapestry is the weightiest, the bloodiest, the most devastating -- but it's not grim. There's been a trend in modern fantasy to embrace the hopeless, and to equate the gravity of a work with its cynicism, but much as I appreciate many examples of that kind of fiction, I think one reason why the Fionavar books sit on my favourites shelf and so many of them don't is because I have an even greater appreciation for the skill required in using that level of darkness to juxtapose the light.

And this is exactly what, in my opinion, elevates The Darkest Road above its predecessors to become the finest work in the trilogy. Some very beloved names die in cruel and unforgiving ways, but what they accomplish with their deaths frames the sacrifice in a way that is as beautiful as it is bitter. Others survive the loss of loves, of family, of cherished companions, and find the strength to keep on fighting to bring the light back into the world and eventually into their own lives. Without that ever popular cynicism to ground it, it should have been either too preachy or too trite. It isn't. It's pitch perfect.

For a book that is a pretty slender tome compared to most fat epic fantasies, it covers an immense amount of ground, bringing payoff to all of the loose strands of story without resulting in the feeling that it's all too neatly tied up in a bow. The only exception are the romantic relationships, where it felt a little too much like Kay needed enough of the surviving characters to be neatly paired off that he forced one or two unions -- or at least the promise of them -- that weren't entirely natural after the groundwork laid, but it was a relatively minor false note that didn't take much page count. The world is so rich at this point, it's impressive that Kay does so much with so little, breathing life into every corner without requiring much in the way of exposition. It's aided by the sense of depth and timelessness brought about by the inclusion of real world mythology, but I continue to admire the deft hand with which he blends the mythological with the imagined, as in so many other authors' hands it's a technique that makes the world feel flat to me, not inhabited. The writing is pure poetry. Those rough edges I pointed to in The Summer Tree have been thoroughly filed away.

And all of these are fantastic qualities for an epic fantasy to have, and if they were all it had it would still be a fantastic novel. But the thing I love most about The Darkest Road is its celebration of free will. Destiny was such a strong theme in The Wandering Fire, and for me Jennifer was the heart and soul of that book because she refused to bow to it, because she made a huge personal sacrifice so that something could exist outside of fate, something random that no one could control -- not even her, for all it might cost her. The release of Owein's Hunt was an interesting exploration of the relationship between destiny and free will as well, because their return came about from Finn accepting his fate as the child who would lead them, but that fate was to be part of something that is inherently chaotic, a wild and capricious force that throws the careful weave of destiny into disarray. And in this final book, so very much hinges on individual choices to defy what seems preordained, even though the price is so high and the hopes so frail. To end an ageless cycle of suffering by taking another man's death, even though you finally have everything to live for; to fly, at the last moment; to jump; to fall; to forgive.

Kay has, I feel, a grasp of something that a lot of fantasy authors miss and that is a keystone in why his work feels so powerful. It's his understanding that even in the middle of world-shaking events, you don't make something truly epic just by going big, you do it by showing the little moments that have big consequences. Because that's what we can relate to, that's what our lives turn on, and that, ultimately, is what worlds turn on, even if the worlds are not our own. And although the Fionavar trilogy is in a rather different vein from the other stories that Kay went on to write, nowhere, perhaps, is that understanding more fully expressed than here in The Darkest Road.

Review from Bookette.net ( )
  Snumpus | Oct 2, 2014 |
Alrighty then... That was sort of tragic. Thank God there were enough joyful moments included to help balance out the sorrowful ones, otherwise I might have jumped off a bridge after finishing this. But wait, no, I'm not complaining.. That's a good thing! Not jumping off of a bridge, that would pretty much suck.. The amazing scope of emotions that this book pushed me through; that's the good thing. That Kay could write something so poignant and yet still hopeful and beautiful... That's talent right there.

I don't even know what to say really. When it comes to romance, when it comes to tragedy, nothing comes close to Kay.

[Name removed, you're welcome] has named me as his Intercedent and bids me tell you, in the presence of all those here, that the sun rises in your daughter’s eyes.

Why the hell does that make me swoon? I don't know. But it's just such a romantic tradition.. Fricken Kay.. So mean and thoughtless, making me all swoony. Doesn't he know I have a reputation to protect?

Let's wrap this up though. Overall, this is a great series. Very romantic and tragic, definitely more emotional / character driven content than action, but not disappointing in the action department when it's called for. I'm giving this one 4.5 stars... Series overall is at about 4. Not my favorite Kay ever written, but definitely more than worthwhile. ( )
  breakofdawn | Jun 11, 2013 |
I liked it in general but the way these college students were able to do the things that they did in Fionavar required a tremendous amount of suspension of disbelief. The worst example was how Dave was able to use an Ax with no training whatsoever. I'm pretty sure an untrained ax wielder on horseback will very quickly kill his horse. ( )
  jjwilson61 | May 27, 2013 |
Like the other books in the series, for me, this is a hard slog at the beginning, but once I get into it I soar right to the end. Even knowing what happens, I still get swept away in it every time. ( )
  rrainer | Apr 30, 2013 |
The final book of the Fionavar Tapestry is, unsurprisingly, the longest. After the long build up of the first two books, the war finally really gets underway. It's still very Lord of the Rings, with all the races joining up and wars and a lone person making his way into the heart of darkness, etc. In another way, it's completely not like Lord of the Rings at all. For one thing, not everyone lives. Boromir aside, most of the main characters in Lord of the Rings survive. Not so with Fionavar. Guy Gavriel Kay, as I have observed before, does not go gently. I kind of want to shake him and curse him, at the same time as admiring what he does with it, and how much he's made me care about the characters.

There are also some beautiful, fitting conclusions that make me very happy.

There are also some rather strange conclusions that baffle me. I think I've observed before that GGK is not so great with intentional romance. I don't feel Paul and Jaelle at all, for example -- I can see what he tries to do with them, and I understand why he thinks they'd be suited to each other in one way, but when it comes down to it, I really don't feel anything about them getting together. Same thing with the hint of romance between Kim and Dave (that follows through into Ysabel). Just... why? Where's it coming from? And yet something that could have been good, like Kim and Aileron -- don't tell me I was the only one? -- doesn't happen at all. These, however, are minor flaws.

Throughout the trilogy, GGK's writing is beautiful. Some of the scenes in this book are so very vivid that they stick in even my very-much-not-visual kind of brain. The image of Leyse floating down to the sea, for example. The death scenes are all lovely in a painful way, especially (for me) the one after the large urgach has been killed. They're like punches in the gut.

I still don't feel like my reviews have managed to capture how much I love this trilogy. Forget the flaws: I love it. I love the characters and the world, and the writing. If you can't get past the flaws, fair enough, but there is a real gem here, I think.

Reread in February 2010. Loved, more than ever, wept over, also probably more than ever. I was reluctant to read the last ten pages because that means my glorious weekend of visiting Fionavar is over. I'm sure I'll be back before too long, though. Fionavar is very rereadable, as I've proved this weekend. It's this, the fact that it breaks me anew every time and makes me love it more than ever, that gets these three books five stars. There are definitely flaws, things that jar, things that don't quite work -- I'm still utterly baffled at the romantic conclusions, and why the hell does Sharra disappear from the narrative the minute her romantic plot ends? -- but it draws me back in every single time. ( )
  shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guy Gavriel Kayprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Springett, MartinCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At the beginning of this road as at the beginning of all roads are my parents, Sybil and Sam Kay. This tapestry is theirs.
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"Do you know the wish of your heart?"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
The concluding novel in Kay's trilogy, The Fionavar Tapestry, opens as the fantasy world's magically prolonged winter yields to spring - but a spring where showers bring death, emptying entire cities. To combat the arch evil Rakoth Maugrim, the High King of Brennin marches north with his army and allies, anticipating a final confrontation. At the same time, a crucial choice faces young Darien, the son produced by Rakoth's rape of Guinevere. Feeling rejected by the good and the light, Darien sets off on the dark road to his father.
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In the final battle between good and evil, five young men and women must each face the malfeasance of Rakoth Maugrim.

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