Book Discussion: A Song for Arbonne ~CAUTION ~ Contains SPOILERS

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Book Discussion: A Song for Arbonne ~CAUTION ~ Contains SPOILERS

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Jun 9, 2009, 6:55pm

Here's the place for discussion of our June 09 group read, A Song for Arbonne. Spoilers welcome here...Have fun!

Jun 9, 2009, 9:21pm

Ha... I didn't know about this group read, but needing something to read for a few minutes at bedtime last night I grabbed ASfA. It's like I've got ESPN or something. IMHO it's in the middle of GGK's works quality-wise, but that's still quite good. Looking forward to hearing everyone's comments.

Jun 9, 2009, 9:40pm

Oh I love GGK. I read this some time back. I'm going to reread it so I can participate with fresh thoughts.

Edited: Jun 10, 2009, 3:25am

OK, this thread is about the actual book, but I can't help but reflect on how this stands in relationship to some of his other yarns... I have said it before and I say it again; there's a straight line from Tigana over A song for Arbonne to Lions of Al-Rassan - it's like he has used these three books to elaborate on the same basic themes, from different point of views, and exploring much the same characters, giving them different roles and amounts of exposure. A lot of the imagery is recurring, too. I would be interested to hear what the rest of you who've read those other books as well as this thinks of this, if no one objects?

As to the book itself I'm 1/3 through this reread so I won't comment just yet...

Jun 10, 2009, 3:16am

This is my first GGK book and I'm still in the early stages of reading it.

I'm enjoying it immensely.

At first it was a bit confusing how it jumped from character to character and I was having trouble connecting the dots but it has started coming together for me. It probably doesn't help that I read a few pages here and there as I have time instead of just sitting down and reading it.

Jun 10, 2009, 4:17am

I was going to post about the book, but so far people are saying that they are about to read or have just started reading... so I'll leave it until a few more posts have gone up.

Busifer, Hope you don't mind but I'm going to respond to this on your own page. I don't want to inadvertently post spoilers for anyone looking at this thread too soon.

Jun 10, 2009, 6:57am

Calm, I saw your message but the whole idea of the spoiler thread is that people post what some people could think of as spoilers, so... ;-)

What I'm thinking about is for example that GGK seems interested in, for example, the duality of characters like Bertran de Talair who is much related to Alessan (Tigana), ibn Khairan (Lions) or Diarmuid (Fionavar), where I can sense that he had wanted another ending for Diar, using elements of that character in Tigana & Arbonne but finally 'redress' in Lions, where he forces a 'happy' ending (which some people find jarring).

Maybe I should start a separate thread for this? What do you people think?

Jun 10, 2009, 7:52am

Busifer, I think the point of my message is that GGK sees all his worlds as reflections of Fionavar therefore what he is doing is using these separate worlds to explore different outcomes. so of course characters would be very similar and share similar fates.

Edited: Jun 10, 2009, 9:09am

I'm not sure it I agree. I had interpreted it more as a 'grow as you go' exploratory approach than something conscious. It would be interesting to hear him reflect on this!

Jun 10, 2009, 10:17am

Of course the above is just my opinion. I did get the idea from his mentioning of Fionavar in his later novels and I would like to think that it indicates some sort of conscious decision on his part not just a re-exploring of themes. Otherwise I would probably have to re-evaluate my opinion of him as an author.

Jun 10, 2009, 1:42pm

It could be either way, or even both ;-) I interpretation is just that - an interpretation, formed by reading the books plus reading a bit on his site, I cannot point at any specific reason for my opinion, though - I'm open to (most) possibilities :-)

Jun 11, 2009, 10:08am

The contention between male gods and female goddesses is carried forward from Fionavar into Arbonne. One key difference is that in Arbonne there is much less magic. IIRC we see Beatriz "reading" things about Blaise, and healing Valery, and her foresight of the final battle could be considered a form of magic, but I think that's about all, and we see no magic from the followers of Corannos. We don't have the masculine form of magical power a la Loren Silvercloak. It sounds as if Arbonne is the main place where Rian is worshipped; I don't remember any references to her in the other countries. One of Kay's themes here is the impact of the respect for feminine virtues: Arbonne is one of the few places in its world, perhaps the only one, where a woman could rule, and it seems to be the primary place where the arts flourish.

Jun 11, 2009, 1:53pm

Personally I'm the happiest with those of his books featuring the least 'magic', mainly because most of his 'magic' seems to be not of a magical system but from a truly fantastical source, and this is one of those books.

#12 - One of Kay's themes here is the impact of the respect for feminine virtues: Arbonne is one of the few places in its world, perhaps the only one, where a woman could rule, and it seems to be the primary place where the arts flourish.

Considering that some deem him a misogynist I think this is an interesting observation.

Jun 11, 2009, 2:04pm

One of the strange things I found is that my recollection of the book was as Lisseut's story (I hadn't read it for some time) and was surprised that she turned out to be a minor character. It isn't that I didn't remember the story or any of the other characters but that somehow in my memory she was involved in the story a lot more. So I wonder if any one else who is re-reading has a character who stands out for them.

Jun 11, 2009, 2:12pm

Interesting, I hadn't heard him called a misogynist, although I can see some justification for it. My wife (who is also a fan) and I have joked about "Guy Kay babes," because no matter what their other virtues, capabilities, etc., almost all his female characters are described as physically attractive. In Arbonne we have Signe and Ariane, both accomplished leaders, and both beautiful, and Lucianna, who might be a subtle thinker but uses her pulchritude to accomplish her ends. Lisseut, described as somewhat plain, is quite remarkable in that respect.

Jun 11, 2009, 3:18pm

>14 calm: Interesting, this is a first time read for me and I was actually wondering why Lisseut's character was so prominent in the story...I didn't think she really added anything to it but yet she kept popping up.

Jun 11, 2009, 3:49pm

#14 - Yet I think most of them are beautiful because they are strong; that strong people are beautiful in themselves, be they rather plain in actual appearance or not? Not that I think you wrong - I cannot think of a woman described as plump in all of GGK's prose.

In some ways this goes for the male protagonists as well, whether I personally would think their features beautiful. Possibly Crispin, from The Sarantine Mosaic, is an exception - I seem to remember him described as a not very nice OR nice looking fellow.

Even king Ademar of Gorhaut, whose behaviour is decidedly off-putting, to say the least (remember the scene when he is introduced to the story?), is described as "handsome".

Jun 11, 2009, 3:54pm

#16 - I view her as a "bridge" between Blaise and the travelling trobadours, to Aurelian and Jourdain. Without her they could not had featured as much as they did in the story, and they needed to be known and loved by the reader for their deaths to have the intended impact. IMHO.

(I could remember names wrong... I'm pretty sure Aurelian was one of them, but the other tortured by the Gorhauts could be Remy instead of Jourdain? Anyway...)

Jun 11, 2009, 4:08pm

#18 I agree, but I think Lisseut also matters in that she becomes the first significant female composer, extending the participation of Arbonnaise women into this realm that was still male, and I think her experiences as described in the story, her intense involvement in the events, facilitates this change.

#17 You're definitely right about Ademar being described as handsome, but I don't remember GGK's men in general being babes in the same way the women are. Maybe that's because of my gender and preferences, though ;-) I would say that for the women, their strength might be said to result from their beauty rather than vice versa, or simply to be independent. But such generalizations are probably too broad to be meaningful.

Jun 11, 2009, 4:17pm

#19 - Regarding gender: It might be your personal gender preferences ;-) because I think most women like his male protagonists even while they have obvious drawbacks like being embittered or a tendency to treat women like objects or being overly self-centred.

Any woman here willing to confirm or dispute this?

Jun 11, 2009, 4:58pm

#18 - yes, perhaps a bridge, but Bertran also filled that role.

Jun 11, 2009, 5:18pm

Bertran does not fill that role, (IMHO), he is too involved in the politics of the situation and that is pointed out by other characters.
Lisseut is an outsider looking on and involving herself in the story giving Blaise an anchor to something outside of the politics.
ASFA needs a character to link the stories of Blaise and Arbonne. Going back to Busifer's earlier comment I think GGK puts these observers in. Compare the characters of Alvar in Lions of Al-Rassan or Dave in Fionavar to Lisseut.

Jun 11, 2009, 9:00pm

#21, 22: I think everyone is right ;-)

I think Bertran does fill that role at the beginning of the book, coming to Baude to meet Blaise and bringing him back to Barbentain. The initial link must be someone of Blaise's stature, even though he is incognito. Once they arrive in Barbentain, however, Bertran does get caught back up in the politics and is no longer (in an authorial sense) an adequate anchor for Blaise. At that point others take up the role intentionally, including Ariane; Lisseut pokes her nose in and takes on a role as well, giving Blaise a link to someone outside the political structure of Arbonne and also to the community of musicians.

Jun 12, 2009, 12:00am

#23 What a diplomat!

So, now can I go back to the babe vs. hunk discussion kinda sorta...when I read this I felt it was a book written more for a female audience. The whole 'babe' thing never occurred to me until this discussion, and then Busifer brought up the misogynist label so now I'm trying to think back to what I must have missed in the book.

So, tell me, what have I missed?

Jun 12, 2009, 3:36am

What some people complain about is that in most of his books GGK portray women almost as victims, as pawns, with no or little free will. The argument, I think, is that these books are fantasy and the author could chose not to assign women these roles. I, on the other hand, think he is appropriating a (early) medieval setting, and then both men and women lead lives harder than what we in the 'western' world are accustomed to. I think he has to do it this way to make the world credible.

But as an example think of how Ademar of Gorhaut is introduced to us, or about how Lisseut takes it for granted that she has to sleep with different men (when touring castles). To some this is jarring and unnecessary...

Jun 12, 2009, 11:23am

OK, I can see what you mean, and I agree about both men and women having little or no free will in a feudal society and I agree that to write about a feudal society this reality must be reflected.

I actually thought the main female characters of Arbonne were every bit as strong as feminist writer Marion Zimmer Bradley's characters in The Mists of Avalon. I think this is what made it 'feel' like it was written for women for me.

Jun 12, 2009, 11:59am

I agree. I sure didn't feel the author intended misogyny. Indeed, it's an attitude condemned in this novel.

Jun 12, 2009, 2:36pm

I agree with both of you. In fact I've read novels written by known feminists which had a stronger streak of misogyny in them, mainly to prove the point that it's not a worthy attitude (Le Guin's third book in the Annals of the Western shore suite, Powers, comes to mind).

I think good authors go beyond writing yarns intended solely to escapism, while at the same time serving that purpose as well. I for one would not like to read about places where everyone is happy happy all the time. A good story has tension, and tension requires some kind of threat. Or so I think.

Jun 12, 2009, 5:45pm

Busifer, I think you're right about the need for a threat. In ASfA, the threat is generated largely because of Galbert's desire to do away with the tolerance of femininity that Arbonne represents. I would say he is an extreme example of his culture; I don't recall evidence that others, even Ademar, share this particular passion so strongly. Galbert's desires drive virtually all the action, if we believe his claims. What does everyone think: does Galbert in fact foresee and drive all the events in Gorhaut? I find his claim at the end to be a bit much, but other than that I don't really doubt him.

Jun 12, 2009, 7:08pm

I would not regard Kay as a mysogynist writer - right out the gate from Fionavar Tapestry, he's had strong, effective, pro-active female characters balanced by others who were victims, or of a gentle nature to be victimized by the unscrupulous.

That's real.

He doesn't write his women to be men, or fill mens' roles.

There were some fairly gritty female uglies in his Last Light of the Sun - rather graphic ones at that.

That's my opinion - and I've read everything he's written with the (soon to be fixed) exception of his short fiction collection.

Jun 13, 2009, 3:16am

#30 - Same here, and I agree totally with you. I just said that I have known women to say they don't like his fiction because of what they perceive as a touch of misogyny. And after all, it's in the eye of the beholder. Even if I don't agree with them.

#29 - I agree. I wonder if he said he had planned 'everything' just to have the very last word, even at the very last?

I finished this reread last night, and even this third time around I feel the end to be a bit... I don't know. I'm sure the ambivalence is intended, and I don't think GGK is a believer in happy endings, but to end like that, with the vidan of Lisseut - while stylistically a good move (it starts with the vidan of Anselme) what is told there adds nothing much to the story except to further underline a lingering feeling of inadequacy.
Blaise never gets to have a life he himself would had enjoyed, instead he gets to be a puppet, enacting other peoples' ideas about what a king ought to do, an instrument of political needs. Such situations leaves embitterment in it's wake.

Jun 13, 2009, 10:36am

Busifer, I would say that "puppet" is too strong a word. Blaise will never be manipulated as Ademar was. He does say, "But I don't want to be king of Gorhaut," but he is the sort of man who steps up to fill the need he sees for the country he loves. I suspect he will find some aspects of the position not entirely disagreeable.

But what happens after the end of the book? What will Blaise do about the abominable treaty? Daufridi gave Arbonne a slight bit of help, in persuading Jorg to send Ademar bad food; was there any quid for that quo?

Will Blaise marry Rinette? I think not, actually; he needs to keep Gorhaut separate from Arbonne. I think it more likely that he would find a bride from among Gorhaut's primary families. I wonder if he would marry for expedience or if his time in Arbonne would influence him toward a love match. How does a new king go about finding a love match, anyway? What would his eHarmony page look like?

Jun 13, 2009, 11:48am

Jim53 *snort* eharmony page?! Priceless!

Jun 13, 2009, 12:00pm

>32 Jim53: This is a slightly annoying thing about GGK's books especially ASFA and Tigana. He shows snippets of what is going to happen to some of the characters as though he might have planned to write a sequel and then doesn't (or hasn't yet). For example telling us that Blaise marries twice but not telling us who he marries.
The vidan of Lisseut shows that they are involved in some way, so he did have love in his life.

Edited: Jun 13, 2009, 12:27pm

#32 - Puppet IS a strong word, but I say it not to mean 'another man's puppet' but as what is often a theme/discussion in GGK's books, to my mind - how much free will do we have, in actual reality? To what extent are our doings 'preordained', as in what life has set before us restricts our choices? And thus I mean being a puppet in the theatre of life, rather than anything else.

I have no thoughts as to who he marries. I think that Lisseut figures somewhere, off stage, but I think his real love was Ariane and she's off the market.
That he marries twice I guess is down to the first wife, whoever she is, dies in childbirth. By that time he either has an heir, and remarries either as a political bonding or for some kind of love; or he is without an heir when she dies and he needs to marry someone who can get him an heir or two.

The political situation with Daufridi is complicated. He needs to take back the territories ceded by the Treaty. My guess is he will try to negotiate a new treaty, by which Gorhaut gets some of the lands back, but not all.

Edited to fix some typos ;-)

Jun 16, 2009, 8:13am

I too found that Lisseut seemed to have a bigger part than she actually did. I kept waiting for her to have a major scene with Blaise, maybe a kiss or something, but I guess that was in the epilogue.

The thing that I found unusual was the switch in writing whenever he wrote about something in Gourhaut. It went from 'normal' to something more descriptive? uh the difference between "Lisseut waited...she saw..." and "Rosala waits..., She sees..." I guess i've just shown my complete ignorance regarding writing views/styles. Can anybody tell me what that difference is?

Jun 16, 2009, 11:16am

Musereader, he's switching tenses from past (the usual way of telling a story) to present (describing something right as it happens). I suspect he does it because he wants to introduce more immediacy into the scenes in Gorhaut, especially those that show the decadence of Ademar's court. By switching tenses he can add a different amount of detail without making it seem odd compared to the rest of the story. I'm not sure it's entirely successful.

Jun 16, 2009, 12:16pm

Writing in the present tense is, technically, extremely difficult. Not every author can pull it off. Shifting between past and present in the same book - a very brave thing to attempt - most authors (and editors) would cringe at the notion, far less try the attempt.

Here, I have to hand it to Kay for bravery, given that very few readers would pay such attention to detail, and bearing in mind his short track record when this book came out.

Trust the fact LT readers would notice that little nuance of style and techique! (grin) I love you people!

Jun 16, 2009, 12:17pm

I found it disconcerting. I kept going back and re-reading to find if I'd missed something. But it was also effective, I think for the immediacy it brought (brings?).

Jun 16, 2009, 12:45pm

For me it works well.

There's something with this particular story that works to give me that peculiar feeling of detachment, though. We get to know a handful of people but the story as a whole feels like you have taken a couple of scenes from some medieval/early medieval frescoes from some church or so and improvised a story around them. While the improvisation is well executed, with a believable context and milieux, there's just something amiss...

Still, this is the third read for me, so I do like it. Not as much as Lions, though.

Jun 20, 2009, 12:23am

Since this is my first GD group read, I don't know if we are just taking a break waiting for some new voices to pop up or if this is the normal amount of chatter over a book and we've run the course.

So, before this thread drops off the radar, I just wanted to say 'thank you'. I've enjoyed the conversation and appreciate the opinions that you all have brought to the thread. I'm not a very analytical reader so hearing your thoughts makes me slow down and pay attention to more then just the story.

I've been following both this thread and the non-spoiler thread and this one has been more thought provoking and livelier for me. So, again, Thanks!

Jun 20, 2009, 3:16am

I for one hope that more will join the discussion as they've finished the book, but sometimes this is it. Guess we'll have to wait and see ;-)

Jun 20, 2009, 3:55am

Incidentally, this is what I think of when I read ASfA -

Corsica :-)

Jun 20, 2009, 6:08am

Wow, that's beautiful!

Jun 22, 2009, 9:57am

Personally, I found this book to be okay, but not worth a whole lot of discussion. Don't know if it hit anyone else that way.

Jun 22, 2009, 3:27pm

I find ASfA to be the weakest of Kay's books, up till the last couple of novels, which I have not enjoyed as much as the previous ones. It's the first of several, including Lions and the Sarantium pair, set in the same world, and involving much fewer fantasy tropes than Tigana and Fionavar. It's also the last in which we have a big good vs. evil confrontation at the end. The subsequent books are more just historical novels, focused on a few interesting characters.

I think the ways in which he resolves the big battles form an interesting progression (WARNING: SPOILERS for Fionavar and Tigana!)

In all three cases, we have battles between good and evil, with the good guys badly outnumbered. In Fionavar the good guys are saved by Darien, who bears some similarities to Frodo, in that he goes into the evil lord's land and defeats him. In Tigana, we have bad guys vs. worse guys; as the bad guys are defeating the worse guys, we have Rhun/Valentine rising up to kill the bad, powerful sorcerer. In ASfA, we have Luth killing the bad king.

What is Kay up to with these solutions? Perhaps he just likes the Tolkien idea of a eucatastrophe. Perhaps he recognizes that the bad guys always outnumber the good guys and the good guys need special intercession to win. Or maybe there's something else, more subtle, going on. Any thoughts?

Jun 22, 2009, 4:26pm

One of the things that I like with Kay's books is the multiplex of interpretations.

**Spoiler warnings for Lions, Fionavar, and Tigana**
I'd say most of his books feature a major shakedown, at the end, but in Lions (which by now everyone will know is my fave Kay, lol) it's clear (to me) that he wants to tell the reader that what's good and what's evil is in the eye of the beholder... and maybe not a real issue, at all - because that's not the reason wars are fought, anyway. Whatever the warmongers say.

Placing that end battle beside the ones in his earlier books is interesting.

In Fionavar it's the son of the devil turned good who saves the day, and he indeed saves the day, as no way the 'good' (who are truly good) side would had won otherwise.

In Tigana, where the protagonists actually are terrorists, the two main contenders for lordship over the area are goaded into fighting/destroying each other. That Rhun gets the final stroke is only so he can be revealed to be Valentine, imho. But since Fionavar now a streak of ambivalence have entered the picture - while Brandin has committed a heinous crime he's also a human being...

In ASfA I'm not sure the 'bad' side should had won hadn't Luth, apparently with the help of some divine intervention, shot the arrow that killed Ademar. The deciding factor, as I remember it, was rather that Urté joined the battle, despite having made clear he wouldn't do so. So the message here is one step closer to Lions, where no intercession is made, and where, indeed, both sides are as evil or good but were everyone try desperately to stay true to one's self and culture.

This is what I can come up with after a day on the road ;-)

Jun 28, 2009, 3:30pm

I finished the book yesterday, but I didn't have time to post last night. I really enjoyed it, and I will admit that I snuck off to polish off the last 120+ pages where no one would bother me.

I don't think the writing was as beautiful and lyrical as Tiganna, but in some respects I found all of the characters much more likable, except, of course, for the few baddies one is supposed to hate. (In fact, it bothered me that Galbert and King Ademar had absolutely no redeeming qualities.) I also appreciated the fact that nobody I had come to care about was killed off.

Jun 29, 2009, 2:29pm

Yes, they're both rather one-dimensional. But so are most of the good guys (and gals) too, in this story, don't you think? In the light of the times they live in Betran's only fault is his preoccupation with the past, for example.

Contrast with Brand in Tigana, who did the most evil deed, according to the story, and yet was a person who Dianora found loveable. And I don't think it was Stockholm Syndrome, either.

Or ibn Khairan in Lions, who killed a steward for being too trusting, or Rodrigo Belmonte who early in the book admits to having burned and massacred women and children - yet the former is described as sensitive and intellectual, the other as with high integrity and careful of those close to him.

Jun 29, 2009, 3:05pm

*laa laa laa*
*covers eyes for Lions' spoiler*

Jun 29, 2009, 3:43pm

#50 - You clearly HAVE to read Lions!!! ;-)

Jun 30, 2009, 11:55am

I still haven't finished, lack of time being the factor, so I'm not going to read the above messages yet. Although this is about my fourth time reading Arbonne in the last 15 years or so I've forgotten enough that I don't want to read any spoilers, such as:

I know two of the troubadours get caught and tortured when they take it upon themselves to spy on the Gourhautian army, but I can't remember which two.

I know we find out who de Talair's lost child is and where he (she?) has been all these years but I can't remember who or where. But I'm pretty sure it was on one of Rian's islands.

I can't remember if anything more happens between Lisseut and Blaise.

I can't remember how the war is won/resolved.

I can't remember if either de Talair or Urte or both survive. I keep thinking one or both of them dies.

And I can't remember who Blaise gives that last rose to.

And I've got less than 80 pages left for all these to get resolved! Hopefully I'll be joining the above discussion soon!

Jun 30, 2009, 12:24pm

Can we say that most of the characters in ASfA are primarily props for Blaise's story? The bad guys, as noted above, have no redeeming characteristics and are pretty two-dimensional. But who else really changes during the course of the story? Lisseut changes, growing into her composing capability. Maybe Bertran changes a bit, as evidenced by his desire to marry Rosala. Ariane is an interesting character, representing the feminine qualities of Arbonne that Galbert wants to snuff out, but we never really enter her point of view; we just hear her say things. Blaise and Lisseut, and to a lesser extend Ademar and Rosala, are the only characters whose minds we visit, or am I forgetting something? With all the emphasis on Bertran and Urte, do we ever see out of their eyes?

Jun 30, 2009, 2:03pm

No, we never do, and as you say no one except Blaise changes. Possibly this is what troubles me about this book, even as I like/enjoy it?

I'd write more but my internet is down, and pickin' at my phone takes forever :-(

Jul 1, 2009, 9:23am

Another thought: in a book about Arbonne, the country of the Court of Love, how many love stories do we see? Some of the action is driven by the tragic story of Aelis (Mr. K does like the triangle, doesn't he?), and we hear that Guibor and Signe were "a true love match," but we don't see any love stories being enacted as the story progresses, do we?

Jul 1, 2009, 9:46am

Well, we do see Lisseut falling for Blaise. But thats it and it's very much in th background.

Edited: Jul 2, 2009, 3:07am

Also, a love story is not one person falling in love with another person, but two persons loving each other. At least that's how I see it. And Blaise... I think his love is Ariane, who in turn is married to Thierry, who isn't even especially interested in women.

More, it's emphasised more than once that marriage is a matter of politics, in Arbonne as everywhere else - the only difference is that at least the women of the court, and in some manner the singers, have a wee bit more freedom than women have in Gorhaut. But not that much. And the Court of Love makes it possible to engage in politics in a lot of parallel dimensions, permitting a man or a woman more than one liaison - some of which are platonic, some of which are legally bounding, and maybe some of which are true to the heart. The last one must, by inference, be covert.
But even so we don't see any of that.

(Of course, Kay hasn't written a story about love, or we'd seen one - this is more about loyalty, trust, ethics and free will /or the lack thereof/)

I pray excuse if I ramble, I have a severe headache but just can't stay away from this thread ;-)

Jul 1, 2009, 4:27pm

I don't think the Court of Love is actually about love. I think it is about chivalry and courtship of all kinds, about how we treat one another so that we can all live with each other in more or less peace. The troubadors are a symbol of that and the times they are destroyed are a symbol of that peace destroyed; Urte and Ademar both killing a troubador for singing the 'wrong' song, and the torture of Remy and Aurelian.

I think it's interesting that Kay emphasizes several times the beauty of Galbert's voice. Is that to show the potential was there in Gorhaut for a different way of life?

I'll post more later as I think some more on the comments above.

Jul 1, 2009, 4:49pm

#57 and 58 I think you're both right. I remember the scene where Ramir sings a song about his home, and then says, "I did sing a love song after all." I wonder if that is intended to represent the book in miniature: one of the themes, surely, is love of country and the different forms it takes. Blaise's seems to be the gold standard in this regard, but there's some discussion of Bertran's love of Arbonne, and that of others for their lands, in the meeting with Daufridi. Even Urte's last words are for Arbonne. Perhaps love of country, including how it can be perverted by selfish ambition, is the main type of love being shown.

Busifer, I hope you're feeling much better by now, and sandragon (and others), please do give us more of your thoughts!

Jul 2, 2009, 3:18am

I am, thank you. A night's sleep can do wonders :D

What I tried to say in my post above was that the Court of Love was a political construct, allowing people to make politics on parallel levels without endangering the ties already present. Which in my mind is another way to say just what Sandragon said ;-)

Culture is the glue that holds us barbarians together, makes us behave in a civilised way.

Edited: Jul 2, 2009, 6:20pm

#14, 16 - I was disappointed that Lisseut wasn't more prominent in this story. I also remembered her having a larger role. But when I thought about this right after finishing the book I started to see her as the bridge between Blaise and the world of the troubadours. I think he needed to get to know them, apart from Bertran and the politics, in order to get to know Arbonne. To my mind, she had a large part in changing the way Blaise thought of woman-ruled Arbonne. So pretty much what Busifer said in msg 18!

I think I focused more on the troubadours the last couple of times I read ASFA. I tended to think of the troubadours when I thought of Arbonne. I do remember crying unconsolingly each time I got to the part about Remy and Aurelian being captured by Ademar. No crying this time. This time round I've been thinking more about Blaise. I wonder how I will remember ASFA in another 5 years after this reread.

Jul 2, 2009, 6:25pm

#60 - Busifer, I think culture must be important to Kay. Tigana and Arbonne are defined by their music and their art and their adversaries tried to destroy them by striking there. In Tigana this was symbolized by their very name, and in Arbonne by the troubadours and the Court of Love.

Jul 4, 2009, 5:14pm

I'm very late to the party in contributing to this discussion, but this is the first weekend in more than a month where I've had time to both read and react thoughtfully to what I'm reading.

I will begin by saying that I've read a number of titles by GGK but across long periods of time -- not close together so that I can make intelligent parallels the way Busifer manages to do earlier in the thread. I like Kay's work -- in particular, the complexity of his storytelling, his plot twists and his frankly larger-than-life heroes. All of this I found in A Song for Arbonne. It was a great read and I admire GGK's talent.

It seemed to me that this book is about the following:

--making the decision to exert one's own power (Blaise and his claim of the Gorhaut throne)

--the rashness of making assumptions regarding power we exert over others (whether as parents, as lovers or as governments.) This is where Galburt of Gorhaut consistently makes mistakes in terms of political power, where Lucianna makes mistakes in terms of sexual power

--the care one must take to avoid an imbalance of power in relationships between man and woman.
(Blaise and Ariane may love successfully behind closed doors because they hold equal rank in power)

In particular, in the case of the third, this is why we see Lisseut and Roban in unsatisfied relationships. They love, but the imbalance imposed by class structure between themselves and the individuals they love makes successful relationships impossible. Wisely, they each keep silence.

Busifer makes a point above regarding Kay's fondness of duality and I thought I caught a note of this myself at the point where Bertran suggests that he and Blaise are long lost brothers following the the tournament where Blaise loses an earlobe. We see the two men constantly held up for examination in how they handle power. The same duality exists in seeing the difference between Blaise and his real brother, Ranald, and in how they each rebel against their twisted parent. Parents have an enormous amount of power over their children and that power can be used for good or ill as Kay seems to show.

Someone above also referenced Kay's respect for feminine power. I would word it a tad differently and say that he has respect for how women *wield* their power. He does seem to hold to the idea that men and women use different techniques in wielding power and that those techniques may be equally effective depending upon the context in which they are used.

But I have one question and I may have missed information while reading. At the end of the tournament, there are three roses to be awarded. Blaise gives one to Rosala (the white,symbolizing fidelity) and one to Lucianna (the red, symbolizing desire) and refuses to award the yellow (symbolizing love) while on the field. Who gets the yellow rose?

Jul 4, 2009, 5:16pm

Forgive the length of that posting above; it is why I do better at blogging than at Twittering. I tend to run off at the mouth when I talk about books...

Jul 4, 2009, 5:49pm

Honestly I think he didn't award the yellow rose to anybody - I didn't notice if we were told who it was awarded to either so you aren't alone Jillmwo.

Jul 4, 2009, 6:26pm

No, he never give the yellow rose to anyone.

As to the issue of Kay's differentiating between male and female says to wield power this is where I disagree with him. In my opinion women have been forced by necessity to excert power in covert and implicit ways, often by getting a man to think it was his idea, right from the start. If women had the same standing in a society as the men such tactics would be unnecessary. Or so I think.

So while I think he has a point in relationship to the culture/s he depict it's a symptom and not a truth.

Jul 4, 2009, 6:30pm

...and oh, I forgot - #63; I have been thinking about why Lucianna is in the story. I had not thought about it in the way you outline in your 2nd point, but your analysis rings true to me. Thank you!

Jul 5, 2009, 1:17am

Nope, we didn't find out who Blaise gave the yellow rose to. I guess that, although Blaise was becoming more accustomed to the Arbonnais ways, he was still Gorhautian and uncomfortable declaring his love for someone as publicly as the Arbonnais do through their troubadours. But, I was disappointed that we, the readers, didn't even get to know!

Jul 5, 2009, 1:39am

#63 - jillmwo, I like your lengthy post :o)
Makes me consider more aspects of the book than I have. Actually, this whole thread is great for that.

I think this book is also about the restrictions faced by people who wield power. Neither the Count nor the Countess could make Urte tell what he had done with his son. None of the women of high standing have a say in who they marry. And neither do the men it seems since we know that Ariane's husband is gay. Even Blaise must consider a marriage as a tool to bind two countries rather than a marriage of love. But accepting these restrictions lets them keep their power and exert their influences in other ways, whereas Ademar and Galbert would accept no restrictions on their power and came to lose it.

Jul 5, 2009, 7:50am

Well, if we use the motif of the three roses as a guide, one could say that the red rose for desire is the most shallow of the three forms of love demonstrated. Lucianna certainly shows no signs of being able to get past that stage. (There are clearly reasons; she's sexually abused by her father) I really don't think that Kay wants to discuss romantic forms of love except as in the context of courtly love which allows one to love from afar (Lisseut and Roban) without requiring that desire be fulfilled. I thought it was entirely fitting that Lucianna is ultimately sent away from her husband's side.

Edited: Jul 8, 2009, 10:12pm

Finished this morning. It's wonderful reading everyones comments, very enriching. My first reaction is remembering a discussion I had with my nephew years ago re: GG Kay vs other fantasy writers regarding women characters. I lauded Kay over my nephew's favourite fantasy writer (can't think of his name at the moment, a very popular fellow) precisely because Kay's portrayal of women was so much more favourable. Kay's women are strong, yes, beautiful, but intelligent, capable, powerful and for the most part respected. In other fantasies (my nephew's for example), the women were portrayed as flightly, weepy, "save me" types. Faye Wray vs Katharine Hepburn in other words.

Now, my other thoughts. This is the delights of re-reading after years. First it was a shock. I got A Song for Arbonne and Tigana mixed up! Here I was saying that ASfA was my favourite GGK book (thinking in my head of the story of Tigana, then I start reading it and realize my mistake. *sigh* the memory is just not what it was.

Second, perhaps it's what's been going on in the news while I've been reading, but something that struck me quite forcefully this time in reading ASfA was the religious intolerance or just the intolerance and prejudice the book portrayed. Yes, it was pretty black and white, pretty simplistic, but maybe that's the best way to portray it, to show how truly disgusting it is. I know we're not supposed to talk religion and politics here, but this is a book discussion and there's religion and politics in the book that I think are paralleled in the real world, both historically and currently. Yesterday three young white men ganged up and beat up a black man on the street in our small city. I heard on the radio of one shock jock who had said awhile ago of another shock jock (who happens to be jewish) that he should go in the oven. Then the riots in China, I could go on and on. And here I am reading Galbert's hatred, thick and insane, it is so intense and destructive; Bertran's and Miraval's feud putting their own country in jeopardy.

When I read the book the first time, it was simple fantasy, with no relevance, just a great story. The second time I got more out of the relationships, the development etc. But this time, especially now with all of your comments and then these thoughts of my own... Am I totally off the wall here or did anyone else see a commentary on religious intolerance?

Jul 8, 2009, 9:09pm

Katylit, it's always a shock to hear about this kind of violence so close to home. I have it in my head that violence and intolerance like that happens only in big cities, like Vancouver or Edmonton or Toronto, not here, but of course it does. And that 'of course it does' makes me so sad, as if there was no other option for the way we live.

As for Arbonne, I didn't see in it so much a commentary on religious intolerance, although it's there, but a commentary on anti-feminism. For me, when I think of religious intolerance I think of The Lions of Al-Rassan. Maybe it's just more blatant in Lions.

Jul 8, 2009, 9:33pm

Welcome to the party, katylit! I agree on the religious intolerance theme. Remember the reference to women being burned as witches because of some trivial, unrelated mishap. In this case, the intolerance is largely an intolerance of the feminine side of spirituality, which is a key part of Arbonne's way of life.

I would say that Galbert is not so much an example of intolerance as he is one of megalomania, of twisting religion and the power it gives him to serve his own private purposes. I don't think he wants to burn women because he truly believes they are evil; I think he wants to do it because it enhances the power inherent in his role and enables him to do whatever he wants.

Edited: Jul 8, 2009, 9:40pm

#71 & #72 - I think it was a combination of both, to be honest. It reminded me very much of the witch burnings/hangings of the so called 'old' days. Although apparently burning witches is still a favorite past-time in parts of the world. :o/

There is such a dark undercurrent of violence in many humans. It saddens me.

Jul 9, 2009, 10:26am

Yup, you're right, I see the attacks focused on the priestesses. And the burnings are shocking beyond words, but the castrations of the priests and other men are horrific too. Galbert's hatred of all things Arbonnais, while centred on women, certainly spilled over effectively.

It's interesting isn't it, how reading a book can impact you so differently from one reading to the next? This time has been so intense for me, as I guess is obvious. I think it's as you say clam and sandragon, the dark undercurrent of violence, and so close to home (for me at the moment). Galbert just seems to personify it for me right now and it's very saddening.

Back to the book - did you believe Galbert when he told Blaise that he'd planned for Blaise to be King of Gorhaut? What a mind trip to lay on your son eh? The guy was a piece of work right 'til the end, megalomaniac indeed Jim!

Jul 9, 2009, 11:02am

#75 - "did you believe Galbert when he told Blaise that he'd planned for Blaise to be King of Gorhaut?"

No, I didn't believe a word of it. I think it was just another way for him to f*** with his son's mind. I really detested him. :o/

Jul 9, 2009, 11:17am

#75 Unfortunately (I really don't want Galbert to be telling the truth) the way it is written makes me think that he is telling the truth. He has an answer for all Blaise's questions and doesn't hesitate until the end of the conversation:-

" 'What did you want, Blaise? Lullabies? A pat on the back? A doting father's grip on the shoulder when you did well?'
'Yes' said Blaise then, as evenly as he could. 'Yes, that is what I suppose I wanted.'
For the first time Galbert seemed to hesitate. "

This makes me think that GGK wrote that scene in a way that we are supposed to think Galbert is telling the truth.

Of course Galbert could just be a sick, twisted bastard who thinks quickly, but that's not the way it's written in my opinion.

Jul 9, 2009, 11:27am

#77 - LOL I don't want to believe it either. So, despite your very rational and quite convincing post, I'm still going to stand by my lack of belief.

*whistles, covers eye, does whatever it takes not to think about it.*

See I would just hate to think that Galbert won in any way, shape or form. :o/

Jul 9, 2009, 11:56am

I'm with clam, I don't think Galbert could have been so far-seeing as to haven planned Blaise's uprising and declaration as King. Maybe that's just me not wanting Galbert to win either. But I see Galbert's hesitancy as him not knowing how to deal with tender emotions except as a weakness. Blaise has proven he's not weak, so Galbert can't understand why pats on the back and a doting father are still what he would have wanted.

Jul 9, 2009, 12:00pm

Something that's been bugging me: When Rudel was hired to assassinate Bertran, no one knew who Blaise was (except that we find out later that certain Arbonnais knew because Beatritz found it out when she met him on her island). So how could Galbert's hiring of Rudel have been a strike at Blaise? He didn't know Blaise was working for Bertran, did he?

Jul 9, 2009, 12:00pm

So do I clamairy. The answer I gave was what I think GGK wants us to read. I was going to answer in the same way you did when katylit first asked the question but there was a little niggle in my brain that told me to check the passage first. I would like to be able to say 'of course Galbert's lying, he's just been beaten and wants to hurt Blaise' but unfortunately that's not the way I think it's written.

Jul 9, 2009, 12:01pm

To me, the very finest books hold new angles of appeal, and deepen if re-read at a later stage in life.

Kay's works fit that requirement with brilliance.

Also, I don't forget them, years later, the haunting themes still stick.

Scary thing, when narrow minded people handle power - Kay handles this theme extremely well.

Jul 9, 2009, 1:57pm

#80 sandragon, that's a great question! Here's how I see it: the choice of Bertran wasn't based on the fact that Blaise was with him; doesn't Rudel or someone say it had to do with some verses that Bertran had written (which, IIRC, Daufridi recites when they meet with him)? Galbert's choice of Rudel can still be read as showing Blaise that Galbert has the power to buy anything, even his friend. Galbert probably knew, or assumed that Blaise was in Arbonne, but I think you're right that Galbert would not have known that he was actually with Bertran. That was just gravy, and of course Kay's way of making it possible for Blaise to know who the assassin was.

Edited: Jul 9, 2009, 5:01pm

Personally I think Blaise, through whose eyes we see the story, at that point, thinks he's more incognito than he really is. It's possible for Mallin of Baude to not know who Blaise is - he's a provincial, after all - while at the same time his whereabouts being no secret to those who know/recognise him.

Jul 10, 2009, 4:55am

Even Rudel says he had heard a rumour that Blaise was in Arbonne. It is highly likely that Galbert would know precisely where his son was.

Going back to katylit's question about Galbert
"did you believe Galbert when he told Blaise that he'd planned for Blaise to be King of Gorhaut?"
and clam's and sandragon's responses to my point #77

Yes I believe him but I don't think he has won by Blaise becoming king. Blaise will not be the kind of king that Galbert wanted.

Jul 14, 2009, 12:16am

Yikes...I'm totally in the minority, but I didn't love this novel much. It was very easy to put down for me; I read two other books while I was in the middle of it (and usually I can only read one book at a time). I love fantasy novels, and I can appreciate that Kay is a talented writer—there were many moments when scenes were written very elegantly—but I just found the story to be boring. I wasn't surprised by Blaise wanting to be king (well, working to be king, whether or not he wanted it, anyway), the revelation that his sister-in-law's baby was his, even that Bertran's baby lived & was Rinette. Yawn. All the women seemed the same to me, and none of the romantic feelings seemed real. I dunno, maybe I wasn't in the right mindset for this one.

Jul 14, 2009, 2:21pm

Each to her own. Some people just don't like Kay's writings.

That said the times a book surprises me are far between, and not especially what I look for in any book. I think it was clear from the very beginning that Blaise was the father to Rosanna's child, just to mention one thing.

While I like ASfA I do think this is a case were the ideas are more important than the characters (we've already discussed that there's almost zero character development in this one, I think?) but I think he pulls it off in a great way (even if Lions and Tigana are better). But that don't mean I expect everyone else to think the same.

Jul 14, 2009, 2:50pm

Along with Busifer, I think that Lions and Tigana, and I would add Fionavar and the Sarantium pair, are better than ASfA, and that Ysabel and Last Light are not as good. Who else has read a lot of his stuff? How do you rank Arbonne among them?

Edited: Jul 14, 2009, 3:14pm

My favorite are Lions, Tigana, Arbonne in a 3 way tie. Then Fionavar, Last Light, Sarantium and Ysabel in that order. But it has been ages since I've read the Sarantium books and I read them right after reading my 3 favorites so Sarantium may have suffered in comparison. For some reason I've never reread the Sarantium books and keep meaning to, to see how I feel about them now.

Jul 14, 2009, 3:37pm

My ranking is
1. Lions,
2. Tigana,
3. Sarantine Mosaic (duology),
4. ASfA,
5. Fionavar (trilogy),
6/7. Ysabel, Last light of the sun

It should be noted that I don't particularly enjoy regurgitations of arthuriana and celtic myth, though, and that heritage is used heavily in the last three on my list.

Jul 14, 2009, 5:53pm

Some people just don't like Kay's writings.

It's not that I didn't like the way he wrote. I definitely appreciate his talent. Much of the way the book was written was very lovely. I just thought the plot was dull and the lack of character development really bothered me.

Jul 14, 2009, 6:11pm

Wow, it never occurred to me to believe Galbert when he told Blaise that he'd planned the whole thing. Now everybody has turned my thinking around totally! I was like clam, completely despised Galbert and just thought he was mind-tripping his son. But everyone makes a very compelling argument. Verrry interesting. :-)

#82 Also, I don't forget them, years later, the haunting themes still stick. Janny, I completely agree, while I may forget/confuse the titles, the themes and stories have stayed with me over the years and I've been an devoted fan of Kay's since reading The Summer Tree in the late 80's.

As to my favorites, similar but different to sandragon lol. I'm in a three-way tie too with Lions, Tigana and ASfA, then Sarantine Mosaic and Fionavar, then Ysabel and Last Light of the Sun. I haven't re-read either the Sarantine Mosaic or Last Light and I want/need to do so too. Mostly because after reading ASfA and now listening to Tigana I'm reafirming my love for GGK's writing and just want to get me some more. *sigh* I wish he'd just quit with the screenplay writing and write another book!!!

Jul 15, 2009, 8:53pm

Funny, katylit, I was thinking I need to reread Sarantium too. As I rememebr it's very well written. My big problem is that I think Crispin is an arrogant sphincter.

Jul 15, 2009, 9:32pm

Maybe we could start an unofficial Green Dragon read of the Sarantium books, for anyone who's interested.

Jul 16, 2009, 4:19am

I too definitely want/need to reread Sarantium. In my memory most of the protagonists were jerks but I also seem to remember that I enjoyed the way the story was conceived and written, and it sparked a curiosity about the region and period (whatever THAT is, in Kay's imagination), which is a good thing, in my book.

Jul 16, 2009, 7:58pm

I haven't read the Sarantium books yet.

Jul 19, 2009, 8:17pm

ah! I finally finished A Song for Arbonne and after reading all your very fine comments I find I have few original thoughts. I found getting into the story a bit tedious, and I was easily distracted by RL. But once I pushed myself a bit I enjoyed reading it. I've read historical fiction about the kings and queens of Europe and England since I was about 8 years old so much of the setting, politics, etc. was obvious to me and I wished for more original, fantasy or magical, additions to the country-side, the peasants, the armies, the royal persons. I liked the mystical island and the mystery religious elements. I found I was attached to very few of the characters and so I had some difficulty, and little interest, in following all the convolutions. Perhaps I am a shallow reader.

I did not believe the insane religious fanatical father at the end, not in the slightest. He reminded me of many petty tyrants who can not, in the end, admit they have lost. He was grasping at straws to justify his existence, for which there was no justification. And his son is a fool if he believes the rantings of the old crazy man just before he dies. It was not, IMHO, a death bed confession to be believed.

But I do think Kay left us wondering if the son believed it.

I think I have a couple more Kay books sitting in my TBR piles and I expect I will be picking them up soon.

Thanks for pushing me to read a book I might not have otherwise read all the way to the end and thanks for a great discussion.

Jul 19, 2009, 8:47pm

Heh, didn't know this was being reading-group-ified, or I'd have done a re-read. I love this book. Not as much as I do Ysabel or Tigana, but his prose in this piece paints a romanticised scene without being purple, and I enjoy reading that.

Somewhat like Busifer, I have a mental picture of old Corsica when I read A Song for Arbonne. Closer to dusk most of the time, but I like it.