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A Song for Arbonne is set in a vaguely parallel world, a story of conflict between the free loving Provençal-ish people of Arbonne and the nassty Norman-type bigots of Gorhaut, with pseudo-Celts, pseudo-Italians, pseudo-Spaniards and pseudo-Germans as well. The exiled northern aristocrat who appreciates southern music is the central character, and you know from quite early on how it's likely to end (and it duly does end that way), yet I found it totally gripping (with only one significant flaw - the central character's father is an eeevil high priest who is really a bit too eeevil). Excellent stuff.

I've been trying to work out why epic fantasy doesn't usually work for me, with the exception of a few writers, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Guy Gavriel Kay. (For example, I recently bounced off Wolfe's The Wizard Knight and Steven Brust's Taltos books.) Haven't yet come to any conclusions, though.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 24th, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
The definition of epic continues to elude me - I wouldn't call the Taltos books epic at all (and I love both them and epic fantasy that isn't extruded fantasy product.) Have you tried Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars books? I'm currently half way through and loving them.
Apr. 24th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
I'd be interested to see how you'd get on with R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before. Although, to be fair, the first 200 pages are a chore.
Apr. 24th, 2011 05:01 pm (UTC)
Tried it, bounced off it, back in 2006.
Apr. 24th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting - Guy Gavriel Kay is the only fantasy writer I've ever really been able to get into; perhaps it's related to how closely he ties his 'fantasy' to actual history.
Apr. 25th, 2011 06:21 pm (UTC)
And in some cases, very close. When reading Song, I got a weird double vision effect when encountering the stone arch, because I'd actually parked beside it a few months earlier, and knew what it was like today. This is something that doesn't happen with historicals, because you know that the places existed. But in a supposed other world fantasy, the places are supposed to be fictional too.

By the time I got to Sailing to Sarantium, I was reconciled.
Apr. 25th, 2011 01:16 pm (UTC)
Epic fantasy just doesn't work for me at all. I'm really only a Science Fiction fan - though I will read fantasy from SF authors I've read before: Jack L. Chalker and Alan Dean Foster come to mind. Epic Fantasy is unreadable to me, perhaps a hold over from growing up in the days when SF novels were pretty slim, or perhaps I just prefer a fictional setting where there are established rules made clear to the reader early in the story (Usually). Perhaps that's why I've never been able to get through Jack Vance's later Fantasy series...
Apr. 26th, 2011 07:26 am (UTC)
Re "you know from quite early on how it's likely to end (and it duly does end that way)"

In a way this is exactly what Kay always does, and he is so very good at it that it is hard to believe.

I guess it all comes down to how believably he can make it about the journey, not the destination. And there's the occasional heart-stopping moment when you get the real-world location perfectly described in a supposedly fantasy world, like mentioned above.

The only railroad-plotted novel by someone else I remember thoroughly enjoying was "The Wreck of the River of Stars", even if nowhere near as good as Kay.

-- Teemu Kalvas
Apr. 26th, 2011 07:41 am (UTC)
I'm not sure that I completely agree about Kay telegraphing the ending. I was totally caught out by the twist halfway through Lord of Emperors. (Though I'll agree that after that it became pretty obvious what was going to happen.)

I also thoroughly enjoyed The Wreck of the River of Stars, though the ending was much bleaker than I had expected.
Apr. 26th, 2011 09:48 am (UTC)
You are right. I wonder if I had been spoiled on the twist, or if I've just decided Kay telegraphs all endings and corrupted my memory to fit my prejudice.

Maybe there's a case to be made for the feeling of inevitability in the events, as opposed to logically experienced lack of the unexpected.

(Sorry, I totally lack the machinery for critical analysis of texts so my attempts to explain my enjoyment of anything tends to a lack of much depth. I still find it enjoyable to sometimes think about it.)

-- Teemu
Apr. 26th, 2011 11:13 am (UTC)
don't pretend to do critical analysis either - I just think I know what I like!
Apr. 26th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
That seems a bit disingenuous in the light of critical analyses like this.
Apr. 26th, 2011 05:25 pm (UTC)
Hey, that one was personally refuted by the author! Which proves how unreliable my views are!
Apr. 27th, 2011 10:03 am (UTC)
The author is dead, so I don't see why his conclusions should count for more than yours, especially since your analysis is based on the text, whereas Scalzi's is not.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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