Thursday, October 16, 2008

Authors You Might Like: Guy Gavriel Kay

So, I’ve talked a lot about comics, giving recommendations for modern books that I think deserve some love. I’ve had a few rants, on things from current comics trends to politics. I’ve talked about TV shows I loved, albeit briefly, and I’ve thrown down some VS decks that, I definitely admit, were built largely because I was a huge fan of the teams or characters I used.

Still, I haven’t talked much about movies, video games, whatever. Books. I loved to read, growing up. Didn’t actually like comics until I was a senior in high school when, after reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, one friend lent me Sandman and another followed it up with Watchmen. I was hooked.

But, before then, in high school, I read a book every damn day. Every day of every year, I pushed my way through a book. Sometimes it was a re-reading, but that’s where a bulk of my cash went, and the librarians in town knew me by sight. Those years were a big part of the reason as to why I’m in graduate school now, studying to be a librarian.

I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, science fiction, speculative fiction, all that. I’ve enjoyed many other genres, of course, everything ranging from the classics through romance all the way on into noir. So, given that I’ve read a few thousand books by now, I figure, hey, maybe I’ve read one or two books that you haven’t. And even if I haven’t, even if the course of your readings has so perfectly mapped my own, I love the sound of my own voice, the process of recording my thoughts.

Now, this isn’t the only time I’ll be suggesting authors or books to you, to check out, but it is the first time I’ll be doing so, which means it’s a little bit special. Obviously, this means that I should choose a writer that’s special to me, right? A writer you’ve probably never heard of who writes books that I believe contribute something to life, or something.

Or, you know, I ould choose the author I’ve been reading a lot of lately. And I will. ‘Cuz it’s easy, and this particular author is seven shades of awesome.

Guy Gavriel Kay is a Canadian fantasy writer, and he’s been writing for over two decades now, I believe. He opened with what I recall being a fairly generic, substandard fantasy trilogy – the Fionavar Tapestry. I won’t recommend it to you, as I never managed to make it beyond the first book in the series, but I haven’t tried in seven or eight years.

However, after that, a little time passed, Kay had a lengthy novel titled Tigana, a far less-traditional fantasy novel set in a magical world that bore some vague resemblances to a medieval Italy. Tigana was a quality fantasy book with a novel concept – a recently-conquered country was punished for their defiance by having their nation’s name and history stripped from all minds save their own. They were renamed ‘Lower Corte’ after a nation, Corte, they’d warred with for decades, and nearly taxed into oblivion. Only those born in Tigana could remember anything about it...and once they died out, their history, art, and legends were lost forever. Some of them, though, were still in revolution, hoping to overthrow the conquerors and regain their name. The book asks a lot of interesting questions about the nature of rebellion, revenge, and power, three very common themes throughout Kay’s work.

As an early novel, it was definitely interesting, and it was extraordinarily well-handled, in my opinion. He followed that with A Song for Arbonne, a novel with similar themes about a country launching a holy war against another for worshipping in another manner…as well as maybe one or two slightly more political reasons. Apparently, history buffs might recognize elements of the Albigensian Crusade in the story, and this sets the trend for a great deal of what Kay’s novels do.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is heavily based on a certain period in Spanish history, while the Sarantine Mosaic was based on Constantinople and The Last Light of the Sun has its basis in the reign of Alfred the Great, and the most recent novel, Ysabel, takes place in the modern day, but is deeply involved in a legend about a battle between the Celts and a Roman leader, Marius.

So, if you’re a fan of well-crafted political fantasy, I’d recommend giving a Kay’s novels a shot. They aren’t flawless, for all that I’ve spent the last four-hundred words gushing about him, but in a genre that sees countless Lord of the Rings clones, he’s a breath of fresh air.

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