After the dramatic ending to 'The Summer Tree' the series was in need of some breathing space and Kay wisely takes his time in the beginning of 'The Wandering Fire'. Kim using her Seer powers and somehow tapping into the power of the Baelrath, brought the Five home from Fionavar with the help of High Priestess Jaelle.
They will never be the same again, however, and know they will have to return. Paul and Kim have powers they don't yet fully understand, Dave's experiences on the plain have opened him up to the world, and Jennifer, tortured and raped by Rakoth Maugrim, has a decision to make. Only Kevin, though touched by his time in Fionavar, remains essentially unchanged.
Kay's writing remains beautiful, but the prose has taken a step back from the formal story-telling sensibility that made the first book so distinctive. This is a pity, but I can understand why he would want to write in a more direct style.
Apart from the below commentary, the book suffers from mid-trilogy-slump in that there was a lot of set-up for the conclusion, but not enough substantial action. Diarmuid's sea voyage and the Loren's confrontation with Metran didn't do much for me. Kevin Laine's destiny is sad and perplexing. but was the great centerpiece to the story.
'The Wandering Fire' begins to pull in more myth archetypes - primarily the King Arthur cycle and the Adonis myth. In my last review I said I would try to address the place of women in this universe. Again, I'll say I don't think this was anything concious on Kay's part, but a limitation based on the Romano-celtic myths he sourced his story from.
Kim, as Seer of Brennan, has the power of revelatory dreams and was given the Baelrath - an item of wild magic and mostly out of her control. She is strong in her role though has doubts similar to the male players about her abilities. Kim is great, actually. I don't have any issue except some thoughts about the passivity of oracular dreams which aren't sharp enough to expand on.
Jennifer, has a place in the mythic destiny that becomes clear in this book -(show spoiler)
- and therefore has the most clearly defined and tragic histories of all the characters in the series. Her character before her kidnapping and abuse by Maugrim was defined mostly by being emotionally reserved, strong-willed and proud, and being beautiful. These traits remain, and are even magnified by her ordeal, but after making her decision about Darien she is passive. She accepts her destiny and she waits.
Of the Fionavar natives chiefly there is Sharra, the clever and beautiful princess. She spends her time out-maneuvering her father's attempts to have her be married and in being seduced. Next is Jaelle, the cold and beautiful high priestess of the Earth Mother, being cold is her defense after being raised to such power at a young age. There are others, a few wives and daughters, objects of affection and sacrifice, grieving mothers, literal ice queens and bad mother Swans below the understandably obfuscated behaviors of deities.
I don't really have a problem with these archetypes, they're used well here and the story is entertaining. I just couldn't help dwelling on it while I was reading. I'm hoping that in 'The Darkest Road' there are some surprises in that area that I've forgotten since high school.
The Fionavar Tapestry
Next: 'The Darkest Road'
Previous: 'The Summer Tree'