Title: A Song for Arbonne
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Date Started: August 21, 2013 Date Finished: October 19, 2013
Rating (out of 5): ★★★
Every book has a story: This is coming to you so late, dear readers, as I replaced “readux writing” time with “packing for Paris” time after completing A Song for Arbonne. In fact, I replaced some “planning and packing for Paris” time with “must finished reading this huge book before going on vacation” time. A cycle that led to finishing reading the book without having a review of the book, but having a rather neatly packed carry-on case for ten days abroad!
There was very little wind, which was a blessing. Pale moonlight fell upon the gently swelling sea upon the skiff. They had chosen a moonlit night. Despite the risks, they would need it where they were going when they came to land.
My first Guy Gavriel Kay experience was Under Heaven, which I complete and utterly adored. While doing some reading up from the GGK fanbase, however, I found a few comments that said that Under Heaven appears to be the odd man out, as it were, from the rest of his books. It made me a bit nervous to pick out my next GGK read, then, because I hoped to choose something that I would enjoy as much as I did Under Heaven. After a lot of standing and staring and picking up and putting down in the bookstore, I chose A Song for Arbonne.
First off, straight up, I did not enjoy it as much as I did Under Heaven. I found that neither the characters nor the plot reached the same levels of awe-inspiring or devastation as in Under Heaven. But – but! - A Song for Arbonne is still a great stirring read. There’s warriors and princesses and swords and romance, all tied together in this particular fantasy realm with music.
A Song for Arbonne was inspired by the troubadour culture of medieval Provence. There are the music-loving, goddess-worshipping people of Arbonne, ruled by a Countess and also by the Queen of the Court of Love. Then there is the country of Gorhaut, whose culture has decidedly been forged in steel and war and whose rulers see Arbonne as weak and ripe for the sacking. This makes the story sound quite expansive – and it is – but the real heart of the book lies in the deep relationships between its characters. The personal histories, the losses and loves, are as important to the current events as anything else.
We must be what we are, or we become our enemies.
At the head of the narrative is Blaise, a mercenary from Gorhaut who has found work in Arbonne and must learn to set aside his prejudices as he finds himself in the company of the most powerful people of Arbonne. Blaise is hired into the household of Duke Bertran of Talair, a charming and dashing man whose current composure and power belie a past of great pain, the effects of which still echo through the Arbonne politics. We also have Lisseut, a young musician who finds herself drawn into the powerful ranks of Arbonne as tensions rise with aggressive Gorhaut.
It is a novel in which personal revelations are given equal balance to huge battles, a concept that bears strong resemblance to my own novel, as it currently stands. As I have not only survived, but enjoyed my first non-Under Heaven GGK, I have less trepidation about launching into the rest of his works. Recommendations are welcome!