Book Discussion: A Song for Arbonne ~CAUTION ~ Contains SPOILERS
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As to the book itself I'm 1/3 through this reread so I won't comment just yet...
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.
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.
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?
#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.
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".
(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...)
#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.
Any woman here willing to confirm or dispute this?
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.
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.
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?
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...
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.
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.
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.
#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.
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?
The vidan of Lisseut shows that they are involved in some way, so he did have love in his life.
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 ;-)
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?
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!
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.
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!
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?
**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 ;-)
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.
SPOILER FOR TIGANA AHEAD
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.
SPOILER FOR LIONS AHEAD
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.
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!
I'd write more but my internet is down, and pickin' at my phone takes forever :-(
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 ;-)
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.
Busifer, I hope you're feeling much better by now, and sandragon (and others), please do give us more of your thoughts!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
There is such a dark undercurrent of violence in many humans. It saddens me.
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!
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/
" '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.
*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/
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.
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.
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.
3. Sarantine Mosaic (duology),
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.
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.
#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!!!
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.
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.