Thursday, March 12, 2009
A gigantic ball of yarn
My husband has been harassing me to read Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan for at least 6 months now, and not just because he was feeling badly about how long we've been holding off returning it to the friend who lent it to us.
I finally got to it last week and I have to say I'd kick my own ass if I were flexible enough to do so because I've really been depriving myself. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a totally kick-ass book, a rollicking good yarn, and Guy Gavriel Kay is maybe giving me a little tiny bit of faith in Canadian lit because of it.
Indeed, I liked this novel so much that I'm having trouble figuring out what to write about it. How about this: It was so good that I couldn't stop reading it but then sometimes I had to stop reading because the tension was just too much! Even better, Kay didn't ruin this awesomeness by neutering all the characters the way so many fantasy writers do, making their only desires ones for revenge, honour, or the precious.
Yes, fellow babies, this was kind of sexy fantasy but it was much more than that - it was a compelling and often painful look at the unbridgeable gaps between people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, and then the amazing things and even more painful things that can happen when those gaps are crossed.
I will also thank goodness that Kay didn't do the whole Olde Tymey Fantasie Dialogue thing (i.e., stilted, formal language) to make things sound Antiente and Deepe, e.g., "The green tide of Orkdom is upon us and we are alone. There can be no mercy." (I got this from a very convenient web site which I found when I wrote "fantasy", "literature", and "quotes" in the Google search engine.)
My only real complaint about this book is that Jehane, the main female character, who is 27 or so and a doctor, sometimes behaves in ways I imagine the teenage harpies in The Babysitters' Club might act. E.g., Jehane falls in with Roderigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan, the two most dangerous and accomplished men in Al-Rassan. But they're not totally intimidating, they're also smart and hilarious and tease Jehane a lot who, when goaded too much, tends to pout angrily and try to hit them. Eh what? Wasn't that my well thought out flirting technique when I was in junior high school? Even then I knew I'd have to come up with something more sophisticated than that to get the boys - in high school!
Also, Kay did something even more unforgivable with Jehane at a key, tragic moment in the book; after a day in which her oppressed people are massacred wholesale in her home city, she asks her lover to, and I quote, "Hold me." Oh no you dinn't!! I don't whether to think that Kay believes his female readers will lap that shit up, reading as we do, primarily Harlequin romances, or if he's been reading too many Harlequins himself. In any case, ugg.
But these were relatively small moments, and so while they irked me incredibly, the rest of the novel was so damned good that I soon forgot my irritation and got back to the nail-biting, the racing heart, and even the occasional tears. That said, I think I cried less reading this book then my bawl-baby hubby did. I love sensitive guys who like books about people getting killed to death with swords but who also get emotional and weepy about them; my hubby is the coolest.