Song for Arbonne is worth a read. Review by Violet Kane

Book Cover
While not my favorite of Guy Gavriel Kay's work, Song for Arbonne is still heads above the average fantasy novel.

The main character of this book is Blaise, the youngest son of a ruling family in Gorhaut who was pressured into the priesthood (think priest of the sun god, not pastor of St. Mary's) by his father, the High Elder. After his father devises a political treaty to give the priesthood civil authority, thereby initiating an Inquisition-like regime of witch-hunting, Blaise defects from his father's kingdom to serve in secret at the southern courts of Arbonne. Unlike northern Gorhaut, Arbonne is a Mediterranean-style kingdom, more concerned with bards and troubadours, love and passion than the warlike, doctrinal leaders of Gorhaut. While Blaise adjusts to the culture shock, the leaders of Arbonne, who know his true parentage, realize his potential political power and encourage Blaise to stake his own claim to the throne of Gorhaut. Blaise is reluctant, but tensions reach a crisis when Blaise's sister-in-law escapes to Arbonne, carrying the only other heir to Gorhaut—an heir who may or may not be her husband's son.

I am—it is no secret—a great fan of Kay's work. There is an indefinable appeal to his writing, and elegance, a subtlety and a cast of dazzling characters. That said, if you are new to Kay, I would not recommend starting with this book. If you have never read Kay before, I would suggest starting with Lions of Al-Rassan. I had some trouble getting into Song of Arbonne. I'm always anxious to give Kay the benefit of the doubt, so perhaps I can blame it on the fact that I started reading this book at the hectic height of working on my final papers last semester. On the more objective side, I did notice that this book has an awful lot of straight narrative (i.e. large paragraphs in a row with no dialog), in which he took great care to develop the politics, atmosphere and ambiance of this pseudo-historical world. Of course, he does so with masterful skill, but it was more world-building than suits my taste. It also may be that this book represents a transition from Kay's earlier, more traditional fantasy (Tigana, Fionavar Tapestry) to his later, more historically-inspired work (Lions of Al-Rassan, Sarantine Mosaic). I have made no secret of preferring the latter. Song for Arbonne shows the seeds of Kay's novels to come, but still holds traces of his earlier work (the climactic battle scene especially was structurally reminiscent of Tigana).

One must keep in mind, however, that by saying that Song for Arbonne is not my favorite of Kay's novels—it is akin to saying that chocolate covered walnuts are not my favorite sort of Godiva chocolate. All of Kay's novels are elegantly superb character stories, and Song for Arbonne is no exception.


Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of ARWZ.com. She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.