I just finished A SONG FOR ARBONNE, which was May’s GGK Book Club book. (I’m working on catching up! I bet I’ll be almost caught up by the end of the year! :))
I’ve been kind of interested in re-reading SONG, because I’ve only read it once and it didn’t, er, sing to me, as it were. It’s the one GGK book I’ve never had any particular interest *in* re-reading, which, in the end, caused me to be interested in re-reading it. I was wondering if it was my callow youth that caused it to not click, or if it was the book itself, or, well, what.
It’s the book.
SONG’s real problem for me—and I can remember, however vaguely, that this was its essential problem 20+ years ago as well—is that it is not TIGANA. Now, this is frankly an unfair assessment, because I don’t like to, and try not to, judge books for not being what I want them to be. Especially when the book it’s failing to be is my favourite book, full stop.
The thing is, I feel like SONG wants to be TIGANA. It has so many of the same themes: love of (complicated) family, love of country, love of music, and all the costs therein. It’s not the same story, not even vaguely, but to me, as a reader, it just feels like thematically it’s already been done, and done more powerfully, in TIGANA.
Maybe I’m reading it as the wrong kind of song. Maybe it’s a ballad to TIGANA’s overture, I don’t know, but it just doesn’t work for me the way TIGANA does. I can even see moments in it where I feel like it *should*, but it doesn’t reach the heights (or the depths). I kind of wish I could step back and read SONG first, just to see if, delivered outside of TIGANA’s shadow, it would hit me more powerfully.
There was also—noticeably to me now—the attitude of the main character, Blaise, toward women. It was progressive for his people, but Arbonne’s society is modeled on Eleanor of Aquitaine’s Court of Love, and is ruled by a woman, which Blaise doesn’t start out thinking very highly of. I suspect that my distaste for his distaste may have colored my reading back then; it *certainly* did this time. (He comes around, and does so in a way and a timeline appropriate to both himself and the book, but starting where he does kind of makes me want to smack him around. Again, not a really fair assessment, but there you go.)
Even so, I think I liked it better this time: I wasn’t so much expecting it to be TIGANA, maybe. It was in most ways a total revelation, as I remembered exactly one thing (the big secret revealed at the end) and it turned out I’d entirely forgotten all the particulars (indeed, remembering the big secret caused me to completely incorrectly assign the secret to someone and I was actually surprised when I turned out to be wrong), so it was a pretty satisfying read in most regards.
I have, terribly belatedly, read April’s GGK book club novel, TIGANA. Well, re-read it, because it’s down on my Reading List four times and I’ve read it at least twice that many times, because the reading list didn’t get started until well after the book came out.
TIGANA is, pretty much without a doubt, my favourite book. I’ve never previously tried to do any kind of figuring out why, but as I was reading this time I had the question in the back of my head, and it became clear very early on that one of the reasons it succeeds so hugely for me is because I find it so incredibly well *balanced*.
The heartbreak and the joy of the book are always on a knife’s edge; of the characters, Devin, particularly, often recognizes that within himself. But more than that, even, is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There’s no weft without the weave there, and I could cite dozens of examples but I’d be here all night. One weight and balance that particularly struck me in this reading, though, was what Tomasso gained from Sandre and Sandre gained from Catriana.
Another thing that especially struck me in this reading was that not very long ago, author Alma Alexander, who was born in Yugoslavia, talked about how the ripping away of Tigana’s name struck her viscerally, as someone whose country of birth no longer exists. GGK’s inspiration for the idea of taking away a name apparently came from visiting Ireland, where he was struck by all the English place-names replacing the Irish names, but until I read Alma’s post I didn’t really think about how there are modern countries–many countries–which have disappeared and come unmade that way. It’s my favourite book anyway, but that increased its impact yet again.
And then on a hugely personal career note, the last two or three times I’ve read TIGANA have been post-Inheritors’-Cycle-writing. I knew, of course (and astute readers also observed) that in many ways those books are a direct homage to GGK in general and TIGANA in specific. It had been several years since I’d read TIGANA when I wrote THE QUEEN’S BASTARD and THE PRETENDER’S CROWN, and going back and re-reading it not long after those books came out–honestly, there’s more homage than I intended. There are a couple of things–Belinda’s memory, in particular–that I would have done differently if I had remembered consciously about *Devin*’s memory.
OTOH, I could not have written those books without TIGANA, or I couldn’t have written them the way that I did, and I happen to love them the way that they are. TQB, especially–there’s a moment in it where the whole book up to that point pays off in something like 57 words. To me it’s the knife-twist moment, the moment where the last piece falls into place and damns it all, and for me, it’s perfect. And what I was trying to achieve there was the agonizing inevitablity that TIGANA builds toward: the moment when the mountains lift from Rhun’s mind; the moment when Dianora leaves Scelto; the moment when Sandre breaks the blind and speaks to the sorcerer, and a dozen more like it. Without those guidelines, without the knowledge it *could* be done, I could never have even tried, much less (for myself, at least) succeeded.
So even for the parts where I went (in my retrospective opinion) too far, those books are so much a love story to TIGANA that really all I can do is stand with my hand to my heart and thank GGK for writing it. It’s just…well, it’s my favourite book.
Not that I was actually speaking of it, but I have faint ambitions of actually re-reading TIGANA this month (technically it was April’s book and I should be reading A SONG FOR ARBONNE this month, but, er, it didn’t work that way :)) just in case anybody wants to do my lurching read-along on that book.
Ted just finished reading Marion G Harmon‘s Wearing the Cape series, which he’s enjoyed very much, so I gotta put those on my reading list. Which I should update, to keep me honest. Although frankly I’m doing a *terrible* job of not buying new books and just reading the ones I’ve got. I’ve read, according to Goodreads, 34 books this year, and…2 of them…are on the list behind the cut. o.o
(*checks* 11 of them are re-reads, 3 are books I was given for blurbing and the rest, um. Are new. Heh. Right. Let’s give that “no buying new books” thing another whirl, eh…?)
TBR shelf that, um, needs updating (but has been alphabetized!) behind the cut…
1. Chapter seven of MAGIC & MANNERS is live for Patreon patrons!
2. It is *painfully* obvious that the whole weekly post for the GGK Book Club is not working for me as the, er, team leader. I’m terribly sorry, but I just do not, apparently, have the spoons to do a weekly post. From TIGANA (which is April’s book) onward I’m going to do a monthly post immediately after I finish reading the books, which will probably have no rhyme or reason to it as far as dates are concerned but which is vastly more likely to get my whole impression of a book down. Again, really sorry, especially for those who find reading along in chapter-chunks easier, but it’s obviously a disaster for me to try running it that way, so I’m going to stop.
3. I have got so many recent reads and picoreviews to do that I will obviously never catch up. I should look forward, not back.
4. OTOH, I have written 45,500 words so far this month and look on schedule to not only hit 50K but also very possibly finish writing the book I started on the 1st. Ish.
5. I’m gonna go watch Beauty and the Beast now, man. :)
I was just sitting here frowning at my website wondering why a post hadn’t automatically posted and I realized it was because I hadn’t written it yet. @.@ And indeed, because I’m supposed to be working, and because I read the whole book at once this time, and don’t have it in my office right now, I’m going to make this a super short post primarily for the purposes of getting it out there rather than having anything insightful to say right now. I’ll try to get insights into the comments. :) But! I do remember a couple of things…