Guy Gavriel Kay, a Canadian author who writes historical fantasy, is one of the best writers in the genre, in my opinion. Yet, no one seems to know who he is (I get blank stares whenever I mention his name), despite critical acclaim and numerous fantasy award nominations and wins. To correct this grievous state of affairs, I’m showcasing him in what I hope to be a regular feature here on the blog: a writer spotlight, in which I sing the praises of an author that has deeply moved, influenced, and/or delighted me.
He was born November 7, 1954 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1974 he assisted Christopher Tolkien in editing J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. He obtained a law degree from the University of Toronto, and was a writer and associate producer for a CBC radio series. In 1984, his first novel, The Summer Tree, was published.
Just what is “historical fantasy”, you ask? Though Kay prefers to eschew labels and the boundaries of genre, it’s clear he enjoys creating fantasy worlds based on real cultures that have existed in our history. From medieval Provence to Renaissance Italy, the Byzantine period of Constantinople to the Viking invasions in the time of Alfred the Great, to his more recent works based on the 8th century Tang dynasty and the 12th century Song dynasty, his range and research are impressive.
I discovered GGK in the early nineties with Tigana, an ambitious novel reminiscent of Renaissance Italy that plumbed the theme of cultural identity and repression. Though it’s hard to pick a favorite, this one remains especially memorable, both to me and his legions of fans. I’d never seen anything like it, and soon worked my way back to his prior novels: The Fionavar Tapestry (a high fantasy trilogy comprised of The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road) and his present novel at the time, A Song for Arbonne (medieval Provence). Over the years, I’ve seen his mastery progress and improve with each new book. I love them all; however, these three early works remain the trinity in my heart, the ones that so captured me at an impressionable age. The spines of these beloved paperbacks are so creased and cracked from repeated readings that the titles are illegible.
Just what do I love so much? Not only his masterful handling of plot, setting, and theme; it’s his characters, I think, that forever stick with me. Who can forget Paul bound to the Summer Tree, in a bid to end a drought? Or Catriana plunging from a bridge into an icy river to help her cause? Rosala fleeing the hard, savage north to save her unborn child? Courageous acts of self-sacrifice, and yet these characters are all too human, three-dimensional and imperfect like the rest of us. They often possess a wry sense of humor channeled through the author himself, I suspect. In fact, when I think of Voice in writing, I think of Kay’s distinctive tone, and then that sometimes vague but oh so important element of writing becomes clear. A bittersweet poignancy runs through his writing, a thread of sadness and hope that is emotionally satisfying.
If you’re a fantasy fan but are tired of the same old tropes, or an historical fan who might be looking for something a little different, you can’t go wrong with Guy Gavriel Kay. (If you’re more into historical, start with his most recent works; if fantasy is your thing, his early books might appeal more).
For a full list of his books and more info, here are some links:
http://www.brightweavings.com (official website)
http://www.guygavrielkay.ca (Penguin/Random House site)
Kay’s forthcoming novel, The Children of Earth and Sky, will be available in May 2016.