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The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie
A Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay A Song for Arbonne. “Damn glad to meet you, Mr Kay. We seem to have been traveling separate avenues until now. Do you mind if I tag along for awhile?” I am giving this one a 4-Star slap on the back, admiring some fine wordsmithing and in the expectation that I will enjoy other books by GGK. I was on the verge of putting this one on my “never-finished” shelf as I plodded through the first two chapters. Set in a thinly-disguised alternate earth version of medieval France, I thought the introductory chapters were dainty, delicate, gauzy, frivolous, sappy…not my cuppa. Just when he has me rolling my eyes and looking for something more meaty to read, he smacked me in the face with a mailed fist at the start of Chapter 3 and said “Pay attention buddy, there is a real story here!” And there was a good story and some mighty fine writing.

Le Plot:

Blaise, a mercenary of some skill, has traveled a number of countries and has found himself in Arbonne, a “Frenchified” country ruled by the Countess of Arbonne and generally by women. Blaise’s role in the story will grow. He is hired by one of the nobles, Bertran, and joins Betran’s retinue of “corans” i.e., knights. Bertran has a a long running feud with his neighboring noble, Urte, which will infect much of the story. Over the course of the next year, there will be battles, treachery, assassinations, assignations, and all sorts of other fun. I found Mr. Kay’s prose to be just fine:

”Spare your breath,” he said thickly, and surged up from the ground to engage the other man. There were no words then, no space for words and indeed no breath, only the quick chittering clatter of blades glancing and sliding from each other, or the harder, heavier clang as sword met blocking shield, the controlled grunting of the two men, as they circled each other, probing with cold metal and cold eyes for an avenue along which they could kill.

As fantasy goes, magic lies very lightly on the story, filling a key role but employed rarely. My only real complaint is that the villains do not get as complex a treatment as the good guys. This makes the end of the story less dramatic than it could have been. But I am very satisfied overall. I shall be reading more of Mr. Guy Gavriel Kay.