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The Summer Tree is the first in a trilogy called The Fionovar Tapestry. It is High Fantasy at its best and is, in my opinion, an equal to Lord of the Rings, although I suspect die-hard Tolkien fans will be baying for my blood right now.
It tells the story of five students at the University of Toronto who are taken, by magic, to Fionavar, the first of all worlds, by Loren Slivercloak, a mage. (I should point out at this point that if you don't know what a mage is this book probably isn't for you - l lent it to a friend who didn't know and she gave up after chapter 2!) Loren takes them willingly, on the pretext that the High King is celebrating fifty years on the throne and that they will part of the celebrations, but they soon learn that there is far more to his request than that.
The five main characters are Kimberley, Kevin, Jennifer, Dave and Paul, and although each of them has a part to play in the tale of good and evil that unfolds, Loren is interested only in Kimberely. Fionavar's Seer is old, and she has dreamt of Kimberely as her replacement. Kimberely will be needed in the coming battle against the forces of evil. Forces that are already in motion in Fionavar.
They discover that it hasn't rained in Brennin, the High King's land, for months, a blood-magic spell that someone has cast, a spell that can only been undone at a terrible cost. Galadan has been seen abroad, Wolflord of the andain and lieutenant to Rakoth Maugrim, the Unraveller, a god who has been imprisoned beneath a mountain in the North. Other creatures such as the Svart Alfar, are also at large. The Svart Alfar are the natural enemies of the Lios Alfar, elf like creatures on the side of the mages.
The Summer Tree is cleverly told through the eyes of all five characters, as they gradually become split up and drawn into the different lands and factions of Fionavar. This multi-person point of view allows us as readers to fully understand the complex world that Guy Gavriel Kay has created. He is a master at creating full and complex characters and at allowing the reader a deep insight into their motivations, thoughts and feelings. They are completely believable as characters and so we feel as Paul does when we learn that he is still grieving for the death of his girlfriend. And we understand Dave's motivation, in his position as second child that doesn't quite measure up, when he acts as he does among the Tribesmen of the Plain, a Fionavar race similar to that of the Native Americans of this world.
Steadily we are drawn fully into the world of Fionavar, so that by the time the mountain explodes, releasing Rakoth Maugrim, and one of the five is taken, we care so completely about it all it is hard to return to the real world. Guy Gavriel Kay writes with lyrical intelligence, alternating between action, characterisation and authorial hints a future yet to reveal itself. And the end is so action packed, and such a cliff hanger you can't fail to rush out and by the next book.
Part two is called 'The Wandering Fire' and the last book is 'The Darkest Road'. Read all three together and you will feel you're emotions have been completely wrung out, the tragedy, love story and action are so masterfully woven together. Each book retails for around the £6 mark, but some are not so readily available as others, you might have to track down a second hand version - although don't come asking me as I am not getting rid of mine any time soon. I read them every couple of years or so and haven't got tired of them yet.