Thursday, July 21, 2005

"What would you have me do?"

So cries one of the central characters in Guy Gavriel Kay's magnificent novel The Lions of Al-Rassan, which I re-read for the first time in four years while on my trip out west for the sister-in-law's wedding. (When you travel with your family across the country so that the two women in your family can be in a wedding, while you yourself are not in the wedding, you end up with a lot of free time in the days running up until said wedding. Good thing I packed a bunch of books.)

I note in my post about GGK's novels that Lions is my favorite of his works, which is saying quite a lot considering the man has yet to write a book I don't love dearly. This is the story of a number of lives intersecting in a fantastic realm called Al-Rassan, modeled on the Iberian peninsula during the Moorish retreat. As has been GGK's wont ever since he completed The Fionavar Tapestry, the role of magic in his tale is so limited that the book might be an actual historical novel if not for the fact that his geography and religions, while analogous to real ones, do not exist.

While Lions is now my favorite of GGK's books by quite a margin, it wasn't always so. This is because Lions is similar to the film Casablanca in one major respect: it is actually better upon a second reading (or viewing), when the foreknowledge of how the story comes out in the end casts an elegaic light over the events leading up to that end that isn't present when one doesn't know how it all ends. This was my third complete reading of Lions, and even though I knew how that final duel turns out and even though I knew how that final duel came to happen, I still found myself actively wishing for it to not come out that way, and for a world to be forged from the ashes of the one dying in which Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn'Khairan could both live.

On this reading, I noted much more of the erotic undercurrents within GGK's tale; this is a very sensual book, to a degree I didn't appreciate as much the first two times I read it. And I did pick up on one more thing, which constitutes a spoiler of sorts: parts of the book turn on Diego Belmonte's ability to see future events, or events from far away to which he cannot possibly be privy. What I didn't pick up on until now is that Rodrigo Belmonte, Diego's father, has a similar such moment when he has a vision of his wife, Miranda, and his company physician, Jehane, standing on a hilltop against a deep sunset. I never caught that before now.

With GGK's novels, I tend to avoid full re-reads for several years, so as to allow certain inner details of the stories to recede into my memory that they might delight me anew each time. This practice works well, except that for it to work again, I can't re-read Lions again until 2009.

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