Read-along: The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay (week 2)

I wasn’t built for all these sweeping emotions! Let’s dig straight in, shall we?

This week’s questions have been posed by the rather marvellous imyril of There’s Always Room for One More.


And this is your friendly SPOILER WARNING, before you read on.


Week 2: Part 2 (Chapters 4 through 9) 

“Who wears this next shall have the darkest road to walk of any child of earth or stars.”

But would you try to win Darien over or set him free to choose? What do you make of the various reactions towards Darien, and to his actions?

Kay is making us walk the darkest road too, I think, in his handling of Darien. What is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s an answer to that.

Part of me feels for Darien so, so much. He wants to be “welcome somewhere in the worlds”, to belong somewhere – something we can all surely relate to – and every time he is told he must choose for himself, it seems like a rejection. How can he know what he is choosing between, having not been shown much of love or hate, friendship or enmity? Finn is the only benchmark he has for love. From everyone else he has received a mixture of wariness and fear. What can any of this teach him?

And yet. He’s no ordinary human boy. He’s only a year old, sure, but his reactions to the world are older. He has some pretty scary powers that he doesn’t really have a great deal of control over, and all the spiteful, stabby personality of someone who is hurting and doesn’t know the first thing about how or where to find help.

Of everyone’s interactions with Darien, I actually liked Lancelot’s most. That calm, unflinching manner seems the best foil for Darien’s bitterness. Jennifer was a little too cold, (although I appreciated what she was trying to do), Kim, previously, was a little too nervous and Paul inadequate.

Darien’s journey due north to Rakoth Maugrim feels inevitable, and I think he has to come face to face with his father before he can make any kind of choice. He has to see it all – the whole gamut of reactions to his existence.

I don’t know if I’ve even answered the question, but this is all the thoughts I can pin down with regards to Darien right now. I like the complexity of the problem, even while I’m sucking my teeth every time someone says something to him that he takes in entirely the wrong way.


And three makes a triangle. Thoughts on the trope, and on this specific trio? … and now we’ve seen Lancelot in action … reactions shots are Go.


So, it’s no secret that I have no love for love triangles. But if anyone is going to make me feel some sympathy for the Guinevere-Lancelot part of this particular triangle, it’s Kay. And their meeting on the strand was … moving … mostly (for me) because Guinevere’s love for Lancelot and his love for her, don’t preclude their love for Arthur. Which makes me question my distaste for love triangles. What if all three people in the love triangle love one another? What then? (I absolutely want to see a polyamorous version of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot tale in the style of Jo Walton’s Lifelode – please and thank you). Do I only dislike love triangles because they set up two people as rivals for the third? (I think, yes).

As to Lancelot, I’ve never found him an attractive character (perfect people kind of annoy me because, really, where’s the interest? And all-encompassing love just isn’t practical), and I can’t say I’m particularly enamoured with him here, but I do like that he’s quiet. There’s no swagger to accompany his excellence. I have to admit that his battle with Curdardh was cool, though. I’m glad he’s heading in Maugrim’s direction.


Jaelle has warmed up since Maidaladan. Any thoughts on our formally icy High Priestess and her actions?

I really like how Jaelle’s changed over the course of the story, thawing somewhat, but not by any unbelievable degree. I particularly liked that she had to preserve her appearance of detachment despite being grieved by Guinevere and Lancelot’s meeting on the strand.

Her dealings with Audiart prove that she hasn’t lost her bite (just in case the reader was in any doubt), but her chats with Paul are showing us a woman slowly unbending. I get the impression that being in a position of power (and a challenged power at that) has made her what she is – giving her that thick outer crust, but I love the moments where she reacts snippily, and then rethinks and softens the blow a smidge.

I think Jaelle remains the character whose page-time I enjoy the most, while never fully understanding what’s going on. She is fascinating, but I don’t understand some of the subtleties that pass between her and Paul when they discuss power and such like. What I do understand, and appreciate more for her admitting it, is that she works mostly from “instinct, intuition. I have little more than those, much of the time, which is something for you to consider … Powers such as ours is not so easy to manipulate, nor, in truth, should it be. I do not command Dana, I speak for her.”


Our understanding of the Weaver and the lore of Fionavar has deepened this week. Any insights, theories or reactions to share?

This couldn’t have come at a better time. Lancelot’s appearance has only underlined the inevitability of the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot pattern, calling into question again what choice or change can be made in the worlds. So to have Flidais explain how Owein and the Hunt stand for randomness, for the unexpected, for the possibility of change, was timely. Darien’s choice will mean nothing unless it is a real decision made between Dark and Light (is there a third choice? I’m interested to see how this will all conclude), something beyond the control of gods and goddesses, and the Weaver himself.

That the Weaver introduced this random element also makes more sense of those moments when he too has paused at his Loom to see what will happen next. The pattern is not wholly under his control.


Snark question: Based on the evidence, do you think any andain have sensible relationships with their parents? Or a handle on their feelings?


The andain make me think of all the troublesome and various interactions in Greek mythology. It’s like their relationships and emotions are all out of proportion to human ones, which I guess makes sense, being as they come from a more divine source. Because the ‘divine’ beings in Fionavar, like Cernan and Ceinwen, Dana and Mörnir, are capricious; they are gods to be appeased and feared, driven by their own strange and inexplicable motivations. What kind of conflict must there be in the andain – part god, part human – pulling them one way towards divine power and will, and the other towards human emotion and weakness?

I’m not wording it very well, but I think there is an inherent conflict within the andain that makes them susceptible to instability. Maybe there can never be any real balance between the two states. Gods know (or rather, they don’t) it’s hard enough being a well-adjusted human.




  1. High five on the Jaelle appreciation.

    As for Lancelot… I often find perfect characters dull too, but I think used sparingly they can be really interesting and fun. I think here the utter calm and courtesy of Lancelot is what makes this version, although I’d love to see what made it.

    I have to admit my favourite version of Lancelot though is from Bernard Cornwell’s version where he’s a preening lying snake.

    And yes, poor poor Darien.

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