Read-along: The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay (week 3)

The end is nigh. Well, nearly. Will Dark or Light prevail? Who knows. Let’s talk about ghost ships, crystal dragons and sojourns in the Shadowland instead, shall we?

I’m posing the questions for this third week of The Darkest Road read-along.

SPOILERS incoming.


Week 3: Part 3 (Chapters 10 through 13)

As a warm-up exercise, let’s talk about Amairgen’s ghost ship, shall we?

I meant to mention this in last week’s post, but got side-tracked. I love the ghost ship! I can’t rationalise it in any way, I just found its arrival hugely exciting and was even more pleased when everyone got onboard to go for a ride.

This week, I loved how Sharra and her fellow travellers witnessed life along the coast of Sennett Strand from before the Bael Rangat, the ghost ship essentially acting as a window back thought time during their journey down the shoreline.

I loved too that Jaelle was able to send Amairgen and his nameless crew to their rest when the journey was done. It was a small thing, but a good one amidst the mounting tension as the pages left before the end go rapidly down.


Finally, we have met the Dwarves en masse. What were your reactions to the army in the forest of Gwynir, our whistle-stop tour of the Dwarves’ mountain home, the second word-striving between Matt and Kaen, and the judgement of Calor Diman?

Talking of tense, I honestly didn’t know whether Matt was going to be accepted by Calor Diman or not, until it happened. Not that Kaen seemed like a good guy or anything, but he was smooth, you know? And that worried me a lot. Also, he was an artist among artists, something I’m predisposed to think of as a good quality, and certainly something that Kay seems to suggest is good, lingering as he does on the craftsmanship on show in the halls of the Dwarves, and Kaen’s beautiful hands. But with Kaen it proves to be artifice, versus Matt’s absolute honesty.


Thoughts and feelings on Leyse of the Swan Mark’s chapter, if you please.

Just couldn’t resist cramming the Lady of Shallot in here too, eh, Kay?

I’m done with the desirability of Lancelot. Actually, I’m done with beautiful people in general. Why is it so damn important? Also, Leyse loves him almost from the instant she lays eyes on him. She doesn’t know a thing about him – that’s not love, that’s infatuation at best. It’s not healthy or noble or beautiful. And I’m feeling belligerent about it today.

Give me the love between Leith and Ivor over this kind of pap. I’ll even take Sharra and Diarmuid if I have to – at least I can recognise that, even if I don’t like it (in fact its flaws are very attractive right now). But I’m not sold on love being the reason for everything a person does, a source of inspiration and unending joy. Love is work, like everything else.

Last week, I said that Kay had made me feel some sympathy for Guinevere and Lancelot. I will accept (am even slightly moved) that they are swept up in a pattern beyond their control, as is Leyse here, but I need this all to stop now. It’s in danger of taking over the whole story and I want to know how Jennifer, not Guinevere, will deal with the showdown with Maugrim, and Kim and Dave too. Humans are so much more interesting that archetypes.

In other news: I did love the Shadowland as a location, however. Its loops of time, the sounds of things not seen, the mists and flowers and general ethereal loveliness – I was quite smitten. I could quite happily potter about in such a place like Leyse, I think.


Kim makes a choice, overruling the demands of the Baelrath. All thoughts and feelings welcome, obviously, but also, why for the Dwarves, but not for the Paraiko?

While I applauded Kim’s decision to use the Baelrath’s power to zip everyone out to the forest of Gwynir instead of binding the dragon of Calor Diman to the war between Dark and Light, I couldn’t help but feel that her decision to exercise her power to choose came too late for the Paraiko. When she says to herself: “There is a point beyond which the quest of Light becomes a serving of the Dark” (something that has been echoed again and again in this week’s chapters) it seems to me that binding a sparkly dragon seems a lesser evil than changing the Paraiko so absolutely. (Although I do see that the Paraiko moving through Eridu healing and cleansing wherever the plague rain fell is a great, great good).

At the same time, I can’t help but feel relieved that her decision ensured that Dave (and Levon, Brock, Faebur and Mabon of Rhoden) didn’t die. I feel like my heart has worked very hard both last week and this, the poor thing needs a rest now.


And here’s the big one: “There is a point beyond which the quest for Light becomes a serving of the Dark.”

There has been a lot of talk about the nature of Light and Dark this week. As we approach the completion of this weaving, now seems like a good time to reflect on our understand of Light and Dark, paying particular attention to how Darien fits into it all.

Kim has grieved “for the sins of good men”, Matt has reflected that “what I did forty years ago I did in the name of Light. It may still have been an act of evil” and Lancelot has suggested that “there is darkness everywhere now. We cannot avoid it; only break through, and not easily.” If good people can make bad decisions, then it stands to reason that the reverse is also true. I’m wondering if this means there is hope for Darien yet, despite Leyse’s cry of “can you not see the evil within him?” (Which was very disheartening, thanks for that Leyse).

Some of the things Kim has done have been truly terrible – sharing her friend’s suffering when it was not hers to share, and in order to corrupt the pacifist Paraiko, at the bidding of the Warstone (should she really be following the advice of an angry glowy stone, I wonder?) … (and yes, yes, calling Arthur forth too, yadda yadda, but his tragic pudding has been so over-egged now that I’m getting tetchy) – all in the name of Doing the Right Thing.

If you feel bad about doing something, maybe you shouldn’t do it, eh, Kim?

Then there are the Dwarves. Led by Kaen and Blöd, who’re both wholly given over to the Dark, still the army of the Dwarves shows as only “the tracest flicker of evil in Gwynir” when Teyrnon and Barak scan the terrain ahead. And when Brock kills one of the sentries, whom he recognises, he says that “he never did an evil thing in all his days. What has happened to us?” Much of the Dwarven host are good people following the orders of bad. They have yet to make a distinct choice between the Light and the Dark.

So, I feel like Darien’s endgame is all about whether redemption is possible. Arthur has been caught in his own loop for a small eternity – will he ever earn redemption? Darien hasn’t made any great choices yet, but no terrible ones either, despite “the evil within him” – will one good choice save him? Because that’s the thing about being good or bad, isn’t it? You have to choose again and again to do the good or bad thing. (Which makes me question Arthur’s continual cycle – surely he has done more good than bad by now? – and so keeps bringing me back to Darien: what will be required of him?


Obviously I’m stuck in my own loop here! I’m looking forward to everyone else’s thoughts – hopefully you can all dig me out of my hole so I can join you for the final battle.




  1. I’m not sure I can dig you out but I did enjoy your assessment of Leyse. I also like Leith and Ivor much more than any other couple. I’ve also been rather impatient with any of the romantic stuff throughout. When the friendship stuff is happening, that’s nice. It isn’t always happening though, even between alleged friends. I keep wondering if Darien will play an Anakin role. He’ll join his evil dad but him and Arthur’s mutual death will bring balance to the force? (Still holding on to the Mordred theory.) I also find the Mordred angle to be much more tragic than the triangle. Camelot falls because absolute justice can’t exist.

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    • Absolutely! The Modred aspect is far more interesting and has so much potential here.
      I do think that, one way or another, Darien is probably going to have to die.


  2. I think that to remove the Crystal Dragon from Calor Diman would have changed the dwarves more than removing what she did from the Paraiko would have changed them.

    Also what you said about Kaen and Leyse caused a connection in my brain…

    Beauty is important in Kay’s eyes for sure. I dunno how much of that is beauty is important to Kay, and how much he looks at the world and thinks beauty is important to it, but it is. Personally I get it. Beauty, whatever it’s form is for the beholder, has a way of just bypassing all the logic filters in our brains and grabbing hold of some really important decision making centres.

    And I think it’s ability to do so is strongest in those who are missing parts of themselves, who are unbalanced in some way, and who can place a huge and terrible faith on those people who in some way suddenly grab hold of the decision making centres and make the world seem whole.

    Given that some of the major themes of this trilogy involve the power of love and choice, I think *of course* Kay is going to talk about beauty, which is so tied up in love and choice and their dangers. And I think the big thing here is –

    Beauty isn’t shown as a good thing. Kaen’s artistic soul, the beauties he creates, aren’t good. Leyse’s attraction to Lancelot’s beauty isn’t good for her, just like Lancelot’s love for Jennifer isn’t all that good for him either, nor has Jennifer’s beauty been good for her. I think they’ve been set up to be knocked down.

    The only place where being fantastically beautiful seems to pay off is Sharra and Diarmuid, but even that only works out once they get to actually talking with each other and appreciating each other. Beauty alone just seems to get one of them nearly killed.

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