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I love A Song for Arbonne.
I admit that the book started out a little bit slowly, as action was frequently interrupted by characters musing over the past. But once the back story was sufficiently explained and the main plot really began, I couldn't put the book down. Kay completely surprised and delighted me many times (as well as made me cry), and the battle scene towards the end of the book was simply one of the best I've ever read--so emotionally charged and unpredictable, as battle truly is.
Even though the prose in this book might not be quite as perfect as in his more recent works (like The Last Light of the Sun, which is one of my favourite books EVER), nevertheless many of Kay's senteces here are pure poetry.
The ending of the book was utterly delightful and made me laugh out loud before closing the book with a smile on my face.
Another reviewer mentioned that this book contains graphic sex, which is simply not true. The book does contain a few scenes of sexuality, but they are very tasteful and well done and leave everything to the imagination. I honestly can't figure out how someone could be offended by Kay's tasteful and maturely written books.
There are a few of Kay's books I have not read, and I truly look forward to it because I believe he is a writer of the very highest calibre. He makes you laugh, and cry, and possibly even come away from his books a better person.
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on April 13, 2011
As always since the Fionovar Tapestry, GG Kay writes thinly disguised history with a touch of magic. Or, you might say fantasy in a parallel universe close to our own. This is a tale of the South of France vs the almost Germanic North of France. Sort of like Eleanor of Acquitaine against Clovis or Charlemagne.

The South has troubadors, and courtly love, and damsels in distress: all the usual accoutrements of high medieval fantasy. It's not really Provence so much as Acquitaine, but the battle of Langue d'Oc vs Langue d'Oeil is fought again. The North has steel and warriors, and the will to use them.

Kay has engineered a clash of cultures in a rich pseudo-historical milieu, with strong characters you can believe and identify with. They, too, have doubts and feelings. Some of the northern killers are good people shaped by their culture; some of the southerners are thieves and villains. Although the readers' general sympathies are with the southerners, the northern point of view is equally well presented. It can be exhiliarating and heart-breaking by turns, reading this marvellous book.

Strongly recommended, as are most of Kay's works.
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on January 30, 2007
Here is a story, in the best sense. A book with many pages to read (a very good feature, in this case, so it doesn't end too soon). Although a paperback, and - in our days - cheap compared to other books, this story shows neither skrimping nor derivation from other stories. There are no misprints nor bad grammar nor spelling mistakes. Okay, with all that being true, what IS in this book?

I reveal no secrets by saying that it is a story about one land - a place very much like medieval Provence. It has grown distinct from neighbouring countries through the encouragement of the art of troubadours. Some battles occur, and there is magic, but not in the way of other books called "sword and sorcery". All is very much as our own real day-to-day world, with the strong feelings and agonies/ecstasies that come to us out of a world which shows no signs of anything exceptional. It is just a day-to-day world. And miracles occur! Life provides tremendous surprises!

If you perhaps find fulfillment in such stories as Moby Dick, or Romeo and Juliet, or The Jungle Book, or other similar classics, try this one. It IS another classic - that is just what it is. And its author has already participated in the editing of other classics (check the last lines of the forword for a book called "The Silmarillion").
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on January 17, 2003
A magnificently told tale of honor, chivalry and song, Guy Gavriel Kay raises his status as storyteller and master of prose to new heights. The novel has many different levels of plot and theme such as redemption, conflict and the mysticism and magic of the land of Arbonne. Being the expert weaver of tales that Kay is, he brings all of these elements, and more, together in a powerfully satisfying novel.
The primary character, the mercenary Blaise is a man at odds with himself, his family and what his position means to the world at large. Blaise's native land, Gorhaut, is ruled by the amoral King Ademar and the even less scrupulous High Elder and Chief Counsellor, Galbert, who also happens to be Blaise's father. Blaise is a mercenary on a self-imposed exile besmirching his father's name and place in Gorhaut due to a treaty Galbert set up prior to the events of the novel.
In opposition to the male dominated Gorhaut is the female ruled Arbonne. While Arbonne does not overtly oppose Gorhaut, rather Galbert has a vendetta against the woman ruled land. Arbonne has echoes of Avalon in that it is surrounded by mystery and ruled by the Goddess. The novel begins with Blaise arriving at to the courts of Arbonne in his attempt to secure the troubadour Evrard as part of his job for a local duke. Blaise becomes involved in the eventual struggle between Arbonne and his once home nation of Garhaut. As the novel progresses, Blaise and the reader learn more about Arbonne, each characters ultimate connection to Arbonne and how they will play a role in Arbonne's destiny.
The strengths in this novel are Kay's magnificent descriptions of all things chivalric. From Blaise's contemplations and declarations of his honor, to the battles fought, the sword fights, and the inner dialogue characters such as Rosala has with herself, Kay instills each scene, each interaction with a depth of respect and display of veneration that ultimately brings them from page to inner eye with great flair and reverence. Kay also evokes vivid imagery and settings through the songs his troubadours sing. In all Kay displays a talent for writing these scenes and interactions as if he lived during the time period (France in the years 1000 to 1200) in which this novel is based.
As the novel draws to a close, intentions and actions are brought into question that still linger. Despite a couple of minor slow spots, the level of Kay's prose and his character development place this novel at the top of the fantasy genre.
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on December 14, 2002
I was a little bit reluctant to read such a long book when i wasnt terribley interested after reading the back cover. But i read it anyway. OH MY!! This book is absolutely AMAZING!! What a world. What an author! The culture and intertangled and intertwined motives, characters, plot, etc, etc., are utterly complex and wonderful. This book could not get enough stars, i wish there could have been more than five. The characters are believable and seemingly real. The ending was unexpected yet absolutely fantastic, though it did leave me wondering just a bit. !! WOW !! So entirely absorbing and fantastic that you want to finish it quick so you know what happens but then wish it just went on more and more. I recommend this book HIGHLY to anyone who likes historical fantasy that wants to read something besides the ordinary. This is the first book I've read by Guy Gavriel Kay and he is truly, and A Song for Arbonne, one of the best authors and books I've ever read. YOU MUST READ IT!! YOU WONT REGRET IT!!
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on December 11, 2002
My first reading of Guy Gavriel Kay was The Lions of Al-Rassan, and perhaps reading such an excellent book has spoiled some of his others for me, particularly the Fionavar books and A Song for Arbonne. This is not to say that these are not excellent books-- in a genre where skill in writing seems to often come dead last, Kay's books are a breath of fresh air. However, Arbonne has far more weaknesses than some of his other books, like Lions, Tigana, or the Sarantine Mosaic.
As ever, the plot is enthralling right from the start and continues to do so throughout the book. The characterization is one of Kay's high points, and all the major characters and many of the minor ones are exquisitely done. The relationship between the protagonist, Blaise, and his older brother is not merely a one-dimensional rivalry; it is like real-life relationships, complicated and messy and tragic in its very humanness. The women are extraordinary, from Signe, the dowager countess of Arbonne, trying to save her country while still mourning her husband, to Ariane, who is trying to create a world in which marriages can be made with love, not just for dynastic reasons, to Lisseut, the singer who is trying to deal with the events happening to her and to her country.
So why, then, did this book ultimately disappoint me? I can't say without spoiling the ending, but be assured, it is a weak one. Kay has proved that he can pull off extraordinary plot twists-- in The Wandering Fire, Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and Lord of Emperors-- but his 2 major attempts to do so in Arbonne fall quite flat. In the end, I am left with a sour taste in my mouth, feeling as if I've been unfairly tricked. If you enjoy Kay, you will find Arbonne worth your while, but it doesn't compare to some of his other books. However, as a caveat, I should say that in the forums devoted to Kay , there are many who adore Arbonne unreservedly. Nevertheless, for me its weakness of ending undermines the general good quality of the book.
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on April 24, 2003
This book definately had good aspects to it .It had a good deal of cultural development,much character development as well,very intrigueing plot ,but there were a couple things that were not very good.
1.There was a bit too much sex.Anyone who cannot bare excplicit sex will definately not like this.
2.There were many pointless characters.
3.There were many pointless paragraphs of discriptions.
4.Too many flashbacks.
But otherwise ,this is a very good book.I've had the Summer Tree reccomended to me ,so I will definately read that.
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on January 31, 2003
The beginning was a little slow, and the names were difficult at first for me. However, this is a great book. It is so good in fact that I think will read the rest of Kay's works to see if they are as good. It would be hard to give details of the story without revealing some its mystery. It's best to say, read it. In the first portion of the book very little happens, but it is essential to setting up the world and how its people live. Once the adventure begins, you are in for a wonderful treat.
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on October 27, 2008
I'm a Kay fan in general, and enjoy all of his work, particularly his books that contain an alternate vision of history. In this book, we see Kay's take upon the cultural clash between the Langue d'Oc and the Langue d'Or. It has echoes of the Albigensian Crusade, as well as many other elements of medieval Provence.

There's a lot to enjoy in this book, from clever dialogue and plot twists to some well drawn characters. The one thing that makes me hesitate before picking this book up to reread it is not a criticism, but praise for the strength of Kay's characterization: the main character's father is so all-encompassingly horrific that he puts me off my food. And goodness knows, we can't have that.
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on March 12, 2015
Knights,honour,glory, unfrequented love. A true tale. A again Guy leads us along a long and winding road. Very, very good.
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