Reading Passages/Extracts

What I feature here, with GGK’s permission, are selected extracts, or passages, from each of his books. These passages are the ones chosen specifically by GGK for reading aloud when he is on public tours, or at conventions. It goes without saying, but I will say it nevertheless, that many of these passages are huge spoilers, and if you are new to GGK’s books and don’t want the experience spoiled, then you should surf on out of this section before getting much further in. Why put them in at all then? Well, for a number of reasons. Most simply, on a site such as this, an ‘authorized’ website on a particular writer, I think it only reasonable and appropriate to have some examples of what we’re all so passionate about actually present on the site. Furthermore, I thought it would be of interest to readers who haven’t themselves been lucky enough to attend one of GGK’s readings in person to find out which particular passage of a book he chooses to read when reading aloud. GGK himself gives us a brief explanation of his motivations in these choices in his essay ‘On Readings’. And lastly, for any of you reading this who have not read any of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, and want to know what you’re missing before buying a copy, or borrowing one from a library…well – bearing in mind my spoiler warning, this section is for you.

Most of the passages are between seven and ten pages long. Below I give brief introductions to the passages, so that you will have some context in which to ground your reading.

On Readings

GGK’s explanation of what leads him to choose particular passages to read aloud, along with a discussion of the differences inherent between reading privately to yourself, and reading aloud to an audience.

The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy

Book One: The Summer Tree

Paul is one of five young people from Toronto who have been carried to another world, named Fionavar, by the mage Loren Silvercloak. The land that they find themselves in, the High Kingdom of Brennin, is suffering under a heavy drought. In this land, there is a tree, the Summer Tree of the title, sacred to the god Mornir, on which it has been the custom in ages past for the king of the land, or a volunteer in his stead, to hang for 3 days and then die as sacrifices to Mornir, in supplication for help from the god in times of greatest need. Paul, grieving and guilt-ridden after the death of his girlfriend the year before, has gone before the aged king Ailell and offered to die for him on the Summer Tree, in the hope that he can end the drought, and end his own pain. Aillel agrees. This passage begins with Paul’s second night on the Summer Tree…

Book Two: The Wandering Fire

In this passage, the High King of Brennin and his men have been appealed to to aid the people of Gwen Ystrat, centre of the worship of the goddess Dana, and under Brennin’s rule. Gwen Ystrat has been suffering under incursions from thousands of large wolves that are threatening its farmlands. Joining the High King on the hunt are Kevin and Dave, two of the five brought to Fionavar from our world. The hunt begins in Leinanwood…

Book Three: The Darkest Road

Diarmuid, Crown Prince of Brennin, has led the men of the South Keep across the sea to do battle with a renegade mage, who has been causing the vicious and unnatural winter in Brennin. Returning from their mission, they are caught off the coast near the Anor Lisen in a raging storm. Coll, Diarmuid’s chief lieutenant, is struggling to keep their ship Prydwen off the deadly rocks…


Two sorcerors, one a petty lordling from Barbadior, the other the king of Ygrath, have come to the Peninsula of the Palm from overseas, intent on conquest. Brandin, King of Ygrath, wants to carve out a realm for his beloved younger son, Stevan. Having conquered three of the nine provinces of the Palm, he sends Stevan to subjugate the next province whilst he faces Alberico, the other conqueror. Stevan is killed in battle by the people of that last province. Brandin, in bitterest grief, and in revenge against the people who killed his son, lays a curse on that province. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Only those born there remember their true history. The province is renamed Lower Corte. Dianora is a young girl living in that province. Her father, a court sculptor, died in battle against Brandin. Her mother’s mind has snapped under the horrors of the occupation. She must try as best she can to keep herself, her mother, and her younger brother alive in a world gone crazy with cruelty…

A Song for Arbonne

Arbonne is a land in which the laws of courtly love hold sway. Troubadours pen elaborate lyrics and melodies in honour of noble-born women; most often married women, and are honoured for doing so. Evrard of Lussan is a troubadour of mediocre talents who has honoured a minor baron with his patronage. He has increased Mallin de Baude’s prestige by visiting his castle for a season, and making his wife, Soresina, the object of his verse. One night, made rash by wine, he unwisely attempts to convey his passion to Soresina, who, roused from sleep, shrieks and curses him. Evrard, affronted by this assault to his dignity, leaves the castle and takes sanctuary on Rian’s Isle, sacred to the goddess Rian. There he begins to pen songs excoriating Soresina, rather than praising her. Mallin of Baude, hugely embarrassed, sends his newly hired mercenary captain, Blaise, with a team of men, to fetch Evrard back from the island. Blaise is not from Arbonne at all, but from Gorhaut, where customs are rather different. What he has seen of Arbonne so far, he does not particularly like…

The Lions of Al-Rassan

Rodrigo Belmonte of Jaddite Esperaña, ‘the Captain,’ has gone with his company to Fezana, a city of Asharite Al-Rassan, to fetch tribute for his king. Whilst there he discovers Garcia de Rada, a fellow Jaddite, brother to the constable of the realm, leading a band of men in pillaging the Asharite hamlet of Orvilla, murdering its men and raping its women. The hamlet should have acquired Esperanan protection under the terms of the tribute money; what de Rada was doing was explicitly forbidden and illegal. Rodrigo, furious, scars de Rada himself with a whip, and orders the execution of de Rada’s cousin for the rape and murder of a pregnant Orvillan woman. The execution goes against courtly code, because de Rada’s company have already laid down their weapons and sued for ransom. Garcia de Rada is ordered to walk back to Esperaña and submit to the King’s judgement. Instead of doing this, he decides to take his revenge on Rodrigo Belmonte by attacking his wife and children at their family ranch in Esperaña whilst Belmonte himself is still away in Al-Rassan…

The Sarantine Mosaic

Book One: Sailing to Sarantium

Caius Crispus of Varena, known as Crispin, is a mosaicist. An imperial summons has come to his partner Martinian, asking that he journey to the mighty city of Sarantium to advise the Emperor on a mosaic project. Martinian, an old man, does not wish to travel to Sarantium, and tries to persuade Crispin to take his place. Crispin has no ambition left, having lost his wife an
d two daughters to plague, and with them his will to live. Discussing the summons with his mother, he maintains that he will not go. Outside his own home later that same evening, he is attacked by a group of men. He fights back, but has a sack dropped over his head, and is then rendered unconscious by their blows…

Book Two: Lord of Emperors

The King of Kings, Shirvan of Bassania, has been shot, apparently by accident, during a hunt. The arrow is lodged deep within the wound. The royal doctors seem certain to fail the King. He orders them put to death. One of the Bassanid soldiers knows of a local doctor who might be able to save the King of Kings. Rustem of Kerakek is in the midst of his afternoon surgery, tutoring his apprentices in the ways of medicine…

The Last Light of the Sun

GGK new iconGGK comments: “I’ve used different reading passages from Last Light over the period since it came out. On the last several occasions, however, what follows has been my preference and I suspect I’m likely to stay with it. I like this stitched-together section because it first introduces the realm of faerie in the novel, and because it gives a hint of how I’ve played with present tense in the last few books, each time with a different purpose. I usually lead in with a comment on regarding ‘the fantastic’ as a tool in the writer’s arsenal, to be used if and when it seems appropriate to the story being told. For this book it did seem that way to me.”


GGK new iconGGK comments: “I sometimes read the short Prologue from YSABEL, preceded and followed by a discussion of the themes and setting of the book, and how the Prologue is designed to lay out some of these. When I do a longer reading from the novel, it is almost always the passage here. I like that it offers an ‘outside’ look at Ned and an ‘inside’ one for Phelan, that it shifts mood and tone, foreshadows some of the coming drama … and doesn’t spoil very much. It also, I regret to say, appeals to the tease in me, because the last sentence is a cliff-hanger.”

River of Stars

GGK new iconGGK comments: “As a rule, my reading passages come from early in the novels. It took me too many years and books to figure out why that makes sense. But … I don’t like doing long backfill explanations at a book launch or reading event, and early passages avoid the worst of those, obviously. Long preambles can put people to sleep, and I try to avoid having listeners in such a state before I even get started reading. It is counterproductive, in my carefully considered opinion. I do like passages with wide swings in mood or tone. They ‘perform’ better. Our state of mind in an audience is not the same as it is when we’re alone with a book. I also look for some humor, even if small. A book reading isn’t standup comedy, but there’s a good effect (as writer, as performer) in hitting listeners with an emotional or tense moment right after they’ve been chuckling, or vice versa. Contrast is useful. (See: keeping listeners awake, above.) The reading passage I like from River of Stars breaks my “read from the beginning” rule, although it isn’t the first time I’ve done that. It is a very self-contained episode, however and it showcases one of the two main protagonists and reveals aspects of the historical setting. There’s also a kick at the end that points forward … a hook. (Can a kick be a hook?) What do you need to know before reading this? Not a lot. River of Stars is inspired by the Song Dynasty of China in the 1100s. The two men introduced here, Daiyan and Ziji, are outlaws, important ones in the area where this scene unfolds. Both come from respectable backgrounds, which matters. They are in a small town which ought to be safe for them to visit quietly, but 12th Dynasty Kitai, my slightly-skewed China, isn’t a time or place where safety can be assumed or assured.”


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