Set in a world based on the times of troubadour in Provence, A Song for Arbonne stars a group of extraordinary characters who do extraordinary things. As in Tigana, much of the story is driven by men who cannot give up their fixations. Also, Fionavar is mentioned, and there’s a big battle at the end. What really matters to me, though, is that it’s the one of the two books by Guy Gavriel Kay that kept me up reading all night. How did it do that?
So I decided it was time to re-read it and try to figure it out. On the first read, it took me a few days to read the first couple hundred pages and I pulled an all-nighter to read the rest. On the second read, I gulped down the first couple hundred pages and dawdled through the rest. It’s taken me a while to process my reactions.
On both reads, I find Arbonne is a pleasant world to linger in, full of music and color. It’s ruled by a countess and priestesses, but the two characters who stand out are men: Bertran and Blaise. I loved Bertran and liked Blaise.
Bertran was a complex, flawed hero, a troubadour who reluctantly became a duke. I liked his humility of riding in non-descript browns. The mothering circuit kicked in, drawn to the sense of hurt and unhealed wounds that hung about him. I wasn’t so sure I liked the message that you were supposed to admire him for being a skilled seducer, but I was amused at how skillfully he anticipated the moves of all parties involved. I really liked the subtle way he questioned the young foreign knight, Blaise. But on the second read, I knew he would never free himself of the pain of the past, and I liked Blaise more.
Blaise seems at first just a wanderer from the Bad Realm of Gorhaut, but hints of secrets are dropped. I was amused at how skeptical he was of the world of Arbonne, having my own doubts about it. Just when you understand how Bertran can’t change any more, Blaise starts to grow up and open his eyes to what Arbonne has to offer.
Naturally, my favorite parts of the book center on these two. My first favorite section is comprised of the chapters where Blaise is questioned, tested, and recruited by Bertran. There’s a a lot of verbal fencing, people not saying exactly what they mean. My second favorite section comes when Blaise must defend Bertran’s life. I was totally absorbed in the twists that Blaise went through. Each chapter ended on something that I wanted to know about next. I only managed to stop when Blaise made a critical decision and I said to myself, Ah yes, Now I know what the rest of the book is about.
On my first read, this is the point where I couldn’t stop and spent the rest of the night sucking down the rest of the book, finishing at around 7 am. On my second, this is exactly where I could stop, because I remembered that I had just read my favorite parts. On the first read, I closed the book thinking it was worth owning. On the second read, I closed the book glad that I bought it.
In short, I felt in love not with the book, but the people inside.