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A Song For Arbonne Paperback – December 29, 1992

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 513 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Publishers; 1st American ed edition (December 29, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0517593122
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517593127
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,305,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Based on the troubadour culture that rose in Provence during the High Middle Ages, this panoramic, absorbing novel beautifully creates an alternate version of the medieval world. As in Tigana , it is a world with two moons. The matriarchal, cultured land of Arbonne is rent by a feud between its two most powerful dukes, the noble troubador Bertran de Talair and Urte de Miraval, over long-dead Aelis, lover of one, wife of the other and once heir to the country's throne. To the north lies militaristic Gorhaut, whose inhabitants worship the militant god Corannos and are ruled by corrupt, womanizing King Ademar. His chief advisor, the high priest of Corannos, is bent on wiping out the worship of a female deity, whose followers live to the south. Into this cauldron of brewing disaster comes the mysterious Gorhaut mercenary Blaise, who takes service with Bertran and averts an attempt on his life. The revelation of Blaise's lineage and a claim for sanctuary by his sister-in-law set the stage for a brutal clash between the two cultures. Intertwined is the tale of a young woman troubadour whose role suggests the sweep of the drama to come. Kay creates a vivid world of love and music, magic and death in a realm that resembles ours but is just different enough to enrich the fantasy genre. 25,000 first printing; major ad/promo.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“For anyone who appreciates that rarest of literary treasures: the ideal novel.”
—Charles de Lint

“This panoramic, absorbing novel beautifully creates an alternate version of the medieval world of love and music, magic and death.”
Publishers Weekly

“A richly ornamented and tightly woven tapestry… War, love, assassination, deception, kindness, heroism, loyalty, friendship, and magic mix…in startling, unexpected, and satisfying ways.”

“An exhilarating epic…a powerful tale of great events in a richly drawn magical kingdom.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Rarely has a book come along that fulfills on so many levels…Kay skillfully and lyrically paints a portrait of a land and the human hearts that inhabit it, complete with their failures and epiphanies.”
Palm Beach Post --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Jisetsu on December 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
A Song For Arbonne
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Kay's status as one of the finest contemporary fantasy novelists is due largely to the beauty of his prose, his substantial powers of description, and the depth of his characters - all traits of the fine fiction writer not normally associated (for shame!) with the fantasy genre. That his books are still shelved in the fantasy section of your local bookstore is due largely to his first efforts (The Fionavar Trilogy, Tigana) which are firmly within the fantasy tradition. A Song For Arbonne marks a decided step away from that tradition, as Kay almost completely eschews magic in this book (and those that follow) and concentrates more on the political and personal relationships between his characters.
The strongest argument for categorizing Kay as a fantasy writer is that his stories inhabit imaginary worlds. Kay's international bestseller Tigana was very loosely set in an imaginary Italy (he wrote part of the book in Tuscany) and with A Song For Arbonne and the books that follow, the extent that art imitates life becomes increasingly pointed, as Kay develops a place of his own to write books that fall somewhere between the fantasy and historical fiction genres.
A Song For Arbonne is Kay's hommage to Medieval France (he wrote most of the book in Provence) and the Court of Love. If the book lacks the epic sweep of Tigana, Kay makes up for it in his loving evocation of Arbonnais culture. It is this "flavor" of an imagined time and place that is one of Kay's hallmarks as a writer, and he is in fine form here.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Barry C. Chow on November 11, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the first of Kay's works where the conventions of fantasy are largely abandoned. In his preceding work, Tigana, he has already dropped the plethora of non-human and mythical entities that are an obligatory part of most fantasy settings. Here, he further reins in the role of magic. In A Song for Arbonne, magic is reduced to a completely subsidiary function. It is used only to supply a motive for one kingdom's conflict with another.
This is an entirely good thing. By divesting himself of fireballs, voodoo and the most overwrought elements of the supernatural, Kay has freed himself to play to his strengths: his gift for characterization, his lyrical voice and his facility with evocation.
This is not to say that there is anything wrong with a basic blood-and-guts sword and sorcery epic. Some of my favourite tales are Howard's original Conan stories. But Kay is a different writer. He is strongest when depicting the human condition. He does not paint dragons or demons convincingly. But his balladeers are so real that you swear he must have lived as one in a prior life.
It is not a perfect work. The changing tenses are confusing and unnecessary. Allusions are sometimes indulgent. The main character arrives at his redemption a tad too easily. The antagonists are not fleshed out deeply enough. Some of the secondary characters need more to do. But these are quibbles. They are noticeable only because Kay has achieved such a high standard throughout, that any criticism must focus on the niggling stuff. However, they are distracting enough to prevent a perfect score.
So what is there to recommend this book? Kay has produced a world so textured and substantial that we are intrigued more by the imaginary land of Arbonne than the real land of Provence after which it is modelled.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Elyon on June 12, 1999
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have greatly enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay's writing, and even found "The Fionavar Tapestry" engaging, if not equal to his later, more mature work. Kay is certainly one of the best and most original writers fantasy has to offer, and this work remains a favorite. Like "The Lions of Al-Rassan" and "Sailing to Sarantium ", the story is loosely based upon a historical period and culture, in this case the troubadour era of Mediterranean Europe. Kay interweaves his tale with the customs of medieval knighthood as well as the conflicting worship of a patriarchal sun god and an older, magical veneration of a goddess familiar to anyone having studied Robert Graves. Interlaced into these plot motifs are elements of court intrigue, mystery, and familial skeletons in the closet. Yet out of this seeming disparate stew Kay is able to distill a complicated tale of conflict that is not only believable but attains a life of its own. Unlike much fantasy fiction, the characterization is mature and complex, both in thought and motivation, and Kay's characters evolve with the story. Further, neither the plot nor the players always follow what is expected, yet at no time does the action become contrived or a stretch of one's credulity. Kay obviously loves the unforeseen twist, and cleverly calls it to use. And I think you'll find the aftermath to "A Song for Arbonne" an unsuspected delight.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ilana Teitelbaum on May 23, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
How does one begin to describe what this book is about? It begins with love, circles around to honor, loyalty to one's country, one's family--and then at last comes full circle to explore love once again, this time striking into deeper waters than were previously believed to exist.

While it is not as tightly plotted and cohesive in its structure as 'Tigana', 'A Song for Arbonne', by exploring the uncharted waters of love and sacrifice, reaches a new level of depth and sadness which instead of harshly stabbing to the heart, sinks in slowly. There is less high drama here (although there is plenty) but the drama that there is has been built by mounting tensions which allow all the pieces to eventually draw together toward a wrenching conclusion. In the end it is all the more powerful for the subtle elements which went into its weaving.

'Tigana' dealt with shattering tragedies. This book does as well, but focuses more on the moments of deep grief and sadness, the nostalgia for lost innocence and music pouring from a broken heart; all the things born of tragedy yet so often ignored.

I do feel that this book has flaws: there was occasionally a lack of coherent structure--sometimes the book would have been more effective if there had been less jumping to different viewpoints; aside from the main cast, which is spectacular, some of these characters are minor and hard to care about. When I re-read the book, I tend to skip these sections.

However, these flaws are not enough to cloud the bittersweet glory of 'A Song for Arbonne', for they are eclipsed by the emotion and power which shines so brightly. Kay has created a masterpiece that any reader, even someone who does not read fantasy, can appreciate on its own terms.
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