Something is stirring in the garden, ready to be reborn

In 1984, UK-born Martin Springett—an accomplished musician and illustrator who had produced comics for the legendary Heavy Metal magazine and designed and illustrated record covers for Columbia—was commissioned to illustrate the cover of The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay, the first novel of the acclaimed Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy. A classic of fantasy literature, the trilogy is beloved worldwide, and it launched Springett to international fantasy illustration fame.

In 1983, Springett is living in Toronto and releases his own album: The Gardening Club. A musically rich and diverse album, The Gardening Club combined King Crimson-like complexity, Canterbury scene-infused whimsy, and a strong pop sensibility, but in the shadow of new wave it was the right album, at the wrong time.

In 2016, The Gardening Club will be revitalized with a trilogy of releases: a deluxe repackaged version of the original LP, an EP filled with previously unreleased songs and a brand new companion graphic novel filled with Springett’s signature lush, oneiric imagery, wonderful wordplay and decidedly English brand of the fantastic.

You can stream this music for free on the Space Wreck site:

The Gardening Club Postcard

Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars read by Simon Vance

River of Stars audio-book coverThe following is a review of the audio-book edition of Guy Gavriel Kay’s River of Stars, a return to the world and setting of his critically acclaimed Under Heaven, narrated by Simon Vance and first released in July 2013.

This was not my first experience of a collaboration between author Guy Gavriel Kay and narrator Simon Vance having late last year listened to Vance reading my all-time favourite Kay novel, Tigana. I thought then that the narrator had the perfect voice for the author’s beautiful narrative and so I felt confident that River of Stars was a close to a "sure thing" as you’re likely to get.

Before the review, the story: Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life – in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later – and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor – and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

Guy Gavriel Kay is a very fine author, capable of writing wonderfully well within any genre. Those of use who read and review within the fantasy genre are forever grateful that he continues to produce books that belong to it. Kay’s forte is difficult to nail down – some might say alternate history, others historical fantasy and while both descriptions go some way to helping to explain his work to others neither are quite accurate enough. Perhaps the term often applied to Tim Burton’s films, a re-imagining, might convey well how Kay takes moment and place in time and uses it as the loom upon which he weaves his story.

Kay’s writing is, as always, poetic, the phrasing almost hypnotic. River of Stars is a large book that should be read/listened to carefully and steadily, as it is to be savoured. The book displays all the signs of being well researched and this allows for the story to evolve seamlessly as the cleverly interwoven storylines converge. Oh, and did I mention it’s inspired by Ancient China, which is a time I find particularly fascinating? There is however a rather dark feel to the narrative as all human life at this time is precarious and cheap with the lower classes of society in particular being used mercilessly by those of higher birth. The characters, both the low- and high-born are, as is always the case with Kay, well rounded and completely believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Simon Vance’s reading of Kay’s words as his delivery was subtle and nuanced. He wisely did not attempt to adopt Chinese accents for the characters, as surely that path would have only lead to disaster! Instead his delivery is quietly powerful and he cleverly uses subtle alterations that make it easy to identify between the large cast of characters. Vance is a narrator I would never hesitate to recommend and when provided with good source material the outcome with always be a pleasure to listen to.

Under Heaven was an excellent book and this ‘sequel’ is also very, very good. It is a rich and vibrant tale inspired by the decadent Song Dynasty. I would highly recommend River of Stars to fans of Kay’s previous works and for those with a love of historical fantasy, particularly concerning China.

8.8/10

River of Stars (unabridged) by Guy Gavriel Kay
Narrated by Simon Vance
Length: 20 hours, 48 minutes
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Limited

River of Stars is available only from Audible.co.uk

Fantastic fantasy artwork: The Fionavar Tapestry by Martin Springett

Chosen by Floresiensis

Over the coming weeks and months, all the reviewers here on Fantasy Book Review will be selecting their favourite fantasy artwork, choosing books that they are proud to have on their bookshelves, books that are worth buying for the covers alone.

I am very pleased to kick off this series of special features with the work of author, illustrator and musician Martin Springett. In 2006, Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry was reissued in the UK, gloriously adorned by Martin’s illustrations and I clearly remember picking up the first book and being enchanted by its beautiful cover. I could almost feel myself falling into it and I would spend longer and longer just gazing at it, connecting the illustrations to the story that was unfolding. I have many fine-looking books sitting on my bookshelf but the covers of The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire and The Darkest Road are without question my favourites of them all.

So, without further ado here is Martin, in his own words, talking about the process behind their creation:

“Creating images for book covers is one of the most enjoyable and challenging jobs I have as an Illustrator. No one does anything entirely on their own. There are many unseen connections in the creation of any work, but perhaps especially in the area of book illustration, where one is part of a team including publisher, editor, art director, illustrator, and, of course, author (I should add here that I haven’t had as much input from an author on subsequent cover projects as I had from Guy on these books). Generally the author does not choose the artist who will be creating the covers of his or her books, but will be consulted in the later stages, when the overall visual concept has been agreed on between artist and publisher. Some publishers will do this as a courtesy to the author, others will not. When reading the manuscript of a book I am to illustrate, I make notes on those visual aspects that appeal to me and that I feel give an overall sense of the story. Reading a manuscript in galley form is in fact a very different experience from that of reading a finished, bound book. I recall my first reading of The Summer Tree was from an unbound galley.

The Summer Tree book cover image: UK Reissue of The Fionavar Tapestry, 2006

“I was so caught up in the tale that my living room floor became covered in a blizzard of paper as I let the individual pages fall to the floor. Collecting them up again and putting them in order was a bit of a problem! The Summer Tree has a large cast of characters, and my first instinct was to try and depict this fascinating “parade”, but it seemed to me and to the art director that that would be too literal and ungainly. The publishers, McClelland and Stewart, were I think aware that this was a special book, and wished to have a cover that would reflect this. It was agreed that I should depict an image in the style and manner of a tapestry, decorative rather than literal, with none of the usual western perspective. This was deliciously freeing. I discovered an entirely new way of “seeing”. Instead of trying to convince viewers that they are looking at a three dimensional scene, I was concerned with form and movement on the surface of the picture, rather than attempting to create the illusion of depth. I became much more aware of design. It also gave me insight into images that were created in the medieval period. Ultimately I decided not to feature any of the main characters in the images I was creating for the covers. I think this was partly a reaction to trying to portray them in earlier versions, as I found that the more “realistic” detail I put in, the unhappier I became, as though I was doing a bad re-write and watching all the mystery of the story drain away. This was exactly in line with the way that Guy saw things as well. Somehow the cover illustration should intrigue, should retain the mystery; avoiding being too literal and yet still draw the reader in. In other words the book cover should say “Hello darling, I’m all yours, buy me” – or words to that effect. I met Guy for the first time when I was half way through the drawing of The Summer Tree cover. The circumstances weren’t that favorable at the time. I had made a lot of changes to the design already, and here was this pesky author wanting more. Luckily as it turned out, we were in harmony on the depiction of Fionavar. Guy was generous in his praise of where the cover was at the time, and I was happy to make what turned out to be a simple change: the colour of the unicorn. I’m sure most readers will have noticed by now that I didn’t give the unicorn wings, an oversight I have always wanted to correct. When I came to work on The Wandering Fire I knew exactly where I was. I felt at home being in Fionavar, and by this point I began to feel that I was depicting designs that the people of that world would create for themselves: large tapestries that would hang on the walls to commemorate great deeds or moments in their history. Actually, I have to believe in any world I am asked to create, if it is to have any resonance in my work. There is a technical difference between the first and second covers of the Fionavar books: The Summer Tree is basically a line drawing with colour rendered in inks and airbrush, whereas The Wandering Fire is an acrylic painting, with sky and snow created with inks and airbrush. The sea monster in The Wandering Fire was originally drawn up in black and white ink, but having gazed at so many brightly coloured medieval manuscripts, I knew I wanted to emulate their look, and was frustrated by the harshness of the line work. I did a little experimenting with acrylic, painted out the monster with white acrylic, and began to lay in washes of green and blue paint.

The Wandering Fire book cover image: UK Reissue of The Fionavar Tapestry, 2006

“The Wandering Fire was my second painting. I had always used inks before this, and so not only did I learn a new visual vocabulary doing these pieces, I found a new technique as well.

The Darkest Road book cover image: UK Reissue of The Fionavar Tapestry, 2006

“When I came to The Darkest Road I wanted to take the image to another level, and it has become my favourite of the three. I had become a great admirer of Guy’s work and we became friends during the creation of the trilogy. All that and more is in this image. I felt inspired during the work, and I painted the swan boat last, as I knew I was leaving the world of Fionavar, just as Leyse was. I have painted many book covers since then, but the situation with the trilogy was unique. After the success of The Summer Tree, the Canadian and British publishers basically said “go ahead and do whatever you want on the covers” which of course I was happy to do, so I had complete freedom within the confines of the visual concept now worked out. Also, as more and more publishers around the world bought the images for their editions, I had a financial cushion so I could — and these are the words every artist and writer loves– take my time and get it right. Generally of course, a cover artist is a hired gun. You’re not there to take your time and explore and ruminate to your heart’s content; there’s always a deadline. This is reasonable if not ideal: publishing is a business. Along with Guy’s input, the fact that the books were published in at least ten countries around the world with my covers, and can still be found on bookshelves here in Canada in their original covers sixteen years later, certainly makes the designing of these images unique in my career.”
Martin Springett

The words above have been reproduced with the kind permission of both Martin Springett and Deborah Meghnagi. For more information, and to see some early sketches please visit http://www.brightweavings.com/artgallery/oncovers.htm

What is Martin Springett working on now?

October 18, 2011 will see the publication Caitlin Sweet’s The Pattern Scars (ChiZine Publications), a dark fantasy book which features Martin Springett’s work (not on the cover though). Click on the images below to view it in a larger size.

The Pattern Scars book cover imageAn illustration by Martin Springett featured in The Pattern Scars.Another illustration by Martin Springett featured in The Pattern Scars.

About The Pattern Scars
Nola is born into poverty in Sarsenay City. When her mother realizes that Nola has the gift of Othersight and can foretell the future, she sells her to a brothel seer, who teaches the girl to harness her gift. As she grows up, she embraces her new life, and even finds a small circle of friends. All too soon, her world is again turned upside down when one of them is murdered. When a handsome, young Otherseer from the castle promises to teach her, she eagerly embraces the prospects of luxury beyond what she can imagine and safety from a killer who stalks girls by night. Little does she know that he will soon draw her into a web of murder, treachery, and obsessive desire that will threaten the people and land she holds dear, and that she will soon learn the harshest of lessons: that being able to predict the future has nothing to do with being able to prevent it.

We hope you have enjoyed reading our special feature on Martin Springett and his work, the best place to visit to learn more about him and his work is http://www.martinspringett.com/

We also hope that you will let us know about your favourite book covers/illustrations. Please let us know all about your favourites by using the comments box below, including a link to the images themselves if possible.

Under Heaven’s print run increases more than 35 percent

As Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven hits bookshelves this week, Penguin/Roc announced that they have increased the print run by more than 35% in anticipation of increased demand from readers and following rave reviews from major media outlets.

Fantasy Book Review recently reviewed Under Heaven and said “Under Heaven, inspired by the Tang Dynasty of Ancient China, is as beautiful and enriching a novel as you could possibly wish for. Kay is an expert storyteller, his writing style strong and fluid, his exposition always necessary and worked seamlessly into the narrative. He has successfully re-imagined Ancient China in the same accessible and absorbing way that he previously achieved with medieval France, Ottoman Spain and Renaissance Italy.”

Read the full review of Under Heaven here

We were not alone in our praise with The Huffington Post calling Under Heaven “a magnificent epic, flawlessly crafted, that draws the reader in like a whirlwind and doesn’t let go,” and #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson says: “Kay is a genius. I’ve read him all my life and am always inspired by his work. You will love Under Heaven.”

Under Heaven is inspired by the glory of 8th century, Tang Dynasty China. The Chinese empire was at a peak of economic and political power and was drawing influence from the Western world, much as it is today. Vividly drawn are the vast plains, mountain lakes and teeming cities; the political volatility and intrigue of the imperial court; and the unforgettable characters and storytelling we’ve come to expect from Guy Gavriel Kay.

Even institutional greats like Nancy Pearl, book commentator for NPR’s “Morning Edition,” are weighing in. Nancy says: “I loved, loved, loved Under Heaven. It had everything in it that made me such a fan of Kay in the first place. I thought Under Heaven was perfect.” And Bookpage praises Kay’s writing: “The prose has an almost lyrical quality, bowing to the strong influence of poetry over Chinese culture, and often offers contemplative turns of phrase that hint at larger truths…”

Under Heaven is the story of Shen Tai, a man who has just spent two years in the required mourning for his military hero father. Tai has chosen to do this alone by a remote mountain lake, the site of savage warfare in the past, by taking up the task of laying to rest the bones of dead soldiers from both armies. At the beginning of the novel Tai is given an unbelievably extravagant gift from the enemy court, in recognition of his courage and piety and the honour he has done the dead. The caveat is that he now must embark on the perilous journey back home, a target of potentially murderous jealousy and fear, as someone who may suddenly play a role in the balance of power at a subtle and dangerous court. The reader is introduced to a vibrant cast of characters who each in turn must deal with the repercussions of Tai’s return in their own lives.

The New Yorker raves that you can “(read) anything by Guy Gavriel Kay…. Kay has written a number of standalone novels that take place in alternate worlds with a similar geography and history to our own, and they are all excellent. His strengths are strong characters and fantastic set pieces.” Like A.S. Byatt, Kay uses elements of the fantastic to examine themes of history. Under Heaven is a grand-scale, emotionally compelling work that evokes a magnificent period through vividly realized characters.

Coming soon: Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

Guy Gavriel Kay is one of Fantasy Book Review’s favourite authors and widely regarded as the fantasy writers’ writer. Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rasan and Ysabel (2008 World Fantasy winner) and the The Fionavar Tapestry and The Sarantine Mosaic series are all wonderful examples of fantasy, often based on real historical events and times.

April 29, 2010 will see the publication of his latest work, an epic historical adventure set in a pseudo 8th century China.

Under Heaven is a novel of heroes, assassins, concubines and emperors set against a majestic and unforgiving landscape. For two years Shen Tai has mourned his father, living like a hermit beyond the borders of the Kitan Empire, by a mountain lake where terrible battles have long been fought between the Kitai and the neighbouring Tagurans, including one for which his father – a great general – was honoured. But Tai’s father never forgot the brutal slaughter involved. The bones of 100,000 soldiers still lie unburied by the lake and their wailing ghosts at night strike terror in the living, leaving the lake and meadow abandoned in its ring of mountains. To honour and redress his father’s sorrow, Tai has journeyed west to the lake and has laboured, alone, to bury the dead of both empires. His supplies are replenished by his own people from the nearest fort, and also – since peace has been bought with the bartering of an imperial princess – by the Tagurans, for his solitary honouring of their dead. The Tagurans soldiers one day bring an unexpected letter. It is from the bartered Kitan Princess Cheng-wan, and it contains a poisoned chalice: she has gifted Tai with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses, to reward him for his courage. The Sardians are legendary steeds from the far west, famed, highly-prized, long-coveted by the Kitans.

We will be reading and reviewing Under Heaven as soon as is humanly possible, so check back nearer the publication date.

Guy Gavriel Kay was born in Canada and is still based out of Toronto. At the beginning of his career Gavriel Kay aided Christopher Tolkien in the editing of JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Kay incorporates real history into his fantasy books with the influences of medieval France, Moorish Spain and the Byzantium Empire all prominent in his novels. His first major and successful work was the Fionavar Tapestry which was first published between 1984 and 1986.

Guy Gavriel Kay comments on George RR Martin

A writer’s engagement with readers via blogs and websites creates a real relationship and unleashes the demands – sometimes angry demands – that go with it.

George RR Martin is the hugely successful purveyor of an ongoing, seven-volume fantasy series called A Song of Ice and Fire. Four books are done. The first three came quickly, then there was a five-year wait for the fourth. The first indicated publication date for the fifth instalment, fiercely awaited, was 2006. That has rather obviously been missed: Martin is still writing it. The natives are restless.

In 1996, Martin began work on “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a series of books inspired by the War of the Roses (a series of civil wars fought between the House of York (white rose) and the House of Lancaster (red rose) for the English throne in the 15th century). The first book published from this series was “The Game of Thrones”, and the fourth book; “A Feast of Crows” became The New York Times No.1 bestseller. Readers and critics alike acclaim the series.

Guy Gavriel Kay still writes occasionally for radio and television but his main work consists of researching and writing the fantasy novels for which he is now world renowned. The film company, Warner Brothers, announced in 2005 that they were planning to make The Lions of Al-Rassan into a motion picture.