Boozy Books: A Song for Arbonne

Heyo! It’s Boozy Books time, ladies and gentlemen, so gather ’round, clutch your favorite booze close, and drink your favorite book. Wait. I think I got that backwards. Eh… whatever.

I recently procured a new Guy Gavriel Kay book. Not the one I’m going to pair today — I haven’t finished the new one yet — but it got me in the mood to pair another of his masterpieces. For the record, I paired The Sarantine Mosaic not too long ago, so if you missed it, go ahead and check it out. For me, it’s the best of Kay, although I’m hoping Children of Earth and Sky, which takes place in the same world, ends up being another favorite. Given the outrageous love I have for Renaissance Venice right now, it has a good head start.

But that’s for the next edition (in two weeks for me). This week is A Song for Arbonne, which is a stand-alone that doesn’t intersect with Kay’s other novels. And one of my most favorite books of all time.

Like most of Kay’s books, the fantasy here comes in light touches, lying mostly in the fact that they take place in an alternate universe of Kay’s own creation. You’re not going to find wood nymphs or unicorns or magic floating around the joint, but you do get the sense of delight and wonder any good fantasy world gives you. Arbonne is the idealized nation of any troubadour’s dream, with the Court of Love at its heart. Those of you familiar with medieval history will recognize the concept of the Court of Love, the most famous of which belonged to Eleanor of Aquitaine and to which all matters of love were presented, where they were judged by tribunals of the most celebrated, beautiful, and accomplished women. A truly enlightened ideal in this woman’s mind. They exercised real authority, too; it wasn’t just playacting to amuse the women. Their decisions were final.

Anyway, Arbonne is a nation ruled by women and where a Goddess — not a God — is worshiped. Troubadours are valued, poets are adored, and love is a perfectly good excuse for getting into a decades-long dispute.

The problem for this idyllic nation is that Gorhaut, the nation to its north, wants to eradicate Arbonne entirely. They worship a militant god and consider Arbonne and its women little more than heretical whores to be expunged. (The novel, it must be noted, was loosely based on the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars, though with a much happier ending.) So, when the very pregnant Rosala, Queen of Gorhaut, flees south to Arbonne, it is the perfect excuse (in the mind of Gorhaut) to annihilate the nation to the south. And Arbonne, gripped by that decades-long dispute I mentioned earlier, may not be prepared to do anything about it. After all, they’re just a bunch of goddess-worshiping poets who fight over love and let women rule them, right?

Like all of Kay’s books, this is sumptuously crafted. Even if you’re not into the plot, which is pretty simple if you think about it, or the characters, who are awesome so I don’t know why you wouldn’t love them eternally (especially the women), you’ve got to love Kay for his command of language. I’m a great lover of lyrical writing and taking time from the drive of the story to admire a well-crafted sentence, paragraph, page, etc. I’ve come across people who dislike this, though, so a warning: if you’re someone who just wants the story to plow forward, telling you only what you need to know, and taking no time to revel in the love of writing for its own sake (which is fine), Kay is not for you. He Tolkiens a bit, is what I’m saying. But he might actually Tolkien better than Tolkien in that his words are just more evocative. (Don’t hurt me.) Blaise definitely has a kind of Aragorn feel to him, now that I think about it.

Anyway. I love this book. I love Guy Gavriel Kay. So I am going to pick a drink I love. OK, so I’ll also give you the booze you’re waiting for (I don’t really like to drink, which I’ve mentioned before, but far be it from me to tell other people what to enjoy), but I want to start with something I really like. (Please don’t laugh at me). Shirley Temples. With as many cherries as you want. A mix of ginger ale, a slash of OJ, and some grenadine (enough to make the drink reddish), all shaken up and served with a crazy straw. Yes, the crazy straw is necessary. They’re fun. If you want a less sweet version, swap out the ginger ale for soda water. I won’t judge.

Now, that’s not exactly the drink that FEELS like it belongs with this novel, though. It’s too sweet, too light, too fun. There’s depth to this novel. It might seem like it’s about a society that has nothing going on but poetry and music, but Arbonne has steel when it needs to, and its women are as razor sharp in their barbs as the men are with their swords. There needs to be sweetness, but power and depth. And, of course, it needs to come from France. So… I’m recommending a Banyuls, which is, to probably anger wine experts around the world, basically akin to a Port. Banyuls is a fortified wine from a very specific portion of France (the slopes of the Pyrenees in Roussillon county). Mostly red, there are also some white varieties available depending on your taste. Sweet wine is basically the only kind I’ll drink, so… I might actually try this pairing. After the Shirley Temple, of course.

Well, this has been another Boozy Books! Join us tomorrow for some Shakespeare!

C

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