When The Wandering Fire opens, Rakoth Maugrim is unchained and ready for a slow vengeance, and the five Torontonians have restlessly settled into their old lives. The opening line, “Winter is coming,” echoes the moody refrain of the book, and might remind readers of A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Indeed, an unnatural winter has come to Fionavar, being reflected in our world in the form of a slightly unseasonal snow storm.
The book consists essentially about how the five Toronto students go about solving the problem of the winter, which threatens to cause mass starvation in Brennin and the rest of the country, before the war against the Dark even begins. But first, the protagonists have to reach Fionavar.
Kim, who has a Seer’s power even in our world, travels to Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor to summon an ancient king, who she dreamed would be able to help them during the war in Fionavar. Her magic ring, the Baelrath, or Warstone, is sacred to the war goddesses Macha and Nemain, and enables her to summon King Arthur Pendragon, known as the Warrior and Childslayer, from the grave.
Meanwhile, Jennifer is recovering from giving birth to the child of Rakoth Maugrim, who captured and raped her. She entrusts the child, named Darien, to a foster mother, hoping that the child will tip the scales in favour of Light, should the child choose to follow it. Darien is a free radical, who might equally go to serve his father Rakoth or fight for the Light, though he is now but a child.
Returning the group, through the power of her ring, to Fionavar, Kim follows her path as Seer to marshal the forces of Light. After a night hunting wolves before the feast of Maidaladan, Kevin Lane receives a summons to fulfill his own destiny, and then the path towards ending the winter becomes clearer. War eventually comes to the land. And the answer to the survival of Light lies at sea, on the mysterious island of Cader Sedat, where the magic cauldron of Kath Meigol lies.
The Wandering Fire might have been the dreaded middle book of a fantasy series, but Kay has attempted to solve that problem by introducing the idea of the winter that claims Fionavar. He also brings in the myth of King Arthur, understanding his role not as that of an invincible king, but as a killer of children. Although Kay does not pause to explain all of Arthurian mythology, you can pick up on the hints he drops about Arthur’s past, if you are unfamiliar with the legends.
Merlin foretold that a child who was born (the young Mordred) would eventually overthrow Arthur’s power, so he advised Arthur to execute the children of his realm. He becomes cursed for his infanticide to return from death every once in a while to repeat the old story pattern of the love triangle involving Guinevere and Lancelot. Jennifer Lowell actually becomes Guinevere, as she takes on the role that must be played in this iteration of the Arthur narrative. The use of Arthurian myth is a definite strong point of this middle novel.
By the end, all the characters are off on their own quest, as war threatens to annihilate the entire Tapestry, if it is lost. More loss and grief emerges in this novel, as more characters sacrifice themselves for others, and for the greater good.
The feelings were powerful, but I will criticize this about Kay: he includes a few too many mentions of “grief” and “layers of grief” and other such references to the emotion, that it begins to lack variety. Perhaps because I read his novel in a relatively short time, I became over-saturated with that emotion, and the phrasings to demonstrate it. Nonetheless, it does not seriously impede the flow of the novel, and if anything, it increases the sense that The Fionavar Tapestry is definitely not a travel guide to a vacation destination, but a truly epic fantasy novel about a land called Fionavar.
The Wandering Fire contains all that I have mentioned, and so much more in the details. And the final novel of the series, The Darkest Road, forms the climax.