Guy Gavriel Kay – The Last Light of the Sun
29. The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay (2004)
Length: 500 pages
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Started: 16 February 2011
Finished: 22 February 2011
Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? Even back when I got this one, GGK was already well established as one of my favorite authors.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 August 2008.
Nothing messes up
a good party like a bunch
of Viking raiders.
Summary: The Last Light of the Sun takes place in the same world as Kay’s Sarantium Mosaic and The Lions of Al-Rassan, although far to the North. It’s a world like-but-not-quite Earth, and Last Light sits at a junction that’s part Poetic Edda, part Beowulf, and part Arthurian legend. In this world, the Erling warriors in their longships have been conducting fierce raids on the coasts of the North for time out of mind, but the Anglcyn king has subdued them with a treaty that has held for decades. However, their uneasy peace is shattered by an unexpected nighttime raid on the inland household of one of Cyngael, the fractious principalities to the west of Anglcyn.
Two princes of the Cyngael were present at that raid, and Alun ab Owyn is left in a dark despair after the death of his older brother and the loss of his soul. He rides with Cennion, the high cleric of the Cyngael, to Anglcyn, to warn the King – and his four intelligent but idle children – of the renewed danger. A separate storyline follows Bern Thorkellson, a young Erling whose father was exiled from their island home for murder. His life’s hopes tainted by his father’s crimes, Bern sets off for the mainland, seeking to join an elite group of mercenary fighters… but tensions with the Anglcyn are high, and mercenaries cannot always choose the motivations behind the jobs that they are given.
Review: Guy Gavriel Kay writes like no one else I’ve ever read. He can take a scene that by any rights should be something fairly small – something that in another writer’s hands would hardly register in my brain – and imbue it with such power that it reaches up and grabs you by the heart and the throat and steals your breath away when you are least expecting it. He’s also incredibly adept at building his worlds and setting the scene with a remarkably small amount of description. One of the things I liked best about this book was how vividly it felt like I was in the middle of a Viking encampment or a Welsh farmstead, all without one word about the furniture or the dresses. Guy Gavriel Kay’s writing is a large part of why his books typically take me a while to read. Not that the writing is particularly difficult or dense – although neither is it easy and light – but that it’s got such power that I find myself wanting to take it slowly, to give myself time to roll around in it, to absorb it, to give it space to breathe.
But… there’s a but. While the writing in The Last Light of the Sun was as good as in any of Kay’s other books, the story was not my favorite. It kept me interested, without a doubt, and didn’t drag, but I also never really got particularly invested in it, either. I think it may have been due to the preponderance of characters. I prefer Kay’s books more when they focus on one or a few main POV characters, while Last Light of the Sun had a substantial number of characters that wound up evenly sharing the narration. As a result, the story felt a bit scattered, with not enough time spent with any one character to build a proper emotional connection. Similarly, there were a number of story elements – Cennion’s past, the Viking seer, Kendra’s newfound gift – that didn’t get as much development as they deserved. I still really enjoyed reading it, it just didn’t quite have the resonance and oomph of Tigana or The Lions of Al-Rassan. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I say this every time I review one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels, but it’s a damn shame more people aren’t reading them too. And not just fans of grown-up fantasy, either, but historical fiction fans as well, since apart from taking place in not-quite-Earth, these books are essentially historical fiction. Last Light of the Sun has more fantasy elements than most of his books (but less than, say, Tigana), but it’s all of the folklore-ish variety – spirit woods with actual spirits in them, mostly. So, the upshot is: Read them! If you’ve got a particular affinity for Vikings, then start with Last Light of the Sun, otherwise I’d recommend starting with Lions of Al-Rassan to get a feel for Kay at his best.
Other Reviews: Libri Touches
Really, people, that’s it? Just one? If you’ve reviewed this book, leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: A horse, he came to understand, was missing.
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