I was introduced to Kay through the now classic ‘Fionavar Tapestry’ trilogy. At the time the excitement for us local fantasy types was the fact portions of the series took place in Toronto, utilising locals such as the Royal Ontario Museum. That it was exceptionally well written and detailed and internationally recognised was gravy.
‘The Last Light of the Sun’ continues Kay’s legacy of imaginative fantasy. The story occurs in an area of the world thinly disguised as England and Wales (Anglcyn and Cyngael), and centres on their struggles against Viking invaders (the Erling). Kay’s world is an extension of the universe realised in his previous novel, ‘The Lions of Al-Rassan’, and is every bit as compelling with his extensively researched religious and cultural backhistory. However, this time around the magic is more subdued and earthly. It is strongly reminiscent of Celtic and Druidic lore, and succeeds in promoting a healthy respect for its mystery and sense of dread. The downplayed magic allows the deeply drawn characters to assume center stage.
The thrust of the story is about an Erling raid on Cyngael soil some 25 years after a previous raid resulted in the death of one of their most beloved warriors. The raid is only partly successful, and results in gathering several divergent personages into common cause. The people of Cyngael and Anglcyn respond swiftly to the attack, forcing the Erlings to make some hard decisions. Woven around this core plot line are a series of subplots that ultimately lead the reader toward the climatic confrontation. If there’s anything to knock about the story, it’s the fact so much takes place, leaving sections of it feeling rushed. But that’s just a minor quibble, as the book already weighs in at nearly 500 pages.
As stated, Kay has crafted an assortment of rich characters, drawn from all sides of the conflict. Each has their reasons and motivations, all completely justified within their particular point of view. Another nice touch is the extended biographies for incidental characters that interact briefly with key individuals – very reminiscent of David Gemmel. One particular segment deals with an item left in a forest to secure passage, and the same item being found generations later by people who have no knowledge of the reasons why it was first placed. I found the irony quite touching.
I’ve always found Kay’s prose extremely readable. I can even handle his use of telling asides in brackets (a gimmick that normally irks me to no end). ‘The Light of the Last Sun’ is no exception. Kay takes the grand scope of competing civilisations, politics, religion, cultural differences, surrounds it with intimate characters, and weaves the whole collection into a fascinating page-turning tale.
If you have never read Guy Gavriel Kay, you can do worse than try ‘The Last Light of the Sun’. If you have, then you’ll likely find it not quite on the level of ‘The Fionavar Tapestry’ or ‘Tigana’. However, it’s definitely recommended, and a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that has become somewhat stagnant over the past few years.