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The Last Light of the Sun Paperback – 3 Mar 2011
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Praise for THE LAST LIGHT OF T HE SUN:
‘History and fantasy rarely come together as gracefully or readably as they do in the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay… [THE LAST LIGHT OF THE SUN] is an ambitious entertainment that transcends the historical record, offering cogent observations on fathers and sons, on the power of grief, on faith, courage, loyalty and the inevitability of change’ Washington Post
Praise for Guy Gavriel Kay:
‘A fine, intelligent series. Probably the best of its kind’ British Fantasy Society
‘A remarkable achievement. The essence of high fantasy’ Locus
‘Kay has delivered such a magnificent conclusion – I can’t praise it enough. THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY will be read and reread for many years to come’ Fantasy Review
‘Packed with action…’
About the Author
Guy Gavriel Kay was born and raised in Canada. In 1974-5 he spent a year in Oxford assisting Christopher Tolkien in his editorial construction of J R R Tolkien’s posthumously published THE SILMARILLION. He took a law degree at the University of Toronto on his return to Canada and was admitted to the Bar of Ontario in 1981. Guy Gavriel Kay lives in Toronto.
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Kay has always been one of the few authors who can generategenuine lump-in-the-throat moments for me, who could forget the finalscene between Paul and Jaelle in "The Darkest Road", and this one iscertainly no exception, especially in the more magical scenes.
Though certainly a lesser work in scope and size than "The SarantineMosaic" or "Tigana" I still have no hesitation in giving this top marks.
Every time I pick up one of his books, I am amazed how the writer has managed to create an imaginary world similar enough to our own to be realistic, but completely different and fascinating at the same time. The Last Light of the Sun has the proper mix of familiar places and everyday people on the one hand and magic creatures and violent battles on the other, to satisfy any serious fantasy reader. I also personally enjoyed a lot the references to places and events of previous books (e.g. Sailing to Sarantium) that create a sense of familiarity, while at the same time the story and characters are completely original. I wish more writers of "series" could be inspired by this example, and avoiding repeating themselves over and over.
This is done by introducing a fairly large cast of characters from each side. We have the Anglcyn king Aeldred (based on Aldred of Wessex) who spends his lifetime trying to build a society that can withstand Erling (Norse) raids. At his side are his four children: the playful heir, the cerebral younger son, the fiery daughter, and the good daughter with fey powers. The Cyngael (Welsh) people are represented by Alun, a prince of one of the three lands, along with Brynn, the lord of another, and his family. A priest of Jad (a benign light/sun-based faith standing in for Christianity) named Cenion travels the land trying to bring greater tolerance and understanding between Cyngael and Anglcyn. The Erling are mainly shown through a retired warrior exiled in his middle age for killing a man in a pub, and his disgraced son, who runs away to join a mercenary force of raiders. These characters are all reasonably well-drawn and come alive on the page, but tend to fall within well-worn archetypes: noble and wise king, grief-struck prince, mysterious princess, estranged father, prodigal son, proud aging warrior, wise and beloved priest, cruel and evil villain, and finally, faithful hound. This creates a little distance from the characters--we may be interested in their trials and tribulations, but it's much harder to care for them.
The book unfolds through the interactions of these and many other characters, a technique that sacrifices a strong central perspective for a wider, and arguably richer, range of viewpoints. While some readers may find the minor digressions into the lives of outlying characters distracting, I found them to be very complementary to the story. They do take one out of the specific moment, but they also provide a depth and context that is central to what Kay's attempt to show how life is a continual unfolding of interrelated events and encounters, rather than a three-act play. They also serve as primary examples the recurring theme that individual actions can change the world. Of course, the result is that the plot is somewhat formless. Things happen, which then influence other events and people, and on and on. There is a basic running theme of civilization/good vs. warfare/evil, but that's not a plot. Yet a further central theme is the idea of the world of magic fading away as people become more enlightened. This is a delicate thing to tackle, and Kay did about as good a job as possible considering that the stuff with faeries, and the dark woods, and the half-world is all pretty old hat. So, there are some biggish ideas running throughout the book, and sometimes they overwhelm the actual storytelling and characterization.
It should be said that while Kay's portrayal of time and place is very well done, and clearly a great deal of research has gone into the book, the writing is kind of staccato. Sentences are short, and paragraphs are extremely short, making for choppy reading. There are also frequent instances of excessive authorial "voice-over" in which Kay feels the need to highlight some particular aspect of the story. These often begin with the phrase "There are times..." and feel awfully heavy-handed. There's also no doubt that for a story in which geography is so important, the absence of a map is sorely felt. Still, on the whole, this is a very readable work of historically-based fantasy. It's also notable in that the villan dies in a rather unexpected and refreshingly realistic manner. One does get a sense of the difficulty of 9th-century life, especially the woeful plight of women, and any author who can pull that off deserves respect.
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