Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review of "The Last Light of the Sun" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Since writing the Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay has become formulaic.  Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, A Song for Arbonne, and the Sarantium Mosaic have all been in the same pseudo historical style, featured archaic European cultures, and were written in the same style (excluding Arbonne's excesses).  It is thus with Kay's 2004 Last Light of the Sun the reader cannot be faulted for expecting a product precisely in line with these points.  Kay does not disappoint, and as long as there is a willingness to be flexible with style as the reader was with Arbonne, then the novel should satisfy.

With Italy, France, Spain, and the Mediterranean all touched upon before, Last Light of the Sun moves north. Another historical fantasy, the novel blends elements of Norse mythology with the history of the Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and the Welsh as they try to coexist on the isles in and around Britain and Scandinavia.  Three basic story arcs comprise the tale: the forgiveness-seeking father and his wandering son, the young man who would become king, and the man seeking revenge for the murder of his brother - all coming together for a dramatic, surprising, and gratifying conclusion.  The storytelling, as is to be expected from Kay, is superb.  More fantastic than books since Tigana, the novel plays off Norse myth in an eerie, delightful manner.  The fairies and monsters of the forest send a chill down the spine, and, as is to be expected with Kay, indirectly inform the storyline while enhancing imagery and sense of wonder.

A noted departure from the previous books, Last Light of the Sun's writing style is surprisingly sparse.  Either a challenge to himself or a reflection of the lifestyles described, the minimalism is effective.  As in our imaginings of the Celts, Vikings or Anglo-Saxons, gruff, primitive ideas and words are exchanged, as well as gruff, primitive chops and hacks with swords.  Very little emotion is expressed.  This is not to say characterization is weak, however.  Kay deftly shows rather than tells, keeping the reader fully aware of what is occurring in the characters’ minds, and in turn cements in place the sympathy innate to the context of the scenes which move the story. 

My complaints with Kay are as usual: sex scenes that add nothing to the story and the failure to move beyond the beaten-and-dead themes of love, honor, virtue, etc.  When dealing with epic fantasy of this variety, however, the latter is difficult to avoid.  But despite Kay writing for a mainstream audience, the experience and storytelling skills are better than the average fantasy writer, which make his books at least satisfying reads.  The Last Light of the Sun is thus recommended for those who are interested in the lifestyles of the people of the British isles at the time when several cultures vied for power.  The touch of faery that manifests itself in the characters’ lives just makes the book all the more intriguing. In short, the work is on par with The Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantium Mosaic.

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