The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
Review by Chris Ferrier
The Last Light of the Sun takes place in the north of Mr. Kay's fantasy world, far from the alternate Southern Europe and Middle East of his previous books. These are harsher lands than the opulent court at Sarantium or the fountain-filled courtyards of Al-Rassan. His prose is leaner and more direct, reflecting the setting, but if the characters are more likely to wear fur than silk, they are still complex and fully developed.
A young man of the Erlings, with only a life of punishment in his future, becomes a sea raider. A farmstead in the land of the Cyngael is attacked by ruthless men, one of whom surrenders when the other men are driven off and joins the household for reasons of his own. A clever king of the Anglcyn works for a better future for his children and his subjects in a divided land. An elderly cleric hopes to bring peace between warring peoples of the Cyngael and Anglcyn while carrying memories of personal loss.
Mr. Kay takes all of these threads and weaves a complex plot. Events will bring most of the characters into contact at some point in the book. Their conflicts and how they resolve them will change their lives forever.
Mr. Kay has studied the chronicles and sagas and it shows in the depth of his characters and setting. Readers of Mr. Kay's books, if so inclined, could research history texts to determine if Roderigo Belmonte is based on the legendary Cid or if King Aeldred is based on King Alfred the Great. The world these characters live in is very close to our own. The geography is roughly that of Europe and the Middle East, but very important differences show that this is a true fantasyland. Two moons shine in the night sky, fairy-folk may still be seen, and the haunted forests are actually haunted. The differences in the physical world reflect differences in the characters from any historical originals.
Life in the northern lands is hard and uncertain, a fact emphasized by the author. During "a Wind-Age, a Wolf-Age...of sharp sword-play and shields clashing", no place is safe for long. Even empires, however rich, will fail in the end. But the characters find the courage to plan for a better futures for themselves and those around them. King Aeldred builds a fleet to guard the coast and starts an annual fair to promote trade. The priest, Ceinion, promotes peace between the Anglcyn and the Cyngael, with unexpected results. The younger characters fall in love. And even a sea-raider can change his life.
Note for the incurably curious: The quote is from "The Elder Edda".
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