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  • Writer's pictureAderyn Wood

An enjoyable palate cleanser between series – book review of The Last Light of the Sun

Guy Gavriel Kay’s reputation as essential reading in the epic fantasy sphere is reiterated with The Last Light of the Sun — a standalone epic fantasy novel and alternate historical saga heavily inspired by Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology.

I loved it from the prologue, which succinctly set the scene through the eyes of a foreigner. As such we submerge easily into this world, immediately recognising comparisons with a harsh and adventurous viking-like culture.

Those ancient cultures of Nordic, Celtic and Saxon peoples dovetail frequently within classic tropes of epic fantasy. Yet readers never tire of the magic, warfare, weaponry, landscapes and romance such tales evoke. In this story, those cultures are known as the Erlings, the Cyngael and the Anglycyn. Three sets of characters from each group occupy the foreground and background of the story at different times, weaving their various threads so that by the novel’s end a complete tapestry stands before us in a satisfying and beautiful piece of fantasy literature.

Needless to say one of the things I enjoyed most about this book was Kay’s aesthetic. I found myself admiring his words as one would admire a painting. His literary mastery is a joy to behold. I also enjoyed the many pearls of wisdom dripping throughout the story that made me feel at times I was reading a stoic demonstration of life rather than a novel. Here’s a favourite:

We like to believe we can know the moments we’ll remember of our own days and nights, but it isn’t really so. The future is an uncertain shape and men and women know that. What is less surely understood is that this is true of the past as well. What lingers, or comes back unsummoned, is not always what we would expect, or desire to keep with us.

Such philosophical statements in fiction can be a double-edged sword. While I appreciated the wisdom, I prefer these grand lessons to be demonstrated very organically, within the story itself, rather than showing up as clever authorial intrusions, as they tend to present in this story – it can pull the reader from the tale. Another criticism I developed is the distanced characterisation. I enjoyed the characters, liked them. Their intrigue and mystery proved compelling enough, however I didn’t grow close to them. I wanted to care more but was kept at a distance. Perhaps this is the fate of standalone epic fantasy novels. If an author insists on a cast of characters, words can’t be wasted on achieving the kind of proximity we see in a series. Nevertheless, this was a pleasure to read. I’d recommend it to all epic fantasy enthusiasts, the story and the setting is to be appreciated as well as the words. Think of it as a good palate cleanser between lengthy, epic series.

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