Review for Guy Gavriel Kay's novel, The Last Light of the Sun

Since I could not get my hands on the Fionavar Tapestry at the local library, I settled for a few of Kay's stand-alone works. I read this one first, since it seemed to promise Vikings. I read it as a writer, an author, a fantasy-maker, seeking to discover techniques and styles, that I might broaden my own scope. I was mostly not disappointed.

The story follows the fate of three cultures: the Anglcyn, the Cyngael and the Erlings, who have a long and complex history among themselves. It follows two generations as well: older and younger. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story, since it provided not only an instant history, but extra (hidden) meaning for the actions of the younger characters as well. Battles and escapades of 25 years earlier had direct bearing on the choices and importance thereof that the next generation made.

Also, there were faeries. And other old folk. Well written, in present tense, to reflect the lack of a grasp of time. Although I noted later in other books that Kay employs this present tense from time to time for average humans as well, so that sort of took away from this, but only after I had finished the book.

The setting and culture are, I believe, where Kay shines brightest. In all his works. He creates a deep, nuanced cluster of history, pulled from reality and altered with deft touches (no wonder he was chosen to edit J.R.R. Tolkien's works).

Where I found The Last Light of the Sun lacking was in characterization. In what I believe was an attempt to show a stoic group of characters, eaking out their lives at the northern edge of livability, Kay refrained from letting the reader into the minds of any of them. Their thoughts are not included in the book, unless narrated so. The gap between "Bern thought X" and "'I can't get to X without it!' Bern thought" means a great deal to me. If I am not allowed inside the characters' skulls, I care much less about their fate. Yes, that's just a quirk I have, but it lessened my care for the climax of this book quite a bit. When characters are overshadowed by their culture, they take on less significance. Just a collection of dust motes on the breeze. Don't pay them any mind. In another second, there will be more, no more or less interesting.

The romance, or lack of it, didn't shine as much in this book as in others. However, when coupled (ahaha) with the lack of internal dialogue, it made the pairing of Alun and the faerie seem pretty random. Like, "Let's pair them up now so she can be useful later in the plot". Sorta stood out. On the other hand, that lack of internal thoughts made the casual attitude toward familial relationships all the more stark. That part was good, as it fit with the culture and plot. But it seems there were unintended consequences among romance and characterization as a result.

Lastly, a note on voice. Man, Kay pulled out all the stops on this one. Nearly every other sentence throughout the whole book was laden with a chanting style of run-on sentence, broken only by commas, it led the reader onward, it showed them the next move, there was a rhythm to it like the Sagas of old. You see what I did there, no doubt. Yeah, the book is all like that. Now, oddly enough, Kay seems to favor the comma style of run-on sentence in other books as well (at least I'm assuming that it's on purpose). But here in tLLotS, it stands out as an obvious tribute to ancient Sagas. I felt I should chant the book aloud, perhaps while holding a mistletoe sprig under the two moons. In the end, while a clever use of voice, it did detract from my enjoyment of the book, simply because it was everywhere, and because I don't make a habit of reading chant-laden Sagas. I do admire it and give style points, though.

Overall, I'll give this three stars of five for my enjoyment of the novel.

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