Kat Hooper's Reviews > The Last Light of the Sun

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
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's review
Jun 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobook
Read from June 08 to July 07, 2010

ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s brilliant historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana and A Song for Arbonne (though I really loved a couple of the side characters, especially Judit and her brother Athelbert) but, as always, each is a work of art. All of GGK’s characters (even the minor ones) are passionate people full of hopes, fears, dreams, and plenty of spirit. This complete characterization — the reader’s ability to be fully in the head of the point-of-view character — is one of the things that sets this author above others. It occasionally makes the plot move slowly, because there may be a lot of history and motivation to relate, but it’s usually interwoven so well that it serves to give us necessary information while moving the plot at the same time. Here’s an example from the beginning of the book from the point of view of a character who we’ll never meet again:

Here in the remote, pagan north, at this wind-scoured island market of Rabady, he was anxious to begin trading his leather and cloth and spices and bladed weapons for furs and amber and salt and heavy barrels of dried cod (to sell in Ferrieres on the way home) — and to take immediate leave of these barbarian Erlings, who stank of fish and beer and bear grease, who could kill a man in a bargaining over prices, and who burned their leaders — savages that they were — on ships among their belongings when they died.

Just as the people that GGK writes about are full of passion, so is his writing. Kay is so serious about his style — obviously working hard to get it just right — that it’s a joy to read, even though occasionally it goes just slightly over the top:

She said nothing, though he thought she was about to. Instead, she stepped nearer, rose upon her toes, and kissed him on the lips, tasting of moonlight, though it was dark where they stood, except for her. The blue moon outside, above, shining over his own lands, hers, over the seas. He brought his hands up, touched her hair. He could see the small, shining impossibility of her. A faerie in his arms.

Tasting of moonlight? I’m going to let that one pass…

There’s also quite a bit of philosophizing in The Last Light of the Sun, mainly about how an individual’s actions can have unexpected and life-changing effects on others. Some of this was relayed in a few vignettes in which we’re quickly told the rest of the life history of very minor characters. These episodes were meant to be contemplative, but I found them intrusive since they felt rushed (decades of life summed up in a few paragraphs), broke up the plot, involved characters whom I didn’t care about, and contained repetitive insights about the uncertainty of life or the tendency for seemingly small actions to have long-lasting consequences. Perhaps more pensive persons will appreciate these parts. Fortunately, they were short, so they didn’t preclude my enjoyment of the novel.

I listened to The Last Light of the Sun on audio (Penguin Audiobooks). Holter Graham did an excellent reading. I hope to hear more from him in the future.
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