Kelly Sedinger's Reviews > A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2019-reads, fantasy

Guy Gavriel Kay continues to be my favorite living author, and this book, even by his standards, is unusually captivating. After a slow pace for the first five days I was reading it, the narrative of A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO took hold of me and swept me away, so much so that I ended up completing the book this weekend, flying through nearly 300 pages as if they weren't even there.

Kay's approach is almost comfortable by this point in his career: he generates a tale in one of his fantasy worlds that are close enough to the real world for real events to find mirrors in his books, and then rather than create a plot-driven story, he instead populates his world and his historical settings with very real people and sees how they respond to the events of the world around them. Some of them are pushed into situations for which they cannot possibly be prepared; some make choices that are terribly incomplete in the degree to which they can be thought through at all; some live long and some die young without deserving either.

A BRIGHTNESS LONG AGO unfolds in Batiara, a fictional analog to Renaissance Italy, and in the same larger world as THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN, THE SARANTINE MOSAIC, THE LAST LIGHT OF THE SUN, and CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY. It's interesting to note that as Kay writes more and more novels set in that world, he is providing a de facto history of that world, and therefore a de facto meditation on our own history, plaid out writ large across six novels and counting. (His other novels take place in other worlds but are no less thoughtful.) As such he can now do things like offer allusions to his other books, things that a reader entering Kay's world here would not recognize but which those of us who have been there all along do. (Which is not to say that one cannot enter Kay's oeuvre here, because one certainly can. One can almost enter Kay's world anywhere, which is a partial benefit of his mainly writing standalone novels.)

Kay's large cast of characters does make BRIGHTNESS a bit hard to penetrate in the early going, but once the cast is set and the story begins to flow and the events take over, the story settles in. BRIGHTNESS features a first for Kay in that one character's viewpoint is conveyed in first person, giving an even more intimate view of that character's outlook and his thoughts on the historical times in which he lives.

For those who like their fantasy with large amounts of magic, Kay may be judged a disappointment. Magic is a muted thing, a hinted-at quality of a world that is not understood. There are no wizards or spell-casters here, but there are powers that no one completely understands. Magic is a thing that never snaps into focus in Kay's books, and for me that's a feature, not a bug.

Now begins the usual three-year-wait for Kay's next book! I can't help wondering in what way his usual extensive and wide reading into history will coalesce into a story again....
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Reading Progress

June 2, 2019 – Started Reading
June 2, 2019 – Shelved
June 9, 2019 – Finished Reading
June 10, 2019 – Shelved as: 2019-reads
June 10, 2019 – Shelved as: fantasy

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