The Last Light of the Sun
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Published by Viking
512 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
It's possible I missed something. Perhaps even something significant. But I looked for and did not see the connection between Guy Gavriel Kay's most recent novel and its title: The Last Light of the Sun.
If there was something -- obvious or otherwise -- that I overlooked, perhaps some alert reader will point it out. But, to be perfectly honest, it doesn't really matter. The Last Light of the Sun is more than a book: it's a one-way ticket to another world so skillfully drawn, it's wrenching to leave it behind.
At least part of this is due the fact that much of Kay's fantasy is based in history. His battle-hungry Erlings are wonderfully viking-like, his music-voiced Cyngael seem patterned on the people of ancient Wales and one doesn't need to read the book to guess the basis for the Anglcyns: even the name drops hints about their Anglo-Saxon leanings.
The first line of the book sets us up for the single action that drives much of the plot:
A horse, he came to understand, was missing.
It's a brilliant beginning and typical of a writer who is known for both the elegance and sparse nature of his prose. Though Last Light of the Sun contains many words, Kay doesn't waste any of them. He evokes his characters and establishes his settings with broad, confident strokes.
He was likely to die tonight or tomorrow. No rites for him when that happened. There would be an excited quarrel over how to kill a defiling horse thief, how slowly, and who most deserved the pleasure of it. They would be drunk and happy. Bern thought of the blood-eagle then; pushed the image from his mind.
The horse thief, Bern Thorkellson, knows that, after the act he has committed, he can't stay on his home island and expect to live. The magnificent young man rides the magnificent stolen horse into the surf and -- against all odds -- manages to cross safely to the mainland. There he manages to become part of Jormsvik "more a fortress than a city." Jormsvik is home to the infamous mercenary Erling raiders. Once Jormsvik has been convinced to take him in, his future is assured, if uncertain.
While Bern's tale -- and that of his father, Thorkel -- is fascinating, it is only one thread among many. Kay skillfully weaves it into the whole and while, at the outset of our journey into The Last Light of the Sun the threads seem at once interesting and disconnected, Kay brings them together with symphonic style, in ways that are original and unexpected.
In The Last Light of the Sun, Kay attempts his darkest, and in some ways most ambitious, novel to date. His previous eight novels include Tigana, Sailing to Sarantium and The Summer Tree. Fans who know Kay for his fantasy will also want to take note of This Dark House, an acclaimed volume of poetry. | March 2004
Lincoln Cho is a contributing editor to January Magazine.