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The Last Light Of The Sun
Guy Gavriel Kay
Pocket paperback £7.99

review by Simeon Shoul

For some years now Guy Gavriel Kay has been writing fantasy novels set in an alternate medieval Europe. He's presented stories set in the heyday of the Byzantine Empire, and in Spain during the Christian re-conquest. This is his third outing (and fourth novel) in the setting, and he's chosen to explore a fairly well worn path in the genre: the British/ Viking saga. Thanks to the clear historical parallels you can date this novel very easily, it's set in the late 9th century AD, during the closing years of the reign of Alfred the Great, and the time-span of the story covers just six months, from spring to autumn of a single year.

As is habitual in a Kay novel, there are protagonists drawn from each of the contending cultures; Bern Thorksellson, a Jormsviking, Alun Ab Owyn, a Cyngael (Welsh) prince, and the entire Anglcyn (English) royal family; Aeldred (Alfred) and his children, Athelbert, Judit, Kendra and Gareth. As is also normal in a Kay novel, these are all very excellent people. They're all particularly clever, rather beautiful, and honourable if perhaps over-passionate, and almost incapable of doing anything badly (but at least they are not so mutually self-admiring about it as the characters in Kay's previous book, The Lions of Al-Rassan!).

So what's the story? Well, Ivaar Ragnarson, last descendant of the legendary Viking raider Siggur, the Volgan, is set on recovering his grandfather's sword from the Cyngael. To this end he engineers a series of bloody raids. Various people get 'blood-eagled' (a particularly messy and painful method of putting to death a captured enemy). Various other people display magical talents that cause them to be rather cautious around priests, or blunder across the odd faery, which causes them to be even more cautious as no one wants to be burnt at the stake for such heretical activities. Meanwhile the cast are all pretty much struggling to come to terms with life, love, loss, and family complications (over-glorious fathers, absent fathers, dead brothers, prankster brothers and so forth). And that, really, is pretty much it. The fate of kingdoms emphatically does not hang in the balance; by the time this story starts Aeldred has won his great victories and his realm is secure. Personal health and happiness might be at stake, but not nations.

This is, in sum, a strangely quiet book. The adventure and the battles are there, but they are somehow almost domestic in character. The pace is modest, and made more so by Kay's rather self-conscious, very mannered, language, and his penchant for the occasional dead-end digression. In the end it's a not very bad, but not a particularly good read, not as clever as some of Kay's earlier work, not as irritating as other bits of what he's done. Read it, enjoy it a little, then move on.
Last Light of the Sun

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