Guy Gavriel Kay,
The Last Light of the Sun
(Roc, 2004)

Life is hard in the north. Everything revolves around the harsh winters -- surviving one and preparing for the next. Such a life breeds hard people. The Erlings survive in part by raiding along the shores of the Anglcyn and Cyngael, peoples they see as softer than themselves, their men womanish and their women prey. For their parts, the Anglcyn and the Cyngael -- both Jaddite cultures -- like each other almost as much as they like the heathen Erling raiders.

But Aeldred, the king of the Anglcyn, is trying something new, something different from the raiding and wars of his ancestors. He has fortified his coastline, leaving watchers and a system of warning fires to guard against raiders. He has informed his people that, if necessary, they must be prepared to fight, and they must learn archery to protect themselves. He even forgave the Erling raider who murdered his father and brother and made of him an ally, ceding him certain lands and accepting tribute from him. While the Cyngael continue to war among themselves and the Erlings continue to raid, the Anglcyn are slowly forging a united, stronger kingdom. And the next generation, influenced by friendships among all three peoples, will prove stronger and more enlightened than those preceding.

Just as The Lions of Al-Rassan was based upon the historical personnage of El Cid and the The Sarantine Mosaic duology (Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors) was based on Byzantine history, the present novel is based upon the English king Alfred the Great, who reigned in the late 9th century. On that historical framework, Kay has constructed a detailed story, using his characteristic care.

As always, Kay brings his characters to vivid life. Even minor characters, whose appearances last mere pages, are fully fleshed out, giving one a real sense of the Erlings, Anglcyn and Cyngael, their similarities and their differences. The differences, too, between the harsh northerly realms and the pampered courts of Al-Rassan far to the south are shown by the brief appearance of an Asharite merchant, whose travels take him to the Erlings' homeland of Vinmark as well as Aeldred's court.

The Last Light of the Sun focuses as often as not on the characters' interaction with the world they live in and the half-world of the fey. It is a book full of great sorrows, surprising joys and ethereal beauty. As with all of Kay's works, it is a treasure to be savored.

- Rambles
written by Laurie Thayer
published 12 June 2004

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