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The Last Light of the Sun    by Guy Gavriel Kay order for
Last Light of the Sun
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Order:  USA  Can
Viking, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kay is a master of historical fantasy, brilliant at distilling the essence of a period in the past, and serving it up as a new, exciting and unexpected tale, in an alternate history that is steadily growing in scope. In The Last Light of the Sun, he presents to us a fantasy version of England, Wales and Scandinavia, in a time reminiscent of the period when scholar king Alfred the Great struggled with Viking raiders.

Kay tells several interlayered stories, from the point of view of half a dozen major characters, given equal weight as their fates are intertwined. Bern Thorkellson flees the Vinmark island of Rabady after stealing a horse intended for the funeral rites of its governor. He does this in protest against the latter's earlier ruling that exiled Bern's hot-tempered father Thorkell, confiscated the family land, and forced Bern into servitude. Along the way, he's helped by Anrid, a young kinswoman and seer who's intelligent enough to execute her own revenge against the cruel volur, leader of her order, who gave both their lives little weight. Bern heads to the fortress of tough, world-renowned Jormsvik mercenaries. There he thinks and fights his way into their fellowship.

Dai and Alun, young princes of the Cyngael, are saved from a disastrous raid on a large farmhouse in Arberth by grey-haired high cleric Ceinion, who informs them that the famed Brynn ap Hywll, 'Erling's Bane' is inside with a large force of his men. At Ceinion's invitation, the princes join the company as his escorts. They're then caught in a raid to avenge Brynn's past defeat of the great Erling leader, the Volgan. The raid is led by the poisonous Ivarr Ragnarson, who escapes to plot more evil. One of the raiders is Bern's father Thorkell, who is taken and swears loyalty to his captors. Carelessness, resulting from Dai's attraction to Brynn's daughter Rhiannon, gets the elder prince killed - which introduces the element of fantasy when Dai's soul is taken by faeries. One, fascinated by humanity, makes contact with Alun. Though Jad's followers deny the existence of this half-world, Brynn and Ceinion have encountered it before.

Alun and Thorkell accompany Ceinion on a visit to Aeldred of the Anglcyn - a 'king of a precarious, dispersed, unlettered people in a winter-shaped, beleaguered land', who wants more for those he rules. Aeldred's younger daughter Kendra sees visions and does 'something almost unspeakably brave'. And after the Anglcyn beat back another Erling attack, fear for allies sends several on a hero quest through a perilous, magical forest to a meeting that knots the story's threads together. The ending combines tragedy and 'Joy. The other taste in sorrow's cup.' In The Last Light of the Sun, Guy Gavriel Kay gives us yet another superb epic, incorporating action, romance, the clash and assimilation of cultures, and an evolution of belief systems. Absolutely not to be missed!

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