16. The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay
Being suddenly immersed in a fantasy world, it's often difficult to get your bearings. Guy Gavriel Kay doesn't make it easy. He plunges the reader immediately into the action, complete with strange names, geographic and cultural references. However, there is something familiar about this tale of Northern lands and raiders, an emerging seacoast kingdom, and inland agricultural tribes.
In his Acknowledgments, Kay explains that his three peoples are based on the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Celtics respectively. This is something I discovered for myself before too long, but I think I would have liked to have known it going in. It would have made the book immediately more accessible.
Strands of the tale are indeed reminiscent of Beowulf and the legends of King Arthur, but it has a cohesive spirit all its own. The stories seem disconnected at first, but eventually the three peoples come into contact, and the world changes. A worthy, timeless saga.
Kay's writing style also struck me as somewhat original. His language is simple and pictorial. The flow not only appears effortless (though I am sure it is not), but I hope it is a style which I could someday achieve. I would not wish simply to copy Kay, of course, but I would like to incorporate it into a way I have already been writing. The best way to show you is an example such as this;
"Hope, a licence to dream. The beginnings of these things. Men gather close around a night fire in Beortferth Hall, walls and a roof between them and the rain at last. There is one bard among them, his instrument damply out of tune. It doesn't matter. He sings the old songs, and Aeldred joins in the singing, and then all of them do (158)"
This passage is a flashback, describing the winter when Aeldred has become king after the slaughter of his father and brother by their enemies the Erlings, who are still occupying their lands. Aeldred, king of the Anglcyn, builds up a force that winter and retakes his lands in the spring. To me, the passage evokes a pre-Camelot, or Hrothgar's mead hall when tidings of Beowulf arrive.
The Last Light of the Sun is an epic of the past in a modern style, and it is fantasy at its best. Fantasy and science fiction show us who we were, who we could have been, and who we could be. The only mythical creatures in this book are faeries, and they fit in too, with the tales men used to tell. Even if it's not true, I believe it still has a meaning we can take to heart; there is so much more out there than we can ever know or understand, and Kay believes, with or without us, it will go on.