The Last Light of the Sun is a splendid, sumptuous novel that’s equally great for fantasy lovers and for those looking for some Viking historical fiction.
Like Kay’s other novels (I’ve reviewed Sarantine Mosaic, Lions of al-Rassan, and Children of Earth and Sky before), the plot is set in a secondary world with a clear historical inspiration behind it. In this case, it’s the twilight of the Viking Age; the recently-Christianized Cyngael (Ireland/Wales) is resisting the raids of the Erlings (Norsemen), whereas in the kingdom of Anglcyn (no prizes for guessing who these guys are) the aging, but still brilliant King Aeldred is trying to unite the quarrelsome lands – and keep them united.
The official blurb outlines the scene better than I do:
‘There is nothing soft or silken about the north. The lives of men and women are as challenging as the climate and lands in which they dwell. For generations, the Erlings of Vinmark have taken their dragon-prowed ships across the seas, raiding the lands of the Cyngael and Anglcyn peoples, leaving fire and death behind. But times change, even in the north, and in a tale woven with consummate artistry, people of all three cultures find the threads of their lives unexpectedly brought together…
Bern Thorkellson, punished for his father’s sins, commits an act of vengeance and desperation that brings him face-to-face, across the sea, with a past he’s been trying to leave behind.
In the Anglcyn lands of King Aeldred, the shrewd king, battling inner demons all the while, shores up his defenses with alliances and diplomacy-and with swords and arrows-while his exceptional, unpredictable sons and daughters pursue their own desires when battle comes and darkness falls in the woods.
And in the valleys and shrouded hills of the Cyngael, whose voices carry music even as they feud and raid amongst each other, violence and love become deeply interwoven when the dragon ships come and Alun ab Owyn, chasing an enemy in the night, glimpses strange lights gleaming above forest pools’.
Many things can be said about this novel: the plot is gripping, the characters flawed and full-blooded. But, first and foremost, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
I love novels portraying different cultures, and doing it in a sensitive and nuanced way; and The Last Light of the Sun is precisely that kind of novel. I loved, for example, the hard-to-translate linguistic concepts from the Norse language – simple words, that hide a vast ocean of meaning behind them:
Heimthra was the word used for longing: for home, for the past, for things to be as they once had been. Even the gods were said to know that yearning, from when the worlds were broken. Bern was grateful, as he rode, that no one on the wide dark earth could see his face, and he had to trust that [the gods] Ingavin and Thünir would not think the worse of him, if they were watching in the night.
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