I had never heard of Kay or his novels until a few weeks ago, when his Under Heaven was promoted in the WWEnd “featured novel” section. Around the same time a friend of mine expressed an interest in reading Kay’s novels, so while he chose Under Heaven, I decided that The Last Light of the Sun was more up my alley. Vikings hold more interest to me than ancient Chinese culture.
I will state up front that this book frustrated me for the first 150 pages (the total page count is around 500). The narrative followed a number of unrelated characters in that space, and while each plot thread had the potential to become interesting in its own right, none ever did. I was just about to put down the book permanently when a major character was introduced who served to bring all of the disparate plots together and to provide a fascinating story on his own.
The other annoyance is that this novel is set on another planet. Whether or not it’s supposed to exist in our universe, I don’t know. Setting a novel so clearly influenced by real, historical people groups like the Celts, the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons in another world seems entirely frivolous to me. Why do all that historical research only to avoid placing the story in our own history? I was constantly making the mental translation of story names into real-world names: Anglcyn to Anglo-Saxon, Jadism to Catholicism, etc. If Kay calls the faeries faeries, why switch up everything else?
Neither of these problems prevents The Last Light of the Sun from becoming a solid novel of the historical fantasy genre. The writing is solid, the people are (at least eventually) interesting, the world is richly detailed, the battles are well-depicted, and so are the quieter moments. The foreboding sense that the world is changing permanently (perhaps for the worse, perhaps not) is thick and carries with it a note of sadness. Readers of Tolkien will find this to be a familiar song.
Apparently this story is a part of the world of Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, which I didn’t realize until after I was finished. You don’t need to read that series to understand what’s happening in Last Light, but I am intrigued by the opportunity to further explore this world.