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Literature / The Last Light of the Sun

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The Last Light of the Sun is a 2004 fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Like The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Sarantine Mosaic, it is set in a world closely modeled on medieval Europe, but with elements of myth and magic incorporated. The tone is darker than that of the previous two novels, with themes of revenge, violence, the passing of an era, clash of cultures, and love—especially between father and son—being particularly prominent.

For centuries now, the Erlings of Vinmark have ravaged the coasts of the Cyngael and Angelcyn, bringing death, destruction, and the fury of the north in their wake. But change is coming to these cold northern lands, as King Aeldred of the Angelcyn brings his people together to resist the Erling depredations. Jadism is spreading, and raids grow fewer and harder, as the last of the dragon ships turn away from Angelcyn shores. It's the end of an era, and most people can only watch.


Some people though, will get caught up in the changes around them. The story opens as young Erling, Bern Thorkellson, whose father's rages have destroyed his family, steals a deceased governor's horse, and flees his homeland. In Cyngael, Alun ap Owyn and his brother, Dai, plot to steal cattle from Retired Badass Brynn ap Hywyll. And in the Angelcyn court, Aeldred's son, Aethelbert struggles to escape the shadow of the father he loves, but cannot be. These three, along with numerous others will be tied together by fate, as the Erlings of Jormsvik plan one, last, great raid.

The book as a whole has been quite well received, with critics praising its darker tone, evocative settings, well-developed characters, and general sense of grandeur and nostalgia. It's worth noting that the book contains far less sex and politics than is usual for Kay, and a lot more violence. Depending on the reader this may be a good thing or a bad one. Kay was nominated for the 2005 Canadian Sunburst Award after writing it.


Tropes found in The Last Light of the Sun include:

  • Anti-Hero: Alun and Thorkell.
  • Anti-Villain: Bern, Brand, and the rest of their crew.
  • Arranged Marriage: Aeldred is in the process of arranging his daughter, Jadwina's, marriage. Played with in the case of Anrid and Bern who enter into a marriage of convenience arranged by themselves.
  • Author Appeal: Kay's standards of female domination and cheating wives are, of course, present. It's far less prominent than in his other works though, to the relief of many.
  • Badass Family: Thorkell and Bern. Subverted by the Volgans. The Volgan himself was a tremendous badass but his son Ragnar never really did any raiding and his grandsons, Mikkel and Ivarr? The tropes attached to them speak for themselves. Dangerous, but hardly badass.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Erlings are gone, and Alun, Aethelbert, and Bern all survive, while Ivarr dies. Aeldred and his wife stay together, and he fully intends to turn his kingdom into a civilization that will match those in the south. Yet Thorkell is dead and never really reconciled with his son, and both the raids, and the feelings of mystery and magic in the world, are fading away. See End of an Age for more on that.
  • Continuity Nod: Both the lead characters of The Sarantine Mosaic get shoutouts: there are mentions of Crispin's two mosaics in Varena (Aeldred thinks they were by two different artists), and a scroll of medical knowledge written by Rustem in Esperana.
  • Cool Ship: The dragon ships.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Jadism is Christianity. The Erling's repeatedly reference their own religion, and its blatant paralells for Odin and Thor.
  • Cute Witch: Anrid may be an Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette, but she's still portrayed as attractive, if rather frightening to Bern.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The characters, even the sympathetic cleric Ceinion, believe Beauty Equals Goodness and Ivarr is clearly evil because he's a "malformed" albino.
  • Dirty Coward: Mikkel is one. Ivarr is often regarded as such, but the truth is much, much worse.
  • Duel to the Death: Bern vs Gurd, Thorkell vs Brand.
  • Dumb Muscle: Mikkel Ragnarson, and to a lesser degree, Brand. The latter gets enough characterisation that it isn't too bad.
  • End of an Age: Present throughout, and beautifully done, as unity and Angelcyn power replace disunity and the chaos of the Erling raids. Yet despite this, its almost impossible not to feel a certain sense of nostalgia as the last dragon ships head over the horizon.
  • The Fair Folk: A Fae queen keeps the soul of Alun's brother Dai captive. Getting her to let go is a major part of Alun's character arc. Aeldred has also had encounters with the Fae in the past, which has somewhat shaken his faith in Jadism, as his faith claims the supernatural does not exist.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Angelcyn are the English, the Cyngael are the Welsh, and the Erlings are the Vikings.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Remaining alive during a blood-eagling. Seriously, you do not want that to happen to you.
  • For the Evulz: Mikkel wants to avenge the Volgan. It's why he goes raiding at Brynn's. Ivarr? He's just bored and looking to hurt some people. He's especially interested in finding a way to keep someone alive while blood-eagling them, the little creep.
  • The Fundamentalist: Aeldred's wife. It leads to some interesting moments between the two of them, as her fondness for her husband and her belief that Sex Is Evil war in her head.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: So very much. The Cyngael, Angelcyn and yes, the Erlings, are all portrayed in a thoroughly sympathetic light.
    • A Lighter Shade of Grey: The Angelcyn and Cyngael are supposed to be this, but it doesn't really stick. Kay captures Erling culture well enough that they come off as equally sympathetic, despite their fondness for raiding and murder. Only Ivarr's presence really blackens their reputation.
  • Happily Married: Aeldred and his wife, though don't tell her that. Brynn and his wife are as well, in what seems to be an open marriage that allows for both to sleep with other people without either being upset.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Thorkell, right at the start. In exchange for his life, he swears loyalty to Brynn and his wife.
  • Hired Guns: The Erlings at Jormsvik are raiders and killers for hire.
  • I Let You Win: Thorkell lets Brand kill him as part of his plot to let Bern and the other Jormsvik Erlings get away.
  • Last Minute Hook Up: Anrid and Bern. And yet, due to the way its written, it seems to work.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Ivarr, although he's not as good as he thinks.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Anrid's control of the serpent, and Ivarr's deformities and manipulative abilities are alluded to being supernatural in origin, but deliberately kept vague.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Aeldred is Alfred the Great, who unified the English to resist the first waves of Viking attacks. Ivarr Ragnarson is likely a reference to the semi-historical Ivarr "The Boneless" Ragnarson, who invaded England alongside his brothers to take revenge for their father, in much the same way that Ivarr and Mikkel seek to avenge their grandfather. Thorkell and Bern might be a reference to Erik the Red and Lief Erikson.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: How the Erlings tend to come across when contrasted with the Angelcyn or Cyngael.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Aeldred and Cenion. Brand, while not looking like one to outsiders, is an Erling example.
  • Red Right Hand: Ivarr. Is there a single good trope associated with him?
  • Retired Badass: Brynn ap Hywyll. His rival, the Volgan, is a Posthumous Badass.
  • Sadist: Ivarr again. He always tortures his victims, and his goal in life is to blood-eagle somebody while keeping them alive the whole time.
  • Sex Is Evil: Aeldred's wife is convinced of this (despite the fact that she thoroughly enjoys it).
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Bern stabs Ivarr in the back mid-spiel.
  • Smug Snake: Ivarr. He's contemptuous of everyone around him, and considers every breathing person to be his inferior.
  • Snakes Are Evil: Even Anrid isn't comfortable with her pet snake, but she needs it to keep the other witch-women under control.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bishop Cenion calls out Aeldred on his murder of surrendering Erlings.
  • Wicked Witch: The first volur embodies this, despite not having any real powers to speak of. Anrid, despite having actual powers, is not this, being an altogether pleasant (if slightly creepy) young lady.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: The only way to become a Jormsvik Erling is to kill a current member in single combat.
  • Zen Survivor: Thorkell. By the end, Bern has also picked up many of these traits.