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Don't Be Afraid of Canadian Literature

By Mrs. Admin | PaEHba Day | February 18, 2010 |

By Mrs. Admin | PaEHba Day | February 18, 2010 |

I chose Guy Gavriel Kay as my Canadian author pick because my husband has introduced me to the fantasy authors he loves (which I too have become obsessed with) and yet he has not taken my recommendation in turn. I was introduced to Kay from a university friend who did her grad studies in English and I have bought Mr. Admin the Fionavar Tapestry trilogy to get him started. In starting to write this book review (which I haven’t done since English 101) I thought I should look into more information about the author and stumbled upon the authorized website. Here I found out that not only is Guy a Canadian author, but he was born right here in Saskatchewan in the town of Weyburn (I am super excited now). As well, I learned that he assisted Christopher Tolkien in editing his father’s (yes, that’s right, J.R.R. Tolkien’s) The Silmarillion. With this knowledge in hand I can see why I fell in love with the first book that Kay wrote and I read, The Summer Tree (1984), Book I of the Fionavar Tapestry. It has all the elements of Tolkien’s fantasy world (elves, dwarves, magic) and a wicked sense of Canadian life and humour that speaks volumes in the present day. Kay was the winner of the 2008 World Fantasy Award for Ysabel (2007) that has been optioned for a feature film along with The Lords of Al-Rassan (1995).

The Last Light of the Sun is a tale of Vikings, Celts and Anglo-Saxons in the remote North where the barbarian pagans are being brought to heal under a single sun god. The Last Light of the Sun brings you into the life of every character you meet, whether a bit part, a hero, or a nemesis. The Erlings are Viking raiders who, of course, are the raping and pillaging warriors of the sea in the name of their gods Ingavin and Thünir. The Anglcyn (Anglos) are the first to reject the pagan rites for the sun god and are trying to impose their new found righteousness upon the Erlings and Cyngael. The Cyngael (Celts), are those who still feel the magical pulse of the faeries in the spirit woods, whose own clerics struggle with a new faith. And then there are the women who are nothing (if they are not married to a man) but whores and seers and who can’t be trusted yet want to be more than this themselves. There is also a hoard of other characters that may or may not affect the outcome of the plot. Be it a young farm girl or a trader from across the seas, you will know each one’s place and history.

The first main character we meet is Bern, son of a retired Erling raider on the trading isle of Rabady. Bern steals a horse that was meant to be part of the funeral rites of the governor (who had exiled his father) feeling this is the only choice he has to get away from being a slave for the rest of his days. With help from a young woman at the seer’s compound, Bern escapes the isle with the horse and strikes out to become a mercenary of the Jormsvikings.

Next we meet Dai and Alun ab Owyn, sons of the King of Cadyr. They have been interrupted by the Cyngael high cleric, Ceinion, while trying to raid the cattle from Brynn ap Hywll, a wealthy, scarred old warrior who defeated the legendary Erling warrior Volgan. After the botched cattle raid (which young Cyngaels are apt to do to show off their prowess) Alun finds himself to be the future heir to the throne when his brother Dai is felled in a raid of vengeance against Brynn led by the Volgan’s grandsons. The raid was defeated by the presence of the Cadyri cattle raiders with Brynn’s warriors and the unexpected help of an exiled Erling raider, Red Thorkell. However, one of the Volgan’s grandsons named Ivarr escapes and Alun vows to avenge his brother’s death by killing him. As Alun chases after Ivarr into the spirit wood he finds that his brother’s soul has gone to the Queen of the faeries and he meets the faerie that stole it for her. Returning to Brynn’s farm after this experience and losing Ivarr’s trail, Ceinion convinces Alun to accompany him, along with the exiled Erling, to see Aeldred the King of the Anglcyn.

King Aeldred, who had battled through intense delirious fevers to take back the lands that the Erlings had blood-eagled his father on, is busy rebuilding his kingdom to prevent further Erling attacks. When Ceinion arrives in Aeldred’s court we meet the King’s four children, Athelbert (the heir), Judit (who would be heir if she weren’t a girl), Gareth (who doesn’t want to be heir) and Kendra (who immediately begins to sense things through Alun ab Owyn). As the two parties get acquainted a group of Jormsvik mercenaries including Bern who’s being paid by Ivarr come upon the King’s Earl (and long time friend}. Ivarr promptly disposes of the Earl much to the shock and dismay of the raiders, as an Earl would have given them enough ransom to set them up for life. When word of Ivarr’s whereabouts reaches the King’s court Alun, Red Thorkell and Athelbert give chase. Ivarr manipulates the raiders into turning to Brynnfell to save face for the lost ransom. As I do not want to give away the ending, I will say that the intertwining of characters leads to a magical ending and even though there are no epic battle scenes in this story it does make you stop and think about the choices and paths that you may have in your own life and where they might lead you and your future offspring.

This is the sixth book of Kay’s that I have read and I have yet to be disappointed. The depth and soul of his characters leaves me wanting more. I found once I was finished this one I was sad that I didn’t have it to open once again (without starting it over, which I will in awhile). Although Kay’s writing is Fantasy by nature, the earthly historic overtures of ancient myths give you the awareness that these things could happen, an alternate reality so to speak. I look forward to reading his other six books that will include his newest Under Heaven that will arrive this April.

As with his other books that I have read, Kay’s research into the cultures he chronicles is always so fluent that you are pulled into their world and time. And, at the heart, I find it to be a story of sons and daughters who are trying to grow up in the shadows of their parents. From exiled old raiders, aged heroes of past victories, to Kings who have regained lost land, these children must follow in their footsteps but carve out their own paths.

So in conclusion, do not be afraid of Canadian Literature my American friends, embrace it and maybe you will grow to understand Canucks and our humour a little better.


(The Admin Family)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.