Book Review - A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
Book review of A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
When is historical fiction an historical fantasy instead? When there are two moons in the sky––that’s all you need. And every name––from the god ‘Jad’ to city of ‘Sarantium’––has taken a quarter shift to the left, but still, you know where you are.
This is what Guy Gavriel Kay does, and he does it so well. I suspect there are writers who try to render 1500s Venice in a realistic way, but Kay does it better than most, and without calling it Venice. The freedom of writing near-historical fiction is that you can be absolved of all mistakes by the history police, while at the same time letting your characters participate in the story a bit after they’ve died, too. This works because the stakes are high, the setting is real, and the people are very human in troubled times.
The troubled time in question takes place a couple of decades before Children of Earth and Sky, and the connections are hinted at but the story doesn’t depend on them. A Brightness Long Ago has the narrator looking back on his improbable path to power, and while he may not recognize his strength, the reader does. It concerns two warlords whose hate for one another drives most of the drama, and it’s a study in men’s pride, obstinance, and thrill-seeking. Kay’s alt-Mediterranean Renaissance world is a place where power vacuums occur suddenly and violently. The women characters are interesting and not shrinking violets in any way; they also seem, to this reader, as a bit of a rework of characters from the other book in the series.
Kay’s writing skills are top notch. It’s always easy to picture where each character is, and why they’re doing what they’re doing––no small feat with the large cast he employs. While I enjoyed every sentence, I did find a few ‘repeaters’ in the book that could’ve been excised to move the story along more swiftly. I suspect Kay’s readers are generally close studies and get it the first time he says it. But that’s just a trifle––this is a great fantasy book for adults who also love history, or who may imagine what (the h---) their ancestors lived through, like I often do.
Title: A Brightness Long Ago
Author: Guy Gavriel Kay