A Brightness Long Ago, Guy Gavriel Kay

I always admired the way Guy Gavriel Kay weaves the threads of his characters fates into a magical weaving no other writer could do. His latest novel ‘A Brightness Long Ago’ is no different. It is a world filled with powerful women and men who worship them, a world where the effect of a decision that looks inessential at first, ripples through time, setting in motion major events that affect everyone.
Once again, Kay takes us back on the continent, which resembles Europe, this time Renaissance one, where two moons shine in the night and three religions wage wars against each other. His characters are rarely some essential figures, at least the main ones. Usually, those are people who dwell in shadows of the greats: artists, mercenaries, concubines and such, but in the tapestry of Kay’s work, everyone is connected.
As is the previous novel, ‘The Children of Earth and Sky’, it is set in his fictional version of the Adriatic Sea region and Italy, and in a way, is a prequel to it. Where one novel ends, another continues, only with different characters. Of course, here we will meet younger versions of some characters from ‘The Children of Earth and Sky’ and we’ll find references to his previous works set in this world, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read his other novels. This is just a delicacy for those who are fans of Kay’s work.
However, unlike most of Kay’s novels, this one is written a bit differently. Two timelines, one taking moments before ‘The Children of Earth and Sky’ is told through the perspective of Danio Cerra, now an esteemed member of Seressan society, as he reminiscence his youth and the night which change the course of his life. The other is the past timeline, one that starts with the assassination done by young Adria Ripoli, a woman that never faded from Cerra’s memory. That night their lives intersected, never to be the same again.
All the ingredients of Kay’s magic are in there: romance, old rivalry, friendship, loyalty, those enchanting sentences. If I were to compare it with his other novels, I would say ‘A Brightness Long Ago’ resembles ‘Sailing to Sarantium’ or ‘Lions of Al Rassan’. However, as you read, it seems there is no central story, only characters POV’s on specific events through the passing of times, which can be confusing as it looks like series of vignettes scattered around without cohesion apart from the characters. And that could be considered as a drawback, but it is Kay. All things will come together in the end. And with each novel, he’s doing something different, so this is no surprise.
Unfortunately, because Kay is labelled as a fantasy writer, even though he is not a fan of categorization, many will pass his works thinking they belong to the fantasy niche. Thus they will be deprived of excellent writing. And fans of hardcore fantasy may be a bit let down expecting usual tropes such as the prophecy of old, coming of great evil and a hero destined to lead the fight. To those, I have only to say, let go of prejudices and enjoy some great novels. Might as well start with ‘A Brightness Long Ago’.

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