Now and then, as I find new books to read, I encounter books that frustrate me. This can happen for a lot of reasons, but there’s nothing that frustrates me quite like a good story that suffers from poor execution. These result in books that, while featuring interesting plots and intriguing concepts, are a disappointment.
This is where I stand with The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay.
The book was given to me by my mother, who knows my taste in reading material pretty well. She was introduced to the author by my sister-in-law, who I sadly have only spoken to about twice, because she’s one of those people who is so intelligent and well-spoken that they accidentally make you feel too dumb to converse with them. I was excited by the idea of reading the book so I could finally have something to discuss with her. However, I don’t think this book is the ideal conversational gateway.
Before I say more, let me clarify that I liked the story itself. It was interesting to see how the different plots came together at the end, how the characters’ lives became entangled. I enjoyed that part, but the execution of the writing itself left me exasperated enough that I don’t see myself picking up another book of Kay’s unless I find myself especially short on reading material.
The book begins in a third-person limited perspective, which is pretty much a staple of fiction. It’s easy to understand because you are given one character at a time to follow, hearing their thoughts and seeing revelations through their eyes. Unfortunately, the author is incapable of staying consistently in-character. There’s a great deal of “head hopping” going on throughout the book, abruptly changing from one character’s perspective to another and back again within the span of a few paragraphs, oftentimes for no obvious reason. It’s jarring, difficult to follow, and disruptive to the story being told.
The author also has an incredible talent for sapping all suspense and anxiety out of scenes and situations by either cutting to absolutely irrelevant characters or interrupting action scenes with a pointless out-of-character narrative that talks of philosophy and understanding of various situations. Narratives such as those are not a bad thing, when used at the right time. The worst possible place for such monologues to go is right smack in the middle of a high-tension action scene, and that is precisely where you always find them in this book.
And when I say “irrelevant characters” I don’t mean cutting to established characters who are doing something unrelated to the scene at hand, I mean absolutely irrelevant, even in the author’s own words. Nothing drains excitement like going straight from a sequence of battle and killing to a scene describing how an unimportant farm girl’s life is not at all affected by the battle and killing happening nearby, and then following said girl until the end of her life.
Repeatedly switching to these useless characters caused me a great deal of grief, as returning to the major characters inevitably meant picking up after all the clash and fanfare was over, leaving me reading about the mundane aftermath of events. It strikes me as a terrible shame, because I wanted to like what I was reading. And while I did like the story and its characters, as well as the unusual representation of fairies and the amusing fascination the vikings–vikings!–had with them, the problems with the storytelling made it difficult for me to enjoy the story itself in the way it should have been.