I received this book electronically via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
“I knew, once, a woman diamond bright and two men I will not forget. I played a part in a story in a fierce, wild, windblown time. I do have that. I always will. I am here and it is mine, for as near to always as we are allowed.”
This is only the second book I’ve read from Guy Gavriel Kay, but I feel secure in stating that I’ve never come across another author who has his way with words. There’s something about his prose that is both breathtakingly lovely and oddly jarring. In A Brightness Long Ago, Kay paints with his words, writing something that is lush and poignant and real enough to touch. This novel is somewhere between historical fiction and low fantasy, and Kay straddles that divide with great finesse.
“Perhaps it is true of every life, that times from our youth remain with us, even when the people are gone, even if many, many events have played out between where we are and what we are remembering.”
Danio is one of the lucky youths who, despite low birth, are chosen to attend a school with noble children. Because of this education and a compelling personality, Danio finds himself in the midst of history in the making throughout his life, whether in the form of being present during an assassination or witnessing a horse race that will live on in legend or standing on the sidelines as mighty men made war or truces. His was an oddly calming, graceful presence among larger-than-life personalities. There was this graceful poise and sense of honor to his character that I found incredibly compelling.
“Life, the way events actually unfold, is not as precise or as elegantly devised as a storyteller can make it seem. There are moments that find us, like some stray dog on a country road, and they may not carry significance, only truth: that they happened, and we remember them.”
While Danio was the only first person perspective character, we did have other perspective characters. A pagan healer, a wealthy second son with no head for politics, an important daughter who wants nothing more than to escape the life that is expected of her and live life to the very fullest, a mistress yearning for legitimacy. There are others, as well, but these are the lives that most often intertwine themselves with Danio and the two powerful men who seem to dominate this part of the world. All of the characters were multifaceted and interesting, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching them grow and change over the course of the novel. The one thing each character seemed to have in common was a preoccupation with sex, but from what I gather that is a common theme in Kay’s work.
“Shelter can be hard to find. A place can become our home for reasons we do not understand. We build memories that turn into what we are, then what we were, as we look back. We live in the light that comes to us.”
The setting for this book is very heavily inspired by Italy, as is apparent by the names of people and places given. The land is made up of city-states who often find themselves at war with one another. So often, in fact, that springtime has become synonymous with war. I’ve read very little set in Italy outside of Romeo and Juliet, so I found the setting very thought-provoking. There was a horse race, briefly mentioned above, that was one of the most amazing sequences I’ve read. I could see and hear and smell absolutely everything, as if I had fallen into the pages and landed in the scene itself. I believe this race with stay with me for some time, which was unexpected.
“We live, it might be said, in unstable times. Dramatic, interesting, magnificent in ways. But not stable. You would never say that.”
There are two reasons that this book didn’t receive a perfect rating from me, and they’re both incredibly subjective. First, the central themes of the story were war, romance, and politics. Two out of these three themes are topics that I often find myself lost in, unable to focus on the intricate political movements and patterns of war. While these are areas I can read past, I have a difficult time enjoying a story that is made up in such large part by these components. Second, I believe that I would have enjoyed this story even more and connected with it on a deeper level if I had read Kay’s Sarantine Mosiac. I won’t explain why, but I’m positive that there are plot points that would have brought me to tears if I had already developed a bond with Sarantium.
“Perhaps in the darkest times all we can do is refuse to be part of the darkness.”
Once again, Kay crafted something incredibly beautiful with this story. While it might not be an immediate favorite, it definitely enticed me into trying more of Kay’s work, and soon. Tigana remains my favorite book my Kay, and among my favorite fantasy novels period, but I now believe that Tigana won’t be the only of his works that I will come to love and cherish. If you want to be transported, and see how the world can be impacted by one life, this is a beautiful novel to try.
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