A Brightness Long Ago (2019, Berkley) 4 stars

International bestselling author Guy Gavriel Kay's latest work is set in a world evoking early …

A sensitive book with a tapered rather than concluded ending

4 stars

The writing here is primarily first person throughout - the narrator changes; but this is a well written first person novel. Initially I picked this up as a standalone - seems it's a prequel set about a thousand years before it's predecessor. The main character is an old man looking back on his life; with a rather special love affair relating to the second main character; who in turn keeps requiring the assistance of the third main character who has the most 'supernatural' ability in the book - seeing Ghosts, but not entirely as we think of ghosts, more impressions of the dead around people they're connected to. The other fantastical element used is the first person thoughts of the recently deceased for just a few moments after their physical death, as the ascend to the spiritual. For those who are fans of historical fiction, this would be a good introduction to fantasy - it is largely an alternative fictional version of Italy during a particularly bloody time in its history, set against the background event of the fall of what is quite clearly Constantinople. The main religion appears to be Christianity, whilst those attacking this city and frequently mentioned though barely seen appear to Muslim - one assumes the other religion mentioned is probably Judaism. The book isn't about real historical people, but two of the primary supporting cast are based on actual historical figures. The strength of this book is it's reflective nature - primarily an old man looking back on his life, reminiscing - aware of his mistakes, his roads not taken - but also not hopeless, despite everything. It is a sensitive book with well drawn characters, though it's plot is good, the jumping from character to character in first person is at times confusing, especially when it switches midway through a scene, or retells part of a scene from another characters perspective. The writing is good, but it could do with more focus; though this might affect the plot. Another place this book shines is in its world-building, it's not over bearing, but you really feel the needs of the common man running in the background up against the whims of the powerful. This book sits at around 126,000 words, which is surprising, it didn't feel that long.

The ending felt like it tapered off rather than finished, perhaps because the lives of the living and history itself can not be neatly tied up in a bow like most books.