The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay. The latest pseudo-historical fantasy from the author of Tigana, A Song For Arbonne, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and the Sarantine Mosaic (Kate has nice reviews of these: Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors).
Unfortunately, I have to agree with the first sentence of Mike's review: this isn't one of his best. My overall impression is a little more positive than Mike's, in the end-- he complains about "how densely [Kay] peppers this tale with Great Men," but really, the super-genius warrior-poet-kings are what I read Kay for, so that didn't bug me. The preachy bits, however, were an irritation, and I'm not wild about the device of occasionally breaking off from the main tale to tell the entire life story of a bit player. Kay has an interview in a recent issue of Locus in which he talks about his decision to do the life-story thing, and it sounds really nice, but like many such ideas, it's kind of annoying in practice.
The book itself is a thinly fictionalized story of the British Isles, involving a collision between three cultures (Angles, Celts, and Vikings, basically) on the far edge of the world of the Sarantium books. The Christian-analogue religion (Jaddism) has reached the area, but not quite taken over, and older gods and wild magics still linger around the edges of human settlements. Three Cyngaels (Celts) of the royal line planning a raid on an isolated farm end up being converted to honored guests by a chance encounter, and are staying the night when a bloody Erling (Viking) raid on the farm sets in motion a chain of events that bring the Erlings, Cyngael, and Anglcyn (guess) into violent collision, and set a new course for the island's future.
There's some great stuff here-- revenge, epic journeys, a grand sweep of history, more explicit magic than Kay has had in the last several books. The characters edge toward excessively superlative, but they're engagingly drawn all the same, and aside from a few unfortunate stylistic choices, the writing is excellent as always. The story and writing definitely drew me in, and I read this very quickly.
It's a very good book, but just doesn't rank with Kay's best.
(Originally posted to The Library of Babel.)