Out & About: An Empire Long Ago

Photo by planetMitch aunger on Unsplash

I’ve got reviews piling up these days, and, can just point out how blessed we are to be living in such a rich, wonderful time for SFF literature? Some seriously good books coming out these days, and my most recent reviews cover two of the best fantasy novels of the year: Empire of Grass by Tad Williams and A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy—and regularly wax about its enormous impact on epic fantasy. To my surprise and delight, Williams returned to the world of Osten Ard 25 years after concluding Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn with a new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard, and it turned out to be a match in many ways to its predecessor. The first volume, The Witchwood Crown, was great, and the latest, Empire of Grass, is even better.

I’ve long associated Williams’ Osten Ard stories with a feeling of melancholy; something about the slow atrophy of the Sithi and the Norns, and humanity’s fight against time, strikes me as profoundly sad. So often, epic fantasy focuses on the press toward something brighter—the resurgence of a golden past, when things were better and technology or magic were in ascendency. Osten Ard is different. Since the arrival of men and their iron weapons, Williams’ world has been in slow decline. It’s impossible to read Empire of Grass and not notice the way Simon and Miriamele’s peace, so hard-won, is giving way to renewed chaos.

Read my full review of Empire of Grass by Tad Williams.

Next up is the latest novel from legendary Canadian fantasist Guy Gavriel Kay. A Brightness Long Ago is a psuedo-prequel to his last (and equally brilliant novel), Children of Earth and Sky—though no experience with Kay’s work is necessary to dive into and enjoy A Brightness Long Ago. Kay is an absolute treasure, and A Brightness Long Ago reminds us why.

A Brightness Long Ago is very much a book about the stories we recognize in our own lives, and how we become active or passive in their tellings. One recurring theme, constantly on Danio’s mind, is how fate often turns on single moments and solitary decisions. Sometimes you can mark these moments as they’re happening. Sometimes you only recognize them with the benefit of experience and hindsight.

The beauty of Kay’s writing is evident on every level, from his perfectly shaped plotting to his deceptively simple prose. There’s a tautness and strength to the writing of this, his 14th novel, as though every word has been perfectly placed to serve and support the whole. Obvious care and attention has been paid to every chapter, paragraph, and sentence, but rather than feeling overworked, the resultant narrative flows like water.

Read my full review of A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay.