Title: The Last Sun (The Tarot Sequence 1)
Author: K.D. Edwards
Release Date: June 12th, 2018
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 367 (paperback)
I’ve been sitting on this review for over a month, all the while rewriting and tweaking and coming to the realization that a written review can’t properly encompass the adoration I have for this story and its characters. A hundred gifs of muppet flails would be a better representation of my feelings, but I figure I still have some shred of respectability and professionalism to maintain.
But that was more or less my experience reading this book–every cell of my body flailing their tiny cytoplasmic limbs in abject worship. Because The Last Sun shines with the light of a supernova. It brims with life and love and wonder and serves as a testament to some of the best this genre has to offer. It’s everything I want in quality fantasy and more: a lovingly-crafted, rich setting that’s a blend of contemporary and high fantasy; prose that moves from laugh-out-loud humour to quiet poignancy; caffeine-fueled pacing and breakneck action sequences; complex, unabashedly queer characters, and heartfelt exploration of the many kinds of male relationships.
The story takes place in New Atlantis, an island formerly known in the human world as Nantucket. This Earth is very much like our own–same countries, same pop culture, same technology–except for the presence of various magical beings. These magical beings used to exist unbeknownst to humans, but then came the Atlantean World War and the boundaries between Atlanteans and humans became frayed. Among these beings are those called the “Arcana.” Named after tarot cards–like The Tower, The Fool, Justice, and The Sun–they’re the closest things to gods of this world. Their access to immense power and their considerable influence within and outside of New Atlantis make them the de facto Atlantean rulers.
New Atlantis is like if Shadowrun had a baby with Neverwhere. Worldbuilding in urban fantasy don’t normally excite me because many of them feel the same. There’s either the fae–the Seelie and the Unseelie–or the paranormal–wereanimals, vampires, spirits, and such. You get the gist after reading half a dozen UF series. The Last Sun, though? It makes me giddy in a way that the Shadowrun world does. For those who are unfamiliar, Shadowrun is a cyberpunk RPG that’s unfortunately shadowed (no pun intended) by the popularity of D&D. And what I adore about Shadowrun is its diversity. Its major cities are a hub for not only human diversity–various ethnicity, sexuality, and gender–but magical diversity. When you walk down a street, you would see orcs intermingling with trolls, elves, dwarves, shamans, druids, and more.
The same goes for New Atlantis. The island is crammed with all manner of magical beings. Wereanimals, spirits, fae, ghouls, elementals–pick the name of any random fantasy creature floating around in your brain and it can probably be found in New Atlantis. Every corner of the story unveils something new and exciting and I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot tourist at the absolute wonder of it all.
The magic system is very reminiscent of RPGs–dynamic and fiendishly delightful. The plot moves from your standard mystery to something with larger implications, and its pacing grabs you by the neck and hurls you forward at a hundred miles per hour. And what’s incredible is that even though the pacing hardly ever lets up, Edwards still makes time for meaningful character interactions without disrupting the momentum.
The book could have stopped there and I still would have given it a very high score. But Edwards takes it a step further. Let’s talk about the reason this gets a 10 out of 10: the characters. Because the characters of The Last Sun have wormed their way into my heart, built themselves a little cabin, and are now refusing to leave.
In a genre that so often celebrates a testosterone-laden brand of masculinity, Edwards whittles down stereotypes. Take Brand, our protagonist’s foul-mouthed, sarcastic bodyguard. We’re all familiar with the type. But the thing with Brand is that he never shies away from showing how much he cares about Rune. He dons the tough bodyguard look and the emotionally vulnerable look with equal confidence.
Take Addam, who is a perfect example of the Knight In Shining Armour archetype done right. He’s one of those people that you want to hate because they’re so perfect, but can’t because they’re so perfectly nice. In fiction, nice characters–especially nice male characters and especially nice male love interests–are often disparaged as boring. Dull. Weak. Addam shatters this notion to pieces. He’s a pillar of strength born of unconditional kindness and love and trust–qualities that we as a society often misconstrue as naiveté.
And then there’s Rune, our protagonist. The heir to the fallen Sun Throne. Victim of an unspeakable tragedy. He lives in a tiny house on the edge of poverty with the fear over his head that someday his luck will run out and his enemies will catch up to him. But most of all, Rune is a survivor. And his display of strength–through his jokes, his empathy, his determination to keep moving forward–amidst the demons of his past is nothing short of inspiring.
But what I love and appreciate the most, and what makes the book special to me is in the way that Edwards tackles relationships. Specifically, the notion that deep, emotional intimacy can’t exist between two people who are not romantically involved.
I’m always drawn to stories about friends who share hugs and kisses and tell each other, without shame or hesitation, “I will walk to the deepest of hell for you.” Because my own relationship with my best friend is a very intimate one where we tell each other things like “You’re my raison d’etre” with complete seriousness. But I hardly ever see this explored in modern western literature–mostly in manga and anime.
Then this book comes along.
Rune’s relationship with Brand is different to his relationship with Addam–in that it’s not a romantic or sexual one. Yet it’s no less intimate. It’s still love. It’s palpable love that makes you want to burst into tears at the sheer beauty of it. To see this portrayed with pitch-perfection in a book–a fantasy one at that–makes me ridiculously happy. Reading through Rune and Brand’s snarky exchanges are always great, but the moments of quiet, during which they reiterate their bond to one another, are what makes this relationship so compelling. They make my heart soar in the same way that the genre’s best duos do.
What else can I say? The book is only just over 350 pages, but Edwards utilizes every single one of them and takes you through a whirlwind of an adventure. The Last Sun gives so much and leaves room for yet so much more. And I feel incredibly privileged to witness the start of what’s no doubt going to be a magnificent one-of-lifetime journey alongside these characters.
Review copy provided by Pyr and Edelweiss.