"In this debut novel and series starter, the last member of a murdered House searches for a missing nobleman, and uncovers clues about his own tortured past. Rune Saint John, last child of the fallen Sun Court, is hired to search for Lady Judgment's missing son, Addam, on New Atlantis, the island city where the Atlanteans moved after ordinary humans destroyed their original home. With his companion and bodyguard, Brand, he questions Addam's relatives and business contacts through the highest ranks of the nobles of New Atlantis. But as they investigate, they uncover more than a missing man: a legendary creature connected to the secret of the massacre of Rune's Court. In looking for Addam, can Rune find the truth behind his family's death and the torments of his past?"--
K.D. Edwards dispenses with that nonsense and drops the reader right into a rapidly moving plot, smack dab in the middle of this unique world of families and kingdoms based on the Major and Minor Arcana of the Tarot with basically no explanation of who, what, where or why. Confused already? Don’t worry – you’ll catch up. I’ll admit, at first I was skeptical. Particularly when we’re introduced to our heroes, Rune and Brand, two bantering buddies (or possibly more?) right out of a Joss Whedon-penned escapade. I was so not in the mood for yet more snappy dialogue lifted straight out of an Avengers/Firefly script.
Happily, I judged too quickly and too harshly. Like their universe and back-story, the characters are slowly revealed over the course of the book and they definitely grew on me – to the point that I was actually chuckling over their witty back-and-forth and disturbed when I learned the deep psychic wounds their glibness hides. (I guess that can also serve as my trigger warning)
Rune is the only survivor of the fallen Sun Court and Brand is his longtime companion/bodyguard. Like Holmes and Watson, they share digs with their trusty housekeeper Queenie. After reluctantly being placed in charge of the flirty teenage son of Lady Lovers, Rune is hired by the mighty Lord Tower to investigate the kidnapping of the son of Lady Justice, the matriarch of yet another Major Arcana family. The investigation leads this little band of mercenaries into quite a few adventures - from nail-biting scrapes to epic battles – all entertaining, suspenseful and surprisingly cinematic. There’s also a bit of very hot (and somewhat explicit) gay sex with the tease of the possibility of romance in future installments.
While there are flaws, they’re mostly quibbles. The author is obviously a fan of all the same things I am, which isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it was too easy for me to spot his influences. For example, Quinn, a wide-eyed and loquacious seer who knows every possible outcome to any situation, is way too similar to a character in Men in Black III. And the snarky repartee between the lead characters, while mostly entertaining, is a trend in genre fiction [and film] that’s starting to overstay its welcome. And while I loved the idea of New Atlantis (the section of Nantucket where these characters live in a polyglot of historical buildings imported from all over the globe) I had a hard time getting a real picture of it in my mind based on the information provided. If you are at all familiar with Nantucket, you’ll know what I mean. But again, quibbles.
Basically, I loved this book more than I expected to and am eagerly anticipating future installments in the series.
Rune St. John, only survivor of Sun House – decimated twenty years prior by its rivals – is now working for the powerful Tower, and after the successful coup on the Lovers’ premises he’s tasked by Lord Tower to find Addam St. Nicholas, the missing heir of House Judgment, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Together with his Companion Brand – a human bonded to him from infancy as bodyguard and partner – Rune will need to navigate the complex Atlantean politics as his investigation reveals unexpected twists and plots within plots that are more far-reaching than anyone might have suspected. Facing violence, perverted magic and terrifying creatures, the two of them, and the allies they gather along the way, will find their work cut out for them as they try to unravel the complicated twists of a conspiracy that might have escaped even the control of its designers.
As I expected from the reviews I read, the world-building for The Last Sun is quite amazing, starting with the new incarnation of Atlantis itself: the descriptions made me think of a cross between Hogwarts and Blade Runner’s L.A. and there is a definite feel of unexplored layers here, as the tantalizing hints about the past offer just enough to whet one’s appetite without fully satisfying it. Atlantean society is a fascinating mix of complex customs and liberal attitudes, where no choice is barred, be it sartorial or sexual or whatever one might think of. Another expected detail, and one I quite enjoyed, came from the constant banter between characters, particularly between Rune and Brand whose partnership/brotherhood is delightful and offers a great deal of humor in a situation that moves toward darker and darker shades as the story progresses.
Yet, despite all of those positive traits, The Last Sun is not devoid of problems, some of which managed to spoil the story’s overall effect, progressively scaling down my initial rating of the book as the cons started to overshadow the pros. The most glaring of those problems is the portrayal of female characters – what few of them are included, that is, because there is a conspicuous scarcity of women in this book, and they are either placed in a menial role, like Rune and Brand’s housekeeper Queenie, or are distant, cold figures like House heads. The only woman who appears in a more substantial way is Ella, sister of the missing Addam St. Nicholas: a girl suffering from anorexia and very low self-esteem, who is ultimately revealed as a far-too-easily deceived fool. For a society depicted as broad-minded and unconventional I would have expected a more balanced portrayal of its citizens instead of this all-male focus on characters, no matter how interesting they proved to be.
The worse drawback, however, comes from the relentless action sequences which succeed each other with almost no respite, turning into magical wrestling matches that after a while lose their novelty appeal to become almost… ritualistic, for want of a better word, and progressively less engaging. The magic, as fascinating as it is with the use of sigils, ends up shadowing individual abilities or stamina and turns any fight into a contest where the biggest, baddest and more powerful sigils win; to compound this aspect there is the parallel use of healing magic, acting as a deus-ex-machina in repairing whatever injury, no matter how grievous, and so removing any sort of anxiety about the characters’ survival. The case in point comes from the instance in which one of the players suffers a mortal wound, literally bleeding his life out: when I should have worried about his survival, and bonded with the others’ anguish, I just knew that it would be only a matter of time before someone arrived to magically bring him back to life and health – which to me felt wrong, and a sort of cheat.
Overall, The Last Sun turned out to be a not-unpleasant read but either because of the expectations I built through previous reviews, or because of my points of contention, it fell quite short of the mark. While other fellow bloggers are looking forward to the second book in the series, I will wait for more information on The Hanged Man before returning to this somewhat disappointing universe.
First is that it needed a more thorough edit, both for occasional clunky prose and some inconsistencies in story details. Second is that it had a number of fatphobic comments from our heroes,
But the biggest issue is that despite being a very gay book, the storytelling is drenched in sexism. The women characters are mostly half-drawn archetypes (the nice but powerless caretaker, the wailing victim), and the main exception is a terrible character - a weak, manipulated, foolish and anorexic young women who ends up being literally picked up and carried around by men more than once). This is particularly notable in big battle scenes, described as being all hands on deck situations - but all of the hands in question seem to be men. WTF. I think this is another thing that a better editor would have caught and attended to.
That glaring problem notwithstanding, I would still recommend this book for its other good qualities. Rune's narration is appealing, and the plot is interesting. A number of significant threads are left for the sequel or sequels, so I'll be picking that up when it's released - and hoping for some better women characters.