From the internationally bestselling author of Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan comes a masterful new novel set in a vivid world evoking early Renaissance Italy and offering an extraordinary cast of characters whose lives come together through destiny, love, and ambition.
In a chamber overlooking the nighttime waterways of a maritime city, a man recalls his youth and the people who shaped his life. Danio Cerra's intelligence won him entry to a renowned school even though he was only the son of a tailor. He took service at the court of a count--and soon learned why that man was known as the Beast.
Danio's fate changed the moment he recognized Adria Ripoli as she entered the Beast's chambers one autumn night, intending to kill. Born to power, Adria had chosen, instead of a life of comfort, one of danger--and freedom--which is how she encounters Danio in a perilous time and place.
Unforgettable figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.
A Brightness Long Ago offers both compelling drama and deeply moving reflections on the nature of memory, the choices we make in life, and the role played by the turning of Fortune's wheel.
About the author
GUY GAVRIEL KAY is an international bestselling author. He has been awarded the International Goliardos Prize for his work in the literature of the fantastic, is a two-time winner of the Aurora Award, and won the 2008 World Fantasy Award for Ysabel, a #1 bestseller in Canada. His works have been translated into more than twenty-five languages. Visit his Canadian website at www.guygavrielkay.ca and his authorized international website at www.brightweavings.com.
- Short-listed, Locus Award for Fantasy Novel
- Short-listed, Aurora Award - Best Novel
Excerpt: A Brightness Long Ago (by (author) Guy Gavriel Kay)
A man no longer young in a large room at night. There are lanterns and lamps, torches in brackets, a handsome table, tall, shuttered windows, paintings in shadow on the walls. He is not alone. Even so, he finds his mind turning back to when he was, indeed, still young. We all do that. A scent carries us, a voice, a name, a person who reminds us of someone we knew . . .
There are events going forward in this moment, but there is also a delay, a pause in the rush of people coming and going, and the past is closer at night.
He is thinking of a story from when he was learning the world and his place in it. He cannot tell all the tale, and he won’t. We see only glimpses of history, even our own. It is not entirely ours—in memory, in writing it down, in hearing or in reading it. We can reclaim only part of the past. Sometimes it is enough . . .
The sailors say the rain misses the cloud even as it falls through light or dark into the sea. I miss her like that as I fall through my life, through time, the chaos of our time. I dream of her some nights, still, but there is nothing to give weight or value to that, it is only me, and what I want to be true. It is only longing.
I remember that autumn night very well. It would be odd if I didn’t, since it set me on a different path from the one I’d thought I was on. It changed the arc of my days, as Guarino might have put it. I could easily have died. No arc at all, if so. I had images of knives come into my mind for a long time after. The one I carried, the one that had been used before my own.
I owe my life to Morani di Rosso. I light candles to his memory. He was a good man; I think it is fair to say any friend of Guarino’s had to be. Morani was chief steward of the palace in Mylasia. He had accepted me on Guarino’s recommendation. Which is why I was in the palace on the night Uberto the count, also named the Beast, was killed by the girl.
It seems necessary to say that though I was a pupil in Guarino’s school it was not because my father had any rank at all. Guarino, the best man of our time I believe, when invited to open a school at the court in Avegna made it a condition that he be allowed to admit a number of lesser-born children—clever ones, showing signs of promise—to be educated with the sons and some of the daughters of nobility.
I was admitted that way. My father was a tailor in Seressa. I feel no shame in saying that. I know what he was, I know what I was, and am. The cleric in our neighbourhood sanctuary by the great canal was the one who noticed me. I had quickness, he declared, was a well-formed, well-mannered young man, had taken easily to my letters and numbers.
Tailors in Seressa (and elsewhere) do have a little status. They enter the homes and intimate chambers of the great, conversing with them at fittings, learning their needs (not just in clothing), sometimes guiding those needs. Ours is a time when public display matters. Most times are, I suppose.
At our cleric’s urging, my father mentioned me to one of his patrons, a member of the Council of Twelve, then the cleric wrote a letter to that same man, and . . . matters were set in motion. I have a memory of my mother the morning I left—she saved a yellow bird from the cat. She chased the cat away, then turned and hugged me goodbye. I don’t know if she cried; if she did, it was after I had gone.
I spent seven years with Guarino in Avegna. There is a bust of him now in a palace courtyard there, outside the rooms where the school used to be. The school has been closed for years. Guarino is gone, my father (Jad defend his soul) is gone, many of those who mattered in my life are. It happens if you live long enough.
In that school in Avegna I lived through and left my childhood. I learned to write with skill, not merely competence. To speak gracefully in good company and debate with clarity. To deal with weapons and the new form of accounting. To sing (with less grace, in truth), and to ride and handle horses—which became my joy in life.
I learned to address my betters properly and my equals and inferiors also properly, and to do so with at least an illusion of ease. I was taught something of the history of Batiara and of events in our own time—though we were spoken to carefully as to that last, because certain things were not said, even at the school. Towards the end, I was helping with the younger students. I was in no great hurry to leave that sheltered place.
Some of us learned to read texts of the Ancients. We learned of Sarantium in the east, the City of Cities, what it had been a thousand years ago, what it was now, and how the Asharites, the star-worshippers, threatened it in our time. We heard tales of emperors and charioteers.
Those languages and stories of the past, along with access to Avegna’s palace horses, were a good part of why I stayed with my teacher longer than most. Those things, and loving him.
I had begun to think I might become a bookseller and bookbinder at home in Seressa where the trade was growing, but Guarino said I was suited to serve at a court, to use and share what he’d taught me. He regarded that as part of his task, sending men and sometimes women into the world to have an influence, guide others towards a better way to be, during a time when violent men were ruling and warring through Batiara and beyond.
Time enough to make and sell books later, he said—if you decide you want that. But first, take a position where you can give back some of what you have been given here.
He’d written a letter to an old friend, which is how Morani di Rosso and Mylasia came into my life. Morani offered me a position at the court there. The Beast’s court.
We make our own choices sometimes, sometimes they are made for us.
I’ve thought often about what my life might have been had I gone home to Seressa instead and opened or joined in running a bookshop. My cousin Alviso had just started one, alongside one of the smaller canals. But Alviso hadn’t been to the celebrated school in Avegna. He hadn’t had that gift in his life. Opportunities given are responsibilities. They taught us that.
So, I went to Mylasia. There were and there are bad men ruling some of the larger and smaller city-states of Batiara, but I don’t think many would dispute that Uberto of Mylasia was among the very worst in those days.
It was interesting, I suppose it still is, how vicious men can take power and be accepted, supported by those they govern, if they bring with them a measure of peace. If granaries are full and citizens fed. If war doesn’t bring starvation to the walls. Uberto was a man who had sealed an enemy in a cask to see if he might observe the soul escaping when his prisoner died.
If men and women are to be killed we want that to happen somewhere else. We are like that, even as we pray. In these years, as hired armies go up and down the hills and river valleys, fighting for a city-state that’s hired them or raiding for themselves, as High Patriarchs war with half the nobility and conspire with the other half, some have seen the conflicts of the great as sweet, seductive chances to expand their own power.
Villages and towns are destroyed by angry, hungry soldiers, then sacked again a year later. Famine comes, and disease with it. In times of hard peril, a leader strong enough—and feared enough—to keep his city safe will be permitted a great deal in terms of viciousness, what he does within his palace.
There was no secret to it. Uberto of Mylasia was well known for what happened in his chambers at night when the mood was upon him. There were stories of youthful bodies carried out through the smaller palace gates in the dark, dead and marred. And good men still served him—making their peace with our god as best they could.
Balancing acts of the soul. Acquiescence happens more than its opposite—a rising up in anger and rejection. There are wolves in the world, inside elegant palaces as well as in the dark woods and the wild.
People sent their daughters away from Mylasia and the nearby farms in those years because Uberto was what he was. When young girls sufficiently appealing were not readily found, he had boys brought to him.
It was known, as I say. We’d heard the tales in Avegna. Some of the others at school, better born than I, had even joked that having women brought to them (no one joked about the boys, it would have been a risky jest) was one of the appealing aspects of power. They didn’t talk—to be fair—about killing them, just the pleasures of a night, or more than one.
Uberto never had anyone brought for more than one night. Most of his guests survived, went home, were even rewarded with coins—given that marriage would be difficult for the girls, after, and the boys were shamed.
Not all left his palace alive, however. Not all of them did.
The first way I might have died that windy autumn night was if Morani had not sent me for wine by way of the servants’ stairs when word came that the girl had arrived.
When someone was brought to the count at night, Morani took the post outside Uberto’s chambers himself. As if he would not burden another soul with what this was. He had done so for years, apparently.
That summer and fall he liked me to stay with him before and after the arrival—but not when the girl or boy came up the stairs. This had happened three times already. That night was the fourth. I do not believe in sacred numbers, I am just telling my story as I remember it.
Outside the count’s rooms Morani and I would converse of the wisdom of the past. I’d recite poetry for him, on request, while behind the door Uberto did what he did. We would hear things sometimes. Morani’s face would be sorrowful, and I thought I saw other things in him, too. Mostly he would keep me talking—about philosophers, precepts of restraint, learned indifference to fortune’s wheel. He’d drink the wine I’d brought up, but never too much.
He couldn’t protect me from knowing what was happening, only from being part of sending someone in. He did have me stay with him after. Perhaps he found it hard to be there alone. Perhaps he thought I needed to learn some of the dark things about the world, alongside the bright ones. In certain ways, I have since thought, that is the condition of Batiara in our time: art and philosophy, and beasts.
Had I been standing beside him when the girl was led up the staircase between torches, had the guards who brought her seen me with him there, I’d have been held equally responsible, without any least doubt, for what ensued.
But they did not see me. Only Morani was there to greet her gently, usher her through the door after searching her, carefully, for any weapon she might have. The guards would have done so downstairs already, but as the palace’s chief steward, Morani was formally responsible outside that door.
I was there, however. I did see her.
I had come back up with the wine flask already, was standing in the shadows on the back stairs, out of sight of the guards and the girl, but with a view of them. And so I saw who she was.
I didn’t believe she’d have remembered me at all, had I been visible, but I knew her on sight. It hadn’t been so long. And I realized, immediately, that something was wrong.
I did nothing, I said nothing. I let it happen.
Morani di Rosso’s death is on me, you may fairly say. I owed him a great deal, I liked him a great deal. He was a kind man, and had small children, and I recognized the woman and still let things proceed to where they went, which included his execution and dismemberment in the square not long after.
I have often thought that the world the god has made—in our time, at least—is not generally kind to good men. I do not know what that says about me and my own life.
We accumulate sins and guilt, just by moving through our days, making choices, doing, not doing. His is a death for which I will be judged. There are others.
FINALIST for the Aurora Award for Best Novel 2020
FINALIST for the Locus Award for Fantasy Novel 2020
Praise for A Brightness Long Ago:
"A Brightness Long Ago is, like all of Kay’s work, exquisitely crafted and deeply moving. By turns beautiful and bittersweet, it tells the story of small people caught in the current of world-shattering events, and of the ripples they make that are sometimes—but not always—lost in the flow of history. His most compelling characters are those found lingering near the frame of a famous portrait, or rendered, almost as an afterthought, in glass and stone. Guy Gavriel Kay has written a masterpiece, yet again.” —Nicholas Eames, author of Kings of the Wyld
"A new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is always occasion for rejoicing—and this dazzling adventure is a diamond-bright jewel."
—Marina Endicott, author of Good to a Fault
"An epic tale filled with characters compelling enough to bear the weight of the high stakes."
“It is, as it always is in Kay’s novels, a dynamic equilibrium between the forces of history and the pain of the soul”
—The Toronto Star
“Living, as we are, in a world that seems beyond the capacity for shock, A Brightness Long Ago is a beautifully told counterpoint.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Kay’s settings may change, but the main themes in all his books are who controls historical memory (political power or artistic works) and the role of contingency in human affairs.”
“Like all of Kay’s work, the novel is worth reading as much for the plot and characters as for the fantasy world it occupies, which is as richly detailed as a Bosch painting.”
“A thoughtful read, full of heart. As with any Kay book, there is beauty of language and intelligent observations. This is a book to be savored...This is a book that I will continue to think about for days to come.”
—Robin Hobb, New York Times bestselling author of Assassin’s Fate
“A beautiful meditation on how seemingly small choices can have such great consequences, and on how people who come into our lives, even briefly, can change them.”
—Jessica Day George, New York Times bestselling author of Silver in the Blood
“A Brightness Long Ago is a masterpiece; perhaps the finest work of one of the world’s greatest living storytellers…This story is shocking, devastating, and beautiful. Kay’s language is elegant in its simplicity, yet painstakingly profound as it cuts to the core of what makes us think, and act, and remember.”
—Fantasy Book Review
“Beautifully faceted, jewel-like scenes carry us beyond the doublets and daggers to create an emotionally charged, high-stakes world of love and hate, threat and reward.”
Praise for Guy Gavriel Kay:
“[Read] anything by Guy Gavriel Kay....His strengths are strong characters and fantastic set pieces.”
—The New Yorker
“History and fantasy rarely come together as gracefully or readably as they do in the novels of Guy Gavriel Kay.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Kay is a genius. I’ve read him all my life and am always inspired by his work.”
—#1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson
“Guy Gavriel Kay has a wonderful talent. He tells stories in an invented world that is so rich in historical echoes that I found myself smiling with pleasure as I heard the echoes, while engrossed in the story. Warmly recommended.”
"Kay is peerless in plucking elements from history and using them to weave a wholly fantastical tale that feels like a translation of some freshly unearthed scroll from a time we have yet to discover."
—The Miami Herald