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REVIEW: The Last Sun, by K.D. Edwards

The Last Sun

Title: The Last Sun
Series: The Tarot Sequence
Author: K.D. Edwards
Genre: Paranormal, mystery/detective
LGBTQ+ Category: Gay
Publisher: Pyr
Pages/Word Count: 365 pages

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?

Review by Andrew

K.D. Edwards’ series-opening title is a skillfully constructed thrill ride that plays with a wagonload of fantasy touch points from Atlantis, witchcraft, the Tarot, zombies and more. A convincing fusion of paranormal, mystery, and thriller conventions creates added appeal.

The first-person narrative introduces the anti-hero lead Rune Saint John, the sole survivor of the Sun Throne, which was a casualty of inter-dynastic feuds twenty years ago. He’s a descendant of Atlanteans, who have magical blood and an aristocratic society that constitutes an upper echelon in a reimagined, near-modern world. With no family ties, Rune is a mercenary-for-hire, sometimes infiltrator of criminal enterprises, sometimes private detective. His principal patron is the Tower, a wealthy and mysterious power-broker who wants Rune to find his godson who may have been kidnapped.

Rune is joined by his hard boiled ‘companion’ Brand, a human who was raised to protect Rune since birth. The two men are also saddled with a troubled seventeen-year-old Matthias, a survivor of a renegade House that Rune helped bring to justice.

Their investigation of the missing godson Addam Saint Justice turns up a cast of business partners and family members who each have motives for wanting Addam gone, maybe permanently. And it leads them into a much bigger mystery and high stakes battle when gargoyles animated from billboards, zombies, and—worst of all—a giant lich who can bring down buildings, teleport and use psychological warfare, all show up to thwart Rune’s job.

The story has action galore and a winning formula of one gripping scene revving up the tension for the next, hurtling the story forward in that can’t-stop-now-must-read-one-more-page way. The writing is vivid, including descriptions of magical elements. Atlanteans rely on sigils containing powerful spells that can incinerate or freeze an opponent or create defensive shields. Edwards takes a stingy approach to backstory, which is hard to do while developing plot and character in a high fantasy setting, and I’d say his choice works to masterful effect, with one problem I’ll mention later. But mostly, there’s just enough world and character history and explanation of how magic works to follow along and keep the pacing enjoyably brisk.

Rune and Brand are the snarky, hardened variety of good guy duo, and that voice and dialogue is perfect for some readers, I’m sure. It’s a popular convention, from classic crime noir to Jim Butcher and Max Gladstone-style urban fantasy, and for me, I kept hearing Bruce Willis from the Die Hard franchise. Not my favorite thing.

Setting aside that matter, I found Brand to be a fascinating character. He’s kind of literally the personification of a Doberman Pincher with his obsessive loyalty and hard-wired need to protect Rune. The portrayal was alternately painful and sweet and layered the relationship between the two guys in an unexpected way. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to share there’s no romantic connection, and I liked that their relationship was outside-the-box of bromance or lovers, still deeply bonded emotionally and something new.

Rune shares early in the story that when his family was attacked, and he was fifteen years old, he was sexually assaulted by a group of masked men. That’s a trigger warning, and also a significant part of Rune’s character arc, which I appreciated to an extent. I could feel the author’s intention to develop what makes Rune tick and to demystify a real-life trauma that impacts many people.

Yet Edwards’ treatment of Rune’s assault underlined for me the inherent challenges of doing that subject justice in a fast-paced action medium. I found it handled well in places—Rune’s brief asides on his not-so-buried shame, the compassionate response of his love interest—but it had me scratching my head at other times.

The circumstances aren’t graphically described, but we get enough details to know it was a horrendously violent gang rape. Really, almost stretching belief anyone would physically survive, and definitely stretching belief no one surrounding Rune knows what happened to him, as he seems to imply. Nine assailants were involved, and Rune inhabits a gossipy, purebred society where everyone seems to know each other like old boarding school pals or rivals. The violent downfall of what was once the greatest House of all Atlantis had to be an incident of considerable notoriety.

Thus, the action prerogative to keep the hero tightly-wrapped and always under pressure works against examining his trauma realistically at times; and I should say I have the same problems with many ‘damaged,’ dark fantasy hero portrayals (Richard K. Morgan’s Ringil in The Steel Remains, for example). We don’t know how Rune overcame that history and chose an occupation that places him in situations that would shatter anyone’s sense of safety and surely immobilize a rape survivor with an unexamined past. And once that plot bomb is dropped, it’s hard not to wonder why Rune wouldn’t put all his time into punishing his assaulters Death Wish-style. He likes his no-holds-barred, undercover work bringing down bad guys yet shows no interest in getting the ones who robbed him of his body.

I suspect there are some answers in Edwards’ upcoming books, but for me, those gaps made it hard to connect with Rune as well as characters like the Tower, who seems to know everything about everyone, yet continually asks Rune to dive-bomb into situations where he’ll be assaulted and possibly killed.

So yeah, I had that pet peeve, but overall I thought The Last Sun was an impressive work of action-driven urban fantasy with the big time added bonus of a varied cast of queer characters.

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