The Last Sun
By K.D. Edwards
Genre: Speculative Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes!
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes!
POC Main Character: No
Bechdel Test: No
Summary: Rune Saint John is the last survivor of the fallen Sun Court in New Atlantis, a land ruled by courts under the banner of the Major Arcana in the Tarot. When a job for Lord Tower gets him a little over his head, he will begin to unlock powers he’s not sure he’s ready for and secrets he’s been waiting for. The only question is: Can he survive long enough to put the pieces together?
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I am a sucker for tropes. I am the embodiment of the “oh my god, they were roommates” Vine. I will throw myself at frenemies to lovers books so fast I run into things. So when I find a book with the “I am the only member of my family to survive, and I want revenge” trope that was also gay and also speculative? Of course your girl is gonna be all over that. (See also: my review of Scavenge the Stars)
I adore The Last Sun and read it a lot faster than I originally intended. I was hooked almost instantly. Years back, I read a book (Last Call by Tim Powers) with a heavy focus on the characters and how they relate to the Major Arcana. Since then, I’m more likely to assign a character a card than a Hogwarts house. While Last Call is more than a little problematic and hardly something I recommend most of the time, luckily, The Last Sun is easier for me to praise.
What makes this book work for me is that it dives head first into its own premise. The research required for this series must have been extensive. World building based on Tarot can be difficult and a lot of people get it wrong. How many times have you seen someone in a film dramatically reveal The Death card as if it means literal death? Or read books where the demonic evil is foretold with The Devil as if that card is about anything other than personal demons?
Edwards not only sidesteps these frustrating and tired tropes, but assumes the reader is smart enough to know better. Rune, the lead character, is the only surviving member of The Sun house. Basic reading into the Sun as a tarot card will tell you that this card is about enlightenment, virility, and self-assurance. Other embodiments of the sun could be Helios or Baldr from myths. Rune is seeking enlightenment. He is learning to trust in his own powers and his own abilities. He is not yet The Sun, but the reader knows he will be.
In addition to Rune’s perfect place as the eighteenth card in the Major Arcana, he is employed by Lord Tower, a personal favorite minor character. The Tower is often considered a “reinforcer” card to The Sun. In a spread, they back each other up. But while the Sun is generally seen as a positive card in a reading, The Tower is destruction, the loss of everything you’ve built. It follows, then, that Lord Tower is incredibly powerful, shockingly dangerous, and a perfect patron for Rune.
This book could be a Tarot 101 course. The characters that take up each house are perfect embodiments of their card. But Edwards doesn’t rely on just Tarot to fill his characters out. Brand, my favorite of the major characters, has no card in the Major Arcana, has no seat in a house (although I could argue about a few of the Minor Arcana he could fall into). Yet he is as flushed out and real as any of the characters.
“But Grace,” you say, “I don’t know jack about Tarot. Will I still like The Last Sun?” Well, I don’t know, random internet person, do you like deep characterization and beautifully crafted worlds? You absolutely do not need to know much about Tarot to see what an incredible story is.
Edwards pulls from fae traditions, pegan witchcraft, and mythology to create a magical world that at once feels like being pulled into a tarot deck and like having a compelling story told to you by a fortune-teller. He weaves his story together so that the horror makes you jump, the romance makes you swoon, and the magic leaves you breathless.
The sequel to this is out now, and I will have my review of that up next time. Until then, do yourself a favor and read this book. Maybe even keep your phone handy while reading it so you can look up tarot card meanings. I recommend learntarot.com. It will enhance your reading and give you a little deeper look into the world of The Last Sun.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Last Sun? Leave a comment telling me what tarot card mantel you’d take up. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.