Fantasy and historical fantasy fiction writer Guy Gavriel Kay is being honored with an appointment to the Order of Canada – that country’s second highest civilian honor. The Order recognizes the achievement of outstanding merit or distinguished service by Canadians who made a major difference to Canada through lifelong contributions in every field of endeavor. (Other appointees this year are “Space Oddity” singing astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield and horror film director and writer David Cronenberg). Kay specifically was awarded the honor “for his contributions to the field of speculative fiction as an internationally celebrated author.”
Guy Gavriel Kay was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, eventually studying philosophy at the University of Manitoba. After a two year stint at Oxford, he returned to Canada to study law at the University of Toronto, which is when he became interested in writing as a career. His first work of fiction, The Summer Tree – the first book in the popular “Fionavar Tapestry” trilogy – came in 1984 and was well received, being nominated for a Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. The trilogy encompasses a group of friends from Toronto who find themselves drawn to a parallel universe, and it immediately established Kay as a shining literary talent.
My first exposure to Guy Gavriel Kay was from reading his urban fantasy Yasbel , written in 2007. I found the teenage protagonist to be believable and the fantastical elements to presented in a way as to appear plausible even to a somewhat skeptical reader as myself; I was immediately hooked and wanted to explore his works further. I sought out and read “The Fionavar Tapestry” trilogy, but was disappointed – it was too scattered and flat for me; while it showed flashes of brilliance, I found too much of it contrived. But on the strength of what I perceived as the growth of an author from his earlier works to his more current one, I tried one more title – The Last Light of the Sun – and was absolutely blown away. An analogue of Viking culture, The Last Light of the Sun not only draws in those influences, but also very strong Anglo-Saxon and Welsh themes in a setting akin to but not beholden to actual history. The effect is electrifying. His mastery was even elevated from there, in his 2010 novel Under Heaven (an analogue of the 8th Century Tang Dynasty in China), which I to this day consider the most exquisite work of literature I have read.
So a hearty congratulations to Guy Gavriel Kay on his appointment to the Order of Canada! A very well deserved honor, indeed.