This volume is very similar to CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY, but whereas CHILDREN takes place in around 1478, i.e. around 25 years AFTER the fall of Constantinople (Sarantium), BRIGHTNESS takes place in 1453, the year that Constantinople/Sarantium falls.
There are other similarities. Like CHILDREN, BRIGHTNESS has a young aristocratic woman who flouts society’s norms. But instead of a fake marriage and unexpected power as Eldest Daughter at a Jadd Sanctuary, this young woman murders someone, wins a dangerous horse race, and dies defending her family with a sword.
Then we have the naive young man. In CHILDREN, he is a painter. In BRIGHTNESS, we have the son of a tailor, whose brilliance led to his education at a famous school, followed by his employment at the court of an aristocrat who is so nasty, his nickname is “The Beast.”
The grouping of five people (the usual number for GGK’s novels) is rounded out by another adventurous young woman, this time a healer who likes to travel, and two warlords who are at each other’s throats.
Despite the bloodthirsty nature of the times (1400s Italy and the Balkans) this is a quiet novel like CHILDREN. Again, author Guy Gavriel Kay spends a great deal of ink musing about the role of chance in a person’s life (something NOT appreciated by most people) and about the nature and meaning of life in general. It is these ponderings that give both novels their quiet air, despite all the fighting, murdering and general mayhem of 15th century Europe.
IMHO, this is NOT GGK at his best. I found the musings too predictable, and of course they slowed the story down. My favorite GGK novels are TIGANA and YSABEL (because of their wonderful characters) and UNDER HEAVEN and RIVER OF STARS (because the real historical events that underpin these stories give the narrative arc a spine.)
By contrast, CHILDREN and BRIGHTNESS ramble. Four stars.