Last Song Before Night
by Ilana C. Myer
416pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.2/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.33/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.53/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

A high fantasy following a young woman’s defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world’s lost magic

Her name was Kimbralin Amaristoth: sister to a cruel brother, daughter of a hateful family. But that name she has forsworn, and now she is simply Lin, a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a land where women are forbidden to answer such callings—a fugitive who must conceal her identity or risk imprisonment and even death.

On the eve of a great festival, Lin learns that an ancient scourge has returned to the land of Eivar, a pandemic both deadly and unnatural. Its resurgence brings with it the memory of an apocalypse that transformed half a continent. Long ago, magic was everywhere, rising from artistic expression—from song, from verse, from stories. But in Eivar, where poets once wove enchantments from their words and harps, the power was lost. Forbidden experiments in blood divination unleashed the plague that is remembered as the Red Death, killing thousands before it was stopped, and Eivar’s connection to the Otherworld from which all enchantment flowed, broken.

The Red Death’s return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: galvanized by Valanir Ocune, greatest Seer of the age, Lin and several others set out to reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld—a quest that will test their deepest desires, imperil their lives, and decide the future.

Although Ilana C. Myer’s fantasy debut novel Last Song Before Night, released in fall 2015, stands alone, there is a sequel in progress. I was glad to hear this news since this book was so absorbing that reading “just one more chapter” often turned into reading multiple chapters before being able to force myself to put it down!

Last Song Before Night contains tragedy, but it isn’t overly grim or completely hopeless even though all the main characters are touched by darkness, either from within or the actions of others (or some of both). This isn’t a book to read for the plot, which was basically a quest complete with many cliches, but one to read for the characters’ journeys. For better or worse, each of them end up in a different place than where they began and the end of their stories was not at all what I’d been expecting.

My favorite, Lin, is also the one I considered the main character despite being only one of multiple characters followed. She’s been through a lot and is simultaneously hiding from her cruel brother and pursuing her dream of becoming a poet—even though women are not accepted for training at the Academy and a female poet is quite uncommon. When she performs at a wealthy man’s home, she meets my next favorite protagonist, Rianna. These two do not spend much time together throughout the novel, but I loved their few interactions: how Rianna turns to Lin with her questions, knowing she’ll understand she doesn’t need to be sheltered from the truth like her father and fiance believe; how Rianna’s keen eye leads her to be the first to realize Lin’s true identity even though she just met her; how Lin sets Rianna on the path to learning to defend herself. Both women face great obstacles, and though very different from each other, both are determined survivors.

There are other protagonists, but those who get the most page time besides Lin and Rianna are two Academy-trained poets, Darien and Marlen. They were a team until Marlen betrayed Darien for his own gain, goaded by his father’s belief that he’d forever remain in Darien’s shadow. Marlen’s perspective is an examination of one who has followed a path that led to a descent into villainy.

Although I enjoyed reading Last Song Before Night very much, I did feel as though it were right on the brink of being excellent without quite reaching its full potential. The details of the actual quest didn’t particularly interest me, and the trope of the mysterious famous person guiding younger people toward a goal without providing much information, among other familiar elements, was dull. Though the writing was smooth and readable, it sometimes explained more than was necessary and told more than showed. The ending was rushed considering the amount that happened toward the end. Even though the characters, especially the two main female characters, were far from one-dimensional and were the reason I kept reading, I felt like just a little more depth could have taken them to the next level as truly unforgettable.

Most of all, I wanted more exploration of poets within this world since the book set up some intriguing aspects of this but didn’t actually follow through and examine them as deeply as I had been hoping. I was intrigued by so many of the protagonists being people who influenced through words and music, and earlier in the book, it did show the admiration others had for them, the power they had, and the limitations they had regarding their turbulent relationship with the king, their refusal to teach women, and their strict regulations concerning which songs could be performed publicly. Yet once the quest started, it seemed that these were dropped and it failed to fulfill my expectation that this was going to be a unique feature of this novel. In the end, I thought that Darien and Lin could have been mages instead of poets without changing that part of the story much.

Despite feeling that there were a few issues holding it back, Last Song Before Night was a strong debut that put Ilana C. Myer on my radar as an author whose future books are worth reading. The characters kept me engaged, making it a compelling novel that kept me turning the pages (probably long after I should have stopped for inconveniences like household chores or sleep!).

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt

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