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

Other Reviews of Last Song Before Night:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought two books that sound wonderful, but first, here’s what happened last week in case you missed it:

For reviews, I’m working on writing up some thoughts on Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer.

On to the books!

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

This collection of short stories by Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning author Ken Liu was just released on March 8 (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The hardcover edition is gorgeous!

I’ve read a couple of these stories before (the Hugo Award-winning “Mono No Aware” and the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-winning “The Paper Menagerie”) and enjoyed both of them, especially the latter.


A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky by Hugo and Lambda Literary Award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders was released in January (hardcover, ebook, audiobook). The first four chapters are on

I’ve been hearing this is wonderful and I was intrigued by the little bit I read toward the beginning.


From the editor-in-chief of, a stunning novel about the end of the world–and the beginning of our future

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.


Toward the end of last year, I launched the Fantasy Café Patreon account, which has a reward tier that allows voting on blog content for a post during the next month. In January, I reviewed Patricia A. McKillip’s beautifully written stand alone The Changeling Sea, and last month I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s unique, memorable short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids. The March book theme is a fairly recent science fiction or fantasy debut novel, and the book to be reviewed later this month is…

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

In the hallowed halls of Oxford’s Merlin College, the most talented—and highest born—sons of the Kingdom of Britain are taught the intricacies of magickal theory. But what dazzles can also destroy, as Gray Marshall is about to discover…

Gray’s deep talent for magick has won him a place at Merlin College. But when he accompanies four fellow students on a mysterious midnight errand that ends in disaster and death, he is sent away in disgrace—and without a trace of his power. He must spend the summer under the watchful eye of his domineering professor, Appius Callender, working in the gardens of Callender’s country estate and hoping to recover his abilities. And it is there, toiling away on a summer afternoon, that he meets the professor’s daughter.

Even though she has no talent of her own, Sophie Callender longs to be educated in the lore of magick. Her father has kept her isolated at the estate and forbidden her interest; everyone knows that teaching arcane magickal theory to women is the height of impropriety. But against her father’s wishes, Sophie has studied his ancient volumes on the subject. And in the tall, stammering, yet oddly charming Gray, she finally finds someone who encourages her interest and awakens new ideas and feelings.

Sophie and Gray’s meeting touches off a series of events that begins to unravel secrets about each of them. And after the king’s closest advisor pays the professor a closed-door visit, they begin to wonder if what Gray witnessed in Oxford might be even more sinister than it seemed. They are determined to find out, no matter the cost…

I’m looking forward to reading a book by a new-to-me author! April’s book, a novella, will be announced later this month.

The Fifth Season
by N. K. Jemisin
512pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.7/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.36/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.33/5

Book Description from Goodreads:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

N. K. Jemisin is a phenomenal writer who excels at narrative voice, worldbuilding, and characterization. Her debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is wonderful, and I also added The Broken Kingdoms and The Killing Moon to my favorites list after reading them (The Killing Moon remains my favorite of all her books I’ve read).  I was incredibly excited to hear about her Broken Earth trilogy, and though I didn’t find it as gripping as the other books just mentioned, The Fifth Season is a brilliant novel and a strong start to the series.

The beginning immediately made me want to keep reading. It introduced the Stillness (“a land of quiet and bitter irony” because it’s anything but still) and Essun, a forty-two year old woman who just found the body of her not-quite-three-year-old son Uche—killed by his own father, who must have discovered the boy was an orogene like his mother. Essun hid the fact that she’s an orogene as they are commonly feared, misunderstood, and treated as less than human, for though their power can quell the shakes and save, it can also destroy. After the prologue, sections focusing on Essun are written in second person, and it’s heartbreaking to read about her loss. For two days, she shuts down, staying near his body, but soon she leaves to search for her husband because he has their daughter, also an orogene.

As you can probably tell from that start, The Fifth Season can be a rather dark book. It shows a young orogene being taken from her family so she can be trained to control her power by any means necessary—even violent ones. It shows a woman whose eyes are opened to the truth of the terrible fate of some orogenes. It’s about the end of the world, the rewriting of history, and the unjust treatment of a group of people, and as such is not a happy book, though it is a powerfully memorable one peopled with compelling characters. I loved that it had a complex, well-developed “older” woman as a protagonist, a survivor who could be caring and compassionate and fierce and prickly.

It’s also a smartly written book with a fantastic twist. Even though I realized what was going on long before it was revealed, it’s so fitting that it seems inevitable and smoothly integrated rather than a supposed shocking revelation that’s eye-rollingly predictable. If my theory had turned out to be incorrect, I would have been sorely disappointed since it worked perfectly with this book.

The only reason I don’t love The Fifth Season the way I do many of N. K. Jemisin’s other books is the pacing. It does seem to be setting up the rest of the trilogy, and given that, it seems like it’s just getting to the meat of the story at the end. Since I did enjoy the world and characters, there were times I found it completely engrossing anyway, but there were also other times I wanted it to move faster.

Despite not finding it quite as engaging as most of the books I’ve read by the author, The Fifth Season is a book I appreciated very much. It’s a well-written book set in a unique world filled with complicated characters, and the fascinating setting and mysteries yet to be unraveled have made me quite eager to read The Obelisk Gate, coming this August!

My Rating: 8/10

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

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week I added a book that sounds pretty interesting to the to-read list!

If you missed it last week, I reviewed Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection Falling in Love With Hominids, which was February’s Patreon book selection. I enjoyed many of the stories, and I now really want to read a novel or a collection of short stories about the characters from “Emily Breakfast”!

On to the books!

The Second Death by T. Frohock

The Second Death (Los Nefilim #3) by T. Frohock

The third Los Nefilim novella will be released in ebook on March 29. It follows In Midnight’s Silence and Without Light or Guide.

I rarely read and review ebooks since a) I prefer reading print and b) I find it easier to review books I read in print, but I did read and review In Midnight’s Silence since I was quite impressed with T. Frohock’s debut novel, Miserere: An Autumn Tale. I enjoyed it, and it succeeded in making me want to read more about the world and characters of Los Nefilim.


Save the world, or save his family…

For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable:

Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

The Second Death is the final chapter in T. Frohock’s haunting and lyrical Los Nefilim trilogy, which bestselling author Mark Lawrence has called “a joy to read.”

Additional Books:

Falling in Love with Hominids
by Nalo Hopkinson
240pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.05/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.95/5

Falling in Love with Hominids contains eighteen short stories by acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson, whose accolades include a World Fantasy Award, a John W. Campbell Award for Best First Novel, a Locus Award for Best First Novel, a Philip K. Dick Award nomination, a New York Times Notable Book, two Sunburst Awards, a Gaylactic Spectrum Award, and a Prix Aurora Award. This collection also contains a foreword explaining the title’s origins and a brief introduction for each story, also written by the author.

My first—and only, before this book—experience with Nalo Hopkinson’s writing was her most recent novel, Sister Mine. I very much enjoyed this story about formerly conjoined twins with a demigod father, and I’ve wanted to read more of her work ever since. In general, I prefer longer fiction to short stories since I like to be able to spend time learning about the world and characters, and I did prefer Sister Mine to this collection; however, there were a few individual stories I liked every bit as much or even more than this novel. Falling in Love with Hominids contains an impressive assortment of tales with a variety of writing styles, character voices, and influences, ranging from lighthearted in tone to disturbingly dark. Many were strange and whimsical, and even if I didn’t love a story, I usually found it memorable due to its uniqueness.

Two of my favorites were the creepiest stories. The basic premise of “Blushing” is familiar: a husband tells his new bride that she may have a key to every room in the house, except one. Of course, his wife then embarks on a quest to discover a way to get into this forbidden chamber, and it seems like a fairly conventional plot until suddenly it isn’t. The ending was far more horrific than I’d imagined, and as unsettling as it was, I loved how it veered into unexpected territory. “The Easthound” starts with a bunch of children playing a simple game and shows their fear: not just of the mysterious easthound but of eating too much, leading to growing too quickly. By the end of the story, the whole picture—and again, an even more terrifying danger than I’d been expecting—are revealed.

The only other story I enjoyed as much as these two especially unnerving ones was actually one of the lighter ones, “Emily Breakfast.” It’s a perfectly ordinary start to the weekend when Cranston makes a trip to the garden and chicken coop to collect spinach and eggs for breakfast with his flying cat, Rose of Sharon, in tow. However, when he calls the hens only two of them appear and he discovers Emily Breakfast is missing. There’s no sign of a tussle with a predatory animal, and Cranston rushes back to the house to tell his husband, Ser Maracle, that he thinks she was stolen, leading to a search by the two men, their cat, and the rest of the neighborhood. The characters, both human and animal, were vividly drawn, and I would love to read either a novel or more short stories about the misadventures of Cranston, Ser Maracle, their cat, and their fierce fire-breathing chickens.

Although those three are easily the ones I liked best, there are other highlights as well: “Message in a Bottle,” about a man’s encounter with a friend’s adopted child who is not what she seems; “The Smile on the Face,””Shift,” a tale inspired by The Tempest with riveting alternating narratives; and “Delicious Monster,” in which a man visits his father and his partner to end up witnessing a mythical, life-altering event. Although I felt this three page story was underdeveloped, “Men Sell Not Such in Any Town” was a fascinating story that left me wanting to read a longer, more detailed version.

In general, the stories that included exploration of characters or their personal relationships worked the best for me, which may be why most of the shortest stories didn’t leave as much of an impression on me. “Soul Case,” the tale of a group of escaped slaves facing those from whom they fled, was decent but didn’t stick with me since it was an account of events that didn’t have much focus on individual characters. “Flying Lessons” and “Whose Upward Flight I Love,” the two shortest at less than two pages each, were the only two stories I didn’t find at all compelling. (It is entirely possible I missed key information on the first of those two having never read The Little Prince.)

As is always the case with short story collections, not all of the stories worked for me, but even most of those that I didn’t particularly enjoy were notable because of the depth of imagination that went into them. However, those that did work for me shone very brightly indeed, and I found Falling in Love with Hominids to be a book well worth reading for its uniqueness and engaging variety of characters, narrative voices, and types of stories.

My Rating: 7/10

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

This book is February’s selection from a poll on Patreon.