Title: LAST SONG BEFORE NIGHT
Author: Ilana C. Myer
Genre: Adult – High Fantasy
Publication Information: Tor Books, 2015
Rating: 3 Stars
Recommended For: People who like the life and death nature of epic fantasy, but want something more character-driven.
Watch Out For: Violence, sexual content – probably appropriate for high schoolers
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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I absolutely loved the premise for this book, which is what made me read it to begin with. In just the summary, there are mentions of many of my favorite things: music, lost magic, pestilence, women sticking it to the man. I think Myer did a great job setting up this world, and that was really the thing that kept me reading, more than anything else. I could easily read another book set in this world.
There were two places where this book fell a little flat for me. The first was what was motivating the characters to go off on this grand quest of theirs. There were many personal dramas throughout the book for the multiple POV characters we had, and those were handled well – I was able to understand the characters’ actions in that respect. But, the bigger question of trying to reopen the Otherworld – I understood why it needed to be done (to save everyone from the plague and also other things), but not why it was these characters SPECIFICALLY doing it. We never really get a clear sense of why they all decided to risk their lives to complete this task.
The other place it fell flat was in the urgency of this quest. We’re told multiple times the consequences of the characters being captured, and shown these consequences, as well, but it never really FEELS life and death. I think it’s probably because of the slower pace of the book – which worked well for the character development generally, but not for making us believe in the stakes.
TL;DR: Fantastic world building and character development, but the stakes never feel as high as we’re told they are.