Review: Last Song Before Night by Ilana C Myer

Note from the Blogger: I've been lacking motivation lately, so if you'd like to hear more book reviews sooner, check out the WFTM podcast. Any episode ending with a .1 is all about books and comic books. I'm hoping to get back into the swing of writing more reviews regularly, but until I bust out of this obnoxious depression, it might be scattered at best.

Last Song Before Night
Ilana C Myer

Tor Books
I received a copy from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Published September 29, 2015
416 pages
High Fantasy / Magic

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Long ago, poets were Seers with access to powerful magic. Following a cataclysmic battle, the enchantments of Eivar were lost–now a song is only words and music, and no more. But when a dark power threatens the land, poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a task much greater: to restore the lost enchantments to the world. And the road to the Otherworld, where the enchantments reside, will imperil their lives and test the deepest desires of their hearts.

I have been kind of an epic failure at life lately. Nothing really excites me and I have no attention span or energy to write reviews of the books I have managed to muddle my way through. I fear that this gray lethargy might have colored most of what I’ve read in the last two months. With this knowledge available, please read my review of Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night with a large “Your Mileage May Vary” warning on top.

Last Song Before Night should have been a bright spot in my otherwise dull interpretation of life right now. It features magicians that weave their magic through song, so much of the writing has more of a lyrical bent to it. The chosen one is a female with untapped potential. It all takes place in some vaguely Edwardian age with the type of giant festivals I believe only take place in fantasy settings. I should have enjoyed Last Song Before Night, but I found that I was dragging myself through the pages, rarely ever captivated by the story it was telling.

Lin ran away from her abusive brother after her mother’s passing, and has been living as traveling Poet for the last year. She traded the life of a noblewoman for freedom and an escape from the cruelty of her family. She arrives with her partner in the capital to compete in a musical competition where the winner is chosen to serve at court. During the lead up to the festivities, she crosses paths with an infamous wizard who has returned from years abroad with a dire warning that also happens to be treasonous. This sets Lin on the path to rediscover the secrets that have kept true magic buried in their land for the last 100 years.

There are a half dozen other characters introduced, including the roguish Darien, who charms away the rich Rianna from her life of comfort with the geeky Ned; Darien’s musical partner, Rayen, who carries around such hatred and jealousy that he doesn’t care whose world he tears apart as long as he gets what he wants; and Marilla, Rayen’s former prostitute girlfriend, who likes toying with the men in her life to get the pleasure she desires from their pain. Meanwhile signs of a blood magic-induced plague are causing everyone to become a little on edge.

This is a high fantasy in the sense that there is an epic journey with all the long bouts of walking one would expect. For the most part, the world building is solid and all the characters have filled in back stories to explain their hurts and motivations. None of these things were where I had a problem.

I had trouble with Gandalf-light, the infamous wizard that swoops into a party, delivers an ominous message via a treasonous song, and then gets Lin wrapped up in an epic quest to return magic to the Poets and stop the Court Poet from destroying the entire country. Mr. Gandalf-light (they called this character by several different names, none of which I can remind at this moment in time) never mentions that the Court Wizard is evil and attempting to bring back an insanely deadly plague. He gives no guidance on how Lin can achieve the goal of her quest. He just says “go do this thing, you have magics and are the chosen one” and she goes off and does this thing. He then pops up on occasion to give reassurances that she can accomplish this task, but stays safely out of the way only to pop up at the end and becomes the reason the thing is accomplished. Not once does he ever explain why Lin has to go on this deadly adventure instead of him, though he’s apparently the most powerful Poet in the land with influence over other versions of magic that don’t exist in Lin’s country. He never clearly explains why her or why now or provides much useful information at all. Instead he would just pop in periodically and I would get frustrated why this character even had to exist at all. He was a useless mentor figure that really needed to serve another purpose.

Or I’m just in the throes of a pretty grey depression and all the walking and intricate mythology couldn’t break through. I had some fairly visceral reactions towards the conclusion of the book, but I had difficulty getting into the atmospheric writing and world building. By the time it felt like anything was ever going to actually happen, I was a bit done with the whole thing mentally. The characters are interesting, though there might be a few too many of them given a main focus (I’m still not sure the purpose of the Riana, Ned, Marialla, Rayen, and Darien trapezoid). I liked that they all had their own pains and scars to drive them (with the exception of Gandalf-light),

The writing itself was fluid and captivating enough to drive me along despite my general disinterest in the plot. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this story more had I been in a better state of mind, but some of the things that dug at my brain a little too much would have probably bothered me still. This is an interesting standalone that seemed to cram to many aspects into a book that never quite came together for me. The writing is lovely, but I wish I could have loved it more.

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher because I was on the blog tour. All thoughts are my own.