I’m really not sure where to start with this book, because the last third of it tainted an otherwise excellent novel.
In Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer, bards and poets used to be magicians, using song to weave their enchantments. But the enchantments have been lost and a plague known as the Red Death (caused by forbidden blood magic) is creeping toward the capital city. The characters are almost exclusively poets seeking to restore enchantment to the land and stop the bad guy (the one doing the forbidden blood magic).
That’s overly simplified, but you get the gist. As a musician myself, I love the concept of bards as magicians, even though that’s in no way a novel concept. The characters on the whole fit very well into the “grimdark” trend in fantasy – most of them have violent, even sadistic tendencies. It works most of the time, though there are some strange moments caused by the author’s fascination with this.
One thing I will unequivocally say: Myer’s prose is gorgeous. Her descriptions are at times achingly beautiful, and she has an undeniable way with word choice and usage. Authors like her are a rare find, which is why I’m so disappointed in the ending.
Allow me to list out my major problems with the book:
- The Red Death. We never actually see this plague affect any of the main characters/touch them in any way, so it’s hard to feel like this is an actual problem. The plague starts in some remote city that the story never goes to, and it’s really barely touched on. We never find out exactly why blood magic causes this plague, what its symptoms are (other than a weird dream sequence) or really anything about it except the name.
- Valanir Ocune. I have a major problem with this character, which is: what the hell was he doing the entirety of the book? The author tries to explain his deus ex machina, plot-convenient appearances at the end by saying that he knows he’s made a lot of mistakes, but that doesn’t cut it. In many ways, the story is a personal fight between him and the bad guy, and it would have been nice to forced Valanir to participate instead of showing up periodically with magical solutions to problems.
- Magical solutions to problems. Speaking of which, does this plot ever have a lot of coincidences and convenient things. So many, in fact, that by the end I was picking out where they would appear to solve problems the author set up but couldn’t write her way out of. I don’t want to spoil, but Lin (perhaps the main character) seems to just magically know how to use enchantments without any prior study or training. She also just magically knows the verse of song that starts the book’s climax – even though they’ve spent chapters searching for it. It started getting rather ridiculous.
- The main villain. Listen, I love bad guys. They are often my favorite parts of stories; my own novel prominently features one. The bad guy in Last Song Before Night is OK, but he could have been great. Other than the fact that he uses blood magic, used to know Valanir and one other slightly-spoilery thing, we know nothing about this guy. What is he really after? This bugged me throughout the entirety of the book as he chased the other characters who were seeking the Path. Did he want enchantment returned? If so, that certainly backfired. Did he not want enchantments back? Then why did it appear like he was seeking the Path himself? I DON’T GET IT. His motivations and goals were very poorly set out, and that makes for a mediocre villain.
- The final fight against the main villain. Speaking of which, what the hell was that ending? The final fight against the bad guy (which is basically a small invasion, with a force of over 200 magic-wielders) was collapsed into ONE chapter. I’m sorry, but that makes the ending feel forced, rushed and just not good. This is one instance where I think the book needed to be longer to let the author treat the story with the time/detail it needed.
So while I greatly enjoyed the beginning and the middle, the end of this book has left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. I really want to like it because of the beautiful prose and the characters overall, but the ending just really put me off. I’m sure I’ll read it again eventually, but this isn’t going on my list of favorites.