BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A realm under threat, a young woman seeking her passion and talent, and dark doings collide in a realm where the power of language, song and music is suppressed–but only for so long.
PROS: Strong main character; excellent exploration of themes and ideas; fantastic setting.
CONS: Quest backbone in latter portion of the novel in some ways detracts from the enjoyment of the novel and its world
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent debut novel that acts both as opening movement to a series and a complete journey in and on its own.
Poetry, music and magic combine into a sumptuous symphony in Last Song Before Night, the debut novel from Ilana C Myer.
Kimbralin Amaristoth is a scion of a northern noble family. A cruel and maliciously hate-filled one at that. This has made Lin’s decision to abandon her home and travel to the capital of Tamryllin not only an easy one, but a necessary one as well. Even so, Women are not allowed to attend the Academy and become Poets, and yet Lin, as she is now known, has a gift for music and poetry and will not allow her dreams to be denied. Even as she and her partner, as well as their friends and rivals, all seek to enter the yearly poetry contest at an important festival, events around them are pressing down on them. From the office of the Court Poet, to dark doings outside of Eivar, to the sleeping nature of magic in the realm, to her own family and her troubled past, trouble threatens to not only destroy Lin’s dreams and ambition, but her entire world.
The novel appears right off to be a typical fantasy (including that gorgeous Stephen Martiniere cover), with an entire party set right off, ready to face an ancient evil and go off in typical fashion. These expectations are subverted immediately, instead settling into a meditation on music, poetry, power, expectations of roles and much more. Although there are a braided set of stories and characters here, Lin is the standout, central character, and it is her story that Myer explores to most length, and to most potent effect.
The writing in a novel about poetry, and music, and the power and uses of language lives up to the high expectations that I had for it. Not only the snatches of poetry and verse that we get throughout the novel, but just the writing of scenes, of dialogues and characters, is artful and well formed, and fully and completely immersive. I felt like a companion to Lin and her friends as they struggled with the challenges and expectations of their stations, and how those conflicted with the desires and needs. For much of the novel, the story is extremely secondary world urban fantasy, and Tamryllin is a city I grew to adore and wanted to spend time in.
Although the nature of magic, and the art is different, Last Song Before Night resonates, for me, in the same way as The Golden Key, by Kate Elliott, Jennifer Roberson and Melanie Rawn did. That story is much more of a generational epic. However, like Last Song Before Night, that novel explores how artists can seek to try and transform their world, through art and through magic, and how the world transforms around them without their desire or provenance.
The novel’s subversion of the idea of it being a quest fantasy fades in the latter portion of the novel, after seemingly moving toward that in the beginning. Unfortunately, for me, the quest portions of the narrative did not feel quite as interesting as what was going on in the city. It is as if, in leaving the taverns and halls of power in Tamryllin, the novel loses some of what makes it so great. It may also be that the potency of the story, the characters (both protagonists and antagonists) and the richness of doings in the capital make the road trip seem somewhat less interesting only by comparison. However, Myer’s gift for language, description and evocation of character and themes remain strong throughout the book.
That said, the themes, ideas, and the strength of the main character and her personal journey more than make up for this shortcoming. Like a musical piece, I knew that my time with Lin and her companions in the world that Myer created was limited, and I was slightly sad that it had to come an end. Thankfully, there are going to be subsequent volumes set in the same world, and I am all ears to listen to more of Myer’s music.