There are the bones of a good story here. Once upon a time, Poets were able to work Enchantments with their songs, but when dark magic began to take over in the form of plague, the king of Eivar demanded that magic be excised from the kingdom altogether, putting the Poets and the Academy that trained them firmly under his heel. But rumors that the Red Death has returned would indicate that magic still exists in Eivar, and that magic may be the only way to stop the Red Death for good.
Lin wants to be a Poet despite the profession being closed off to her gender. A chance encounter with the great Poet Valanir Ocune not only encourages her to keep trying, but also sets her on the path to becoming one of the greatest Poets Eivar has ever seen… if she survives the process. Her companions, after a fashion, are Darien, the most talented Poet of his age, and Rianna, the sheltered daughter of a nobleman who may not have renounced his old, banned religion. Together, they will work to defeat the source of the Red Death, and bring all the goodness of magic back to Eivar.
The first problem with this book is that it’s filled with unlikeable people doing irrational things. Lin hates herself and thinks Darien is amazing (he’s not), Darien is a jerk who gets away with everything because he’s The Special One, and Rianna…. man, she starts out so promising but her incredibly self-centered, over the top reactions to everything that happens after she runs away to find Darien are just revolting. You can’t justifiably murder a guy for not treating you like you think a tortured romance hero should. It’s just… it felt a lot like I was reading a book from the 1970s or 80s, with an oddly restrictive sense of morality, where it’s okay for the alleged hero to shove a woman just because he’s frustrated and petty, and where the heroine’s constant self-abasement is seen as sympathetic instead of tiresome. For a book written in 2015, it feels regressive (tho at points I did worry that far too earnest people might read this book and see the casual slights against the stand-in for Judaism and not get that Ilana C Myer is ironically pointing out the tropes too often used against her people in Western literature.)
The second, most damning problem with this book is that pretty much everything is solved by people abruptly sliding in and out of dreams that tell them what to do or where to go next. It’s a series of dei ex machina that serves to strip the plot of all narrative tension. The characters barely do anything but tramp all over Eivar before haring off at the direction of the next dream. I was also really incensed when the siege of the castle took all of the last 3% of the book, like, what? Why are you skipping over writing all the fun parts but choosing to focus instead on Rianna mooning over the cracked skin of her hands after having to do manual labor for the first time in her life, or Lin insisting she’s not that pretty or talented or whatever? Characters fall in and out of love at the drop of a hat, and it’s all silly and contrived. Actually, in fairness, it’s not all of the book: the first 60% or so is actually quite entertaining! But the last 40% just left me annoyed and figuratively flipping the pages out of boredom till I finally read the last word. Also, is it just me or is the way Lin thought of the alternate reality baby just really condescending? Anyway, I won’t be looking for the rest of this series.
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C Myer was published September 29th 2015 by Tor Books, and is available from all good booksellers, including
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