Magic has left the world, save for a few dusty scrolls and the traditions of bards who were once magicians. Now an ancient evil has come to threaten the land, unless an unlikely heroine can revive the old ways…
Sound familiar? It is—Ilana C. Myer’s Last Song Before Night is a solid read, but not for its unique magic (see Brandon Sanderson), its intricate politics (see George RR Martin) or its fantastic world setting (see Daniel Abraham).
What shines in the book is the characters. Starting in all states of suffering and glory, falling in and out of love, betraying best friends and revealing dark pasts, Myer’s characters get drug through hell and back (or left there), and we love them the whole way. Though they are saved from death once too often to believe they are actually in danger, Myer’s touch for poignant observation and the ungraceful reality of humankind are the saving grace of the book. She’s also a top-notch wordsmith, with an attention to sensory details, an easy rhythm, and a clarity of prose that draws you through the book.
It isn’t, however, enough to make this a top-notch novel. Her world feels undetailed, a bland sort of Europe with an undeveloped-but-dangerous Orient to the east, and the promise of a magic system based on music and wielded by bards isn’t paid off in the prose. Instead, though the plot depends on magical elements, we never really understand how it works, and so important conflicts in the book (and teleportation and character revelations) lose their punch. In place of sudden but inevitable plot twists, the magic just… sort of happens as needed, and in the last quarter of the book it’s hard to understand where the characters are, whether they’re really in danger, and what’s at stake, because we don’t know the rules they are playing by.
That’s not to say the story isn’t fun—with lots of witty banter, some heartfelt pathos, and a Shakespearean knot of characters that end up in strange company and stranger loves, we at no point wanted to walk away from the book. It just didn’t have the deep worldbuilding or tight plotting of a first-rate novel, nor any of those moments that made us want to stand up and shout.
That’s why, though Myer’s prose is rich and her characters wonderful, we’re giving Last Song Before Night six and a half stars out of ten—because the plot felt forced and it lacked the originality of setting and magic that we crave in fantasy. Still, for those seeking a lighter read with witty and loveable characters, a nice companion on a long flight or a holiday weekend, Last Song Before Night won’t let you down.