Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was one hell of a pleasant surprise!
I expected an interesting fantasy, having thought the premise looked promising, but I hadn't realized I was stepping into a wonderfully pure story. Every character was crystal clear and everyone changed naturally, proving to be much more than any single trope, growing into wonderfully *likeable* people. Even the antagonists were exquisitely balanced.
I fell into this novel as if it was always meant for me, and I never once had to use any of my willpower to plow through either plot, circumstance, or reversal. This was pure candy, leaving out everything except the elements absolutely necessary for the protagonists, the over-story, and the magic.
Best of all, Poetry is Magic, and poets are powerful in the realm. How cool is that? Sure, they're bards, and a few of them rule from behind the throne, but most glorious of all, words have power again.
No fireballs, no uber-powerful assassins, no young girls overthrowing kingdoms... oh wait... that last one is true, but how it happens is simply and truly delightful.
The old ideas are made fresh. The people want to bring magic and enchantment back to the world. To do that, the poem must be found to open the door to the Otherworld. Of course, magic always comes with a price, and the old Poet who had gone there and come back was not willing or able to pay it. It's fresh because it is written so damn well. I feel the draw of the magic, the efforts of our heroes, their pains and their hopes, and, eventually, their tragedies.
Everyone shines and the pacing and characterizations are divine.
It is one of the easiest reads I've had this year, but don't assume it's not smart. It's very adult and it's very modern classic, focusing on better writing, evocative events, and practically no exposition. It has got to be the most organic and natural fantasies I've read in a long time.
Even the ones I swore by over the past few years seem rather contrived with stylistic tomfoolery compared to this novel.
There's only a few places where the time of events is reversed, but it doesn't feel bad or seem like a mistake. It just propels the plot forward and keeps the overall pace perfect.
Myer is going to be an author I'm going to follow with great anticipation from now on. Something this deeply enjoyable and spot-on is rare and just plain lovely.
I will say one last thing: I was frankly amazed and in awe of the fact that women weren't raped willy-nilly through the tale. Men were actually behaving with honor, and I am even including the bad guys.
I kept expecting coercions of one type or another, and indeed, they do happen fairly regularly, but it's an open question as to who is coercing whom. Lin is the exception. Her brother was a real bastard to her.
But in the end, I never thought that any character was without agency. They were all heroes to their own stories. I liked Lin, Darien, Rianna, and Marlen. They all start out as archetypes but they definitely grow into their own and I never once had a problem with believability.
What I did bring out of this novel was not a throwback to old fantasy themes, but a purifying of them.
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