If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of celestial harmony, the music of the spheres. Listen closely; do you hear it? …No, you can’t; because this is a text review, not a podcast. With that in mind, let’s listen to the Last Song Before Night, by Ilana C. Myer.
Long ago, poets were Seers with access to powerful magic. Following a cataclysmic battle, the enchantments of Eivar were lost–now a song is only words and music, and no more. But when a dark power threatens the land, poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a task much greater: to restore the lost enchantments to the world. And the road to the Otherworld, where the enchantments reside, will imperil their lives and test the deepest desires of their hearts.
Last Song Before Night is about Dane Beylint, a wealthy merchant and shrewd politician involved in the king’s court, who… Whoops! Point of view change! Moving on to a new character now!
Last Song Before Night is about Lin, a girl who dreams of becoming a poet and lyricist in a society where that profession is forbidden to females… Nope! Switching perspective again!
Last Song Before Night is about Rianna, a young woman who has had a political marriage arranged for her but is carrying on a secret romance with… Too slow, Joe! Next character!
Last Song Before Night is about Darien Aldemoor, an aspiring poet whose partner Marlen sometimes demonstrates disturbing sadistic and violent tendencies… Psyche! Time to switch characters! No, wait – even though there was a section break, the POV didn’t shift this time; it’s still Darien! Double psyche!!!
Oh, and I guess there was some stuff about ritual murders and blood magic and a world-ending plague or something? I’m not sure; I might have missed it among all the sudden jarring perspective shifts. I’m feeling dizzy; I think I need to sit down.
Now, books with multiple point-of-view characters are nothing new. Usually, however, authors limit it to one perspective per chapter. All of the above, however, are used as POV characters in chapter one! I’ve just been introduced to this brand new universe, and before I can even get my bearings I’m being yanked back and forth between all these different characters and it’s too much too fast.
There’s a lot I don’t get about this book. For instance, Lin wants to be a poet. However, it is forbidden in this universe for women to become poets. It is demonstrated that the laws about what poetry is allowed and how is allowed to perform are downright fascist, enforced with speed and brutality: guards are standing by ready to seize, torture, and potentially execute anyone who steps out of line. And yet, despite this, Lin is for some reason allowed to openly perform as a female poet at an important festival where the King is in attendance? Despite having had to disguise herself as a boy before, and going back to disguising herself as a boy afterwards? And the guards completely let Lin’s flagrant violation of the law against female poets slide, only to immediately jump on Valanir Ocune during his performance? I don’t get how this society works.
I think a weakness of the story is that it is so focused on song and music. It’s presenting a universe where the Court Poet is the most powerful and influential man in the world, having the ear of the King and all his Court; where public performances by poets are considered so influential that all their songs must be approved by censors who screen them for treasonous sentiment; where musical poetry is in fact the medium by which magic and enchantment might be wrought. Unfortunately, a story all about the power of music suffers a great deal when presented in a literary format, where the reader cannot actually hear the music. The text may tell us that a particular piece of music is powerful and stirring, that it is laden with subtle metaphor and delivers a message so evocative and compelling that listeners are moved to tears; but all we see are words on a page.
The majority of the book is your basic quest narrative: ancient evil returning, heroes go on a quest to uncover the lost magic which saved the world before and can save it again, lots of traveling to distant locales and sifting through books in dusty old archives and running from pursuers, insert Lord of the Rings travel montage music here. I mean, it’s competently executed and all, shifting back and forth between all these different characters in different locations and managing to maintain a sense of continuity with regards to what each one is doing and why and what impact it’s having on the others; but competent execution can only do so much. If I’m not interested in the characters or setting, then no amount of high-quality writing is going to salvage the experience for me. I can appreciate the craftsmanship of the story on a technical level, but I’m just not invested in it.
Honestly, Last Song Before Night is probably the best book I’ve ever given a non-recommended rating; but based on my experience reading it, I just can’t recommend it.
Final Rating: 2/5