Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
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.
Reviewed from copy provided by Pan Macmillan Australia. They don't pay me (damnit!), and I’m quite happy to be honest in my reviews.
Trigger Warnings (for those that require them, hidden for those that don't!):(show spoiler)
Occasionally you meet a book that defies expectation, and usually it's for a reason you can't quite put your finger on. Last Song Before Night is one of those books, for me. You know that feeling of wanting everybody to read a book so that the world will understand your thoughts, but at the same time you wish nobody else would read it, so you can keep it all to yourself? I’m having that sensation right now..
Firstly, let me say that the synopsis is vastly inadequate in portraying the real depth of this novel, and it really only describes the trimmings that pretty up the peripheries of the actual story line, that runs through Last Song Before Night. I was incredibly surprised by the true nature of the book; it went from a rather safe story about bards on a journey, as gleaned from the back’o’book - to something with such incredibly hard and far reaching undercurrents.
Myer has written this gauzy dream like narrative, that lulls you into a false sense of security. Gradually, behind that floating curtain that flits about with the breeze, surrounded by sweet songs, and sighing maidens, something dark creeps behind the veil.. Then it builds, and there is a bloody brutality that you feel you are watching through this blind fold of lace, so the full force doesn't quite touch you.. Bit by bit, you realise your vital empathy organs have begun to hurt. And when that blindfold slips off, you want to reach into the book and hug everybody, because it's all so personal, and it's all so haunting..
It's an incredibly powerful method of telling this story. Betrayal, deception and violence: between friends, between lovers, and (what I consider) the most horrific - between family members. I don't know that I’ve felt such an emotional aftershock from a novel before, and I've read a lot of very dark, very hard story lines. It's entirely possible that the way it's written makes it even more effective at delivering the gut punches, because it's not told in a way that so many of us have become desensitised to. I can usually leave a book behind quite quickly once I've read it, but this.. Even now, there's that tight feeling in my throat just thinking of it. I kind of hate Ilana Myer right now! (only joking.. Mostly.)
The pacing adds to the day dreaminess as it flickers back and forth around point of views, much like an actual dream. It doesn't stay too long in one place, and it's a bit like you are peeking in on the characters, rather than sitting down to a full scene. It does lead to a sense of never quite feeling like you have the whole story, which actually adds to its charm, rather than detracting from it. Not everything is thrown at you; sometimes feelings change without fanfare, or events skip forward, and there's a moment of reacquainting yourself with the character's position.
It would’ve been incredibly easy to drop the threads and end up with massive plot holes in such a structure, but Myer seems to have avoided the trap by occasionally backtracking and overlapping time lines within different point of views.
In the same breath, I think that these glimpses may make other readers cranky. People that need everything well spelled out, and rigidly narrated plot structures in their novels (not a judgement, everyone has preferences!), will probably find this truly frustrating and overly obtuse. So, it might be something to consider before embarking on it.
The characters are very deceptive. Oh so bloody easy to fall into the trap of believing everything is black and white in this book, only to find you really don't know why everything looks that way. There's a moral story in this book, that goes something like “don’t judge a person's words and actions, if you don't know their lives”. Fairly relevant in these days I would say. There’s be a bucket load of spoilers if I mentioned why that is, but suffice to say Myer has done a great job of creating characters that will surprise you, as their true depth is gradually revealed.
The world building is possibly the least developed part of the novel. There's a fairly generic ‘medieval’ fantasy world thread running through the novel, but it's actually pretty inconsequential on the whole. This book really isn't about the world, and so it is fairly understated to bring forward the characters. If world building is an extremely important part of fantasy for you, Lost Song will possibly disappoint.
There are parts within the actual writing that possibly could've been better polished, as there are a few paragraphs that felt slightly choppy. And, sometimes it does slip too far into its fluttery feel and wanders into areas of vagueness, so backtracking is very occasionally required to make sense of things.
However, if Myer can do this sort of work in a debut, holy mackerels.. I think I might end up needing an emotion-ectomy if they level up too much for their next book. A truly powerful gift!
As far as I am know, Last Song Before Night is a standalone novel (a rarity!), so I can't say I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment (though I would be, if there was one!) So, I’ll just say, I’m eagerly awaiting to see what Ilana C. Myer conjures up next! Hopefully we'll see more soon!