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The Harp and Ring Sequence #1

Last Song Before Night

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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.

415 pages, Hardcover

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Ilana C. Myer

3 books148 followers
Ilana C. Myer has written for the Globe and Mail, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, and the Huffington Post. Previously she was a freelance journalist in Jerusalem. She lives in New York City.

Fire Dance, the sequel to Last Song Before Night, will be released in April 2018.

Last Song Before Night is a standalone novel, but there IS a sequel (two actually!) forthcoming. Details here: https://ilanacmyer.com/2015/11/10/the...

UPDATE MAY 2018: Yes, there will be a sequel to FIRE DANCE. Details here: https://ilanacmyer.com/2018/05/the-se...

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5 stars
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432 (35%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 284 reviews
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,980 followers
February 9, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Seth Dickinson.
Author 41 books1,499 followers
July 7, 2015
Reading Last Song Before Night was like chasing a mirage.

I came into the story and I thought I saw the shape of it: a heroic young poet-man named Darien fighting to win his love Rianna away from her cold arranged marriage to nebbish Ned. A young woman named Lin who wants to be a poet, even though her world says that's a job for men. And a wise old wizard who'd bring them together to fight an ancient evil. There was a jealous friend, a manipulative worldly woman, and a scheming Court Poet archvillain. The cast was assembled!

I thought the shape of Last Song Before Night was a classic quest fantasy.

Last Song is not that story. That story is a trick, an assumption you're invited to make. Last Song is a story about acknowledging truth, and stories about truth start with a lie.

Everyone in Last Song is lying to themselves and to the people around them. The fundamental myths of the world are built on lies — and not lies of malice, but very fragile, human lies of self-protection, self-deceit, and shame.

Last Song is about art: poetry is magic, the villain is a censor. It has to be! Art is how we tell stories about who we are and who we should be. But Last Song wants us to know that art can be powerfully, powerfully damaging. In the wrong hands, it can scar us.

The real quest here is a quest for personal truth. The story lives in the character work, and man, the characters are deeply surprising people. I think Last Song's best trick is its origami: showing us a flat, familiar character, then folding her, creasing him, looking from many perspectives, making us double back on our own conceits and doubt what we know. Marilla is a vampiric, toxic parasite who drags down the men in her life; Marilla is a woman who's made necessary choices about how to live in a patriarchy; Marilla is a survivor who refuses to live on anyone else's terms. Rayen Amaristoth is an absolute sadist; Rayen Amaristoth is a noble man trying his best to redeem himself for what he did as part of an awful family heritage. Lin is a defiant, independent woman who refuses to be kept down; Lin is a psychologically injured person who can't separate helping others from hurting herself.

Wait, though! It's not all internal action! Epic fantasy is the genre of making big ideas literally real.

There IS a quest in Last Song. The villain is an embodiment of personal and social deceit, a man who wants to abuse systematic mistruth about history to become immortal. The fight takes our characters from the warm, joyful streets of their home city into cold winter woods and ancient dreams. (The environment writing is really great — I felt like I could smell the air in cosmopolitan Tamryllin, a wine-soaked Mediterranean city that feels just as nice as the lovely cover looks.) But as the stakes get bigger, they get smaller and more precise too — not just 'can we win' but 'who are we going to be when it's done?' The quest drives the changing angles between the cast. And the only possibility of salvation is that they'll figure out the lies they're telling about themselves and each other.

There's a moment, late in the story, when every thread and choice collides. Everyone gathers at a winter place in the deep woods, about as far from the singing city as they can get, and they all reckon their choices with each other. They all face each other down and say 'This is what I think the truth about you must be.' And man, this book doesn't flinch. The truth isn't always kind.

Reading Last Song is like growing as a person. You start in a simple, mythic place, where you care about winning a contest and the person you love. You go somewhere complicated and painful. You lose people, and you find people. Some of what you learn is redemptive. Some of it's cruel as hell.

But the core action of the story is about defeating the lies that guard truth. That's what art should do.
Profile Image for Brian Staveley.
Author 24 books3,977 followers
February 9, 2015
I had the great good fortune to read this book in bound manuscript form. It's not a short novel, but I tore through it. My blurb, (which I've included below) mentions THE NAME OF THE WIND, but I've just finished Guy Gavriel Kay's TIGANA, and I think perhaps that latter novel might be the more apt comparison. I'm struck by the ability of both Myer and Kay to marry beauty and brutality. Neither author shies away from difficult scenes, but both insist on the fundamental beauty of the world. I'm itching to see what other people make of this one -- I loved it.

Not since The Name of the Wind have I read a novel so filled with music. In this pitch-perfect debut, Myer has created a world of knife-wielding poets, bloody bards, and songs so important, so dangerous, that women and men are willing to die to sing them or hear them silenced. Myer writes with a music that lingers, even after you close the book for the night.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,024 followers
February 18, 2016
I didn't finish more than half of this, but from what I saw, this is poor man's Kay, mostly. Same beats, similar characters and interests, same fascinations, some stylistic influences... just not as good. It's just close enough for everything to ring false. I might finish it later, but putting it aside for now.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,264 reviews222 followers
January 16, 2016
A country that sacrificed the enchantments that went with its music and poetry now faces a threat that can only be fought by that which was lost.

The players in this tense little tale are set early and defined well, with quite a lot ahead of them. Lin, the forbidden female poet running from an horrific past, Darien and Marlen, a duo of poets with huge potential, the lady Rianna, rich daughter of a merchant whose hand is courted by her childhood friend Ned and Darien the poet. There's a sinister force in the country of Eivar where they live that is using the forbidden blood divination which requires murder and causes plague. And the only way to fight blood divination is via the magic of the poets, accessed via the Path which has been lost for centuries.

The first part of this story is excellent, where each of the parties dance around each other in Tamryllin, but once the various players split off bit by bit the story becomes really disjointed. Disjointed in terms of character interactions, spacial separation and some really clumsy sections where one group of characters encounters a second group before the second groups story is told. The constant dream sequences don't help either. It does all come together, but the middle third of the book is such a mess that it really detracts from the rest of it.

Where the book shines is the character growth, particularly with Darien, Marlen and Rianna. These characters could easily have been defined by their tropes, Darien as the light-hearted adventuring hero, Marlen as the mustache-twirling villain and Rianna as the spoiled heiress, but they all go far beyond those things. Lin has an interesting arc as well, but it's a little dis-satisfying in that she is largely defined as a victim and her eventual part in the climax doesn't really pull her far from that role. Her futue role on the other hand ...

Ilana says on her web site that there will be a sequel, which I will definitely read. Ultimately I think there was much more good than bad, and a lot of what's wrong here could be put down to first book problems.
Profile Image for Thomas Wagner.
140 reviews909 followers
December 30, 2015
2.5 stars

Last Song Before Night comes so close to being a brilliant debut it nearly brings me to tears. Ilana Myer lures you into her extravagantly mounted epic with the promise of a tale of a rebellion inspired by poetry and led by musicians. But what emerges is just another tropey quest novel, with stock heroes and villains, and a curious lack of conviction supporting its feminist subtext.

Our heroine is Kimbralin — or just Lin — Amaristoth, daughter of an aristocratic household, who has fled her family's abuses and come to the marbled and pillared city of Tamryllin. Here, despite strict Academic rules limiting the vocations of music and poetry to men, Lin pursues her musical ambitions. Ages past, music was a powerful form of spellcasting, but after blood magic corrupted the practice and spread a fearsome plague, the Red Death, music was stripped of its magical essence and poets were required to have all their songs approved by the king's closest advisor, the Court Poet.

The story begins as Lin and her performing partner prepare to enter a song contest to be held at (continued...)
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
January 18, 2016
3.5 stars - not sure if I should round up or not. A compelling world and characters, but the plot and pacing of this went awry. I'd still like to read the sequel, if there is one (?)!
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,633 followers
June 1, 2015
Gorgeous, finely-wrought fantasy that reminded me of Kay's A SONG FOR ARBONNE.

If you know me, you know that's high praise indeed! Luminous writing, well-developed characters, strong world-building, all come together to create a wonderful debut- in fact, I was stunned to realize that this was a debut novel! I loved the way that music, magic, and religion were all intertwined, and I have to say that I also loved, LOVED the discovery that it was a standalone novel! As much as I enjoyed the book, it was almost a relief to find out that I wouldn't have to wait years to find out what happened to the characters next. Though the ending was a touch rushed, I thought that otherwise it moved very smoothly and was an excellent example of how fantasy authors really can get their story done in one volume!
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
March 11, 2019
I'm giving this a solid 2.5 so it's very middle-of-the-road. I think that I was initially drawn to this book by the amazing cover art and the idea that within this world music was once a power source but now that power has gone and songs and poems are just that.

We follow a group of characters who all seem to meet one another fairly coincidentally throughout the novel and then their adventures begin to mingle together. I found that the characters were all pretty interesting at first, as was the inclination towards Fantasy of Manners, but as the book continued I felt that the author slightly lost her way and she didn't really give me a lot of moments with the characters that I truly connected with.

This story is, I believe, a debut and also the first in a series I think. I believe that the book is just the set up for the wider story, and although we follow our characters on quite an adventure through the and and beyond, I think that there's a lot left still to explore by the end of the book.

Personally I think none of the characters truly drew me in as much as I hoped, but the most memorable of them is Lin as she's a runaway from her family with a passion for songs and poems despite living in a world where the men are the only ones who are respected for this. She has a lot of spark to her and she is willing to defy the 'norm' and practise her craft which I certainly enjoyed seeing.

I think that the magic of this world is brilliant in concept but execution was a little confused. There are sections of the story which I really enjoyed but also others where I was left wanting more explanation and more development of the magic.

In the end I think it started strong but lost its way a little in the middle, however the ideas are solid and I think that although some cliches are evident, it's a fun read and I would be interested to see what happens next. 2.5*s from me.
Profile Image for Shel.
158 reviews31 followers
October 14, 2015
First, the disclaimer, in the name of full disclosure: the author is a friend who I've known for many years. Of course I want her to be successful, but as a dedicated reader who is always looking for the HONEST review, I can only give an honest review myself. Please believe me when I say I'd give this five stars no matter who had written it!

Here's the part where I wish I were a writer so I could do justice to this book. Alas, my reviews tend to read like student book reports (this is what I liked. this is what I didn't like. etc). So instead I'll just tell you who should read Last Song Before Night:

If you like high fantasy, read this book.
If you like well-drawn characters with complex, believable motivations behind their actions, read this book.
If you enjoy Guy Gavriel Kay's lyrical writing and masterfully bittersweet plots, read this book.
If you like Patricia McKillip's dreamy prose, read this book.
If you are tired of drawn-out series and just want to read an epic that stands alone, read this book.
If you are tired of the usual fantasy tropes and are looking for an original story, read this book.
If you are an artist or have a love for the arts, in any form, read this book.

And if you want to know more, read the other reviews already posted. The other reviewers have done a much more thorough job than I. I may not be a writer, but I'm a very experienced reader and I know good work when I see it!
Profile Image for Justine.
1,135 reviews309 followers
January 19, 2016
3.5 stars rounded down.

There were things about this I liked a lot and for most of the things I didn't I'm willing to give this debut author the benefit of the doubt and attribute them to first book difficulties. The story and characters were interesting enough that I might read the sequel that is apparently planned. However, it didn't leave a real impression on me.

Which is kind of a problem. I'm usually pretty impressionable.
Profile Image for Sara the Librarian.
748 reviews327 followers
May 25, 2017
I went back and forth with this book, my first experience with a genuinely bad audio book, and I can't help but wish I'd read it if only because every now and then there is just barely great potential in this very, very, very, very long and for the most part very, very, very very boring "high fantasy" epic.

We open in the city of Tamryllin in the kingdom of Eivar where the people are gathering for a huge festival. The high point is to be an epic contest between poets each of whom hopes to win the fabled Silver Branch. Poets in Eivar are trained at the "Academy" where they learn music and the ancient art of song writing. Hundreds of years in their past poets once commanded great magical power through their songs but the power has since been lost though rumors persist that it can be accessed again through something called "the path" and that some poets may be seeking it now. As the people gather it becomes apparent that the current "Court Poet" who has the ear of the king and a great deal of power may be up to no good.

This all sounds pretty great. I straight up love the idea of poetry and music being used to wield magic. I also love any fantasy with a rich mythology like Tolkien's epic Middle Earth history or the awesome world building of writers like Guy Gavriel Kay or (Mallorean era) David Eddings. So there was immediately tons of potential for epic adventure, magic battles, and tragic romance. All things I adore in really great fantasy tales.

There's nothing quite like an epic quest where innocent knowledge seekers go on a great journey to discover the truth of their heritage or reveal some long hidden secret event that changed the course of their world. There's so much room for an author to reveal their characters slowly as they join forces or betray alliances or discover hidden powers in themselves in something of this kind of scope. So much can happen creatively too, especially when you present something like music and song as the cornerstone of your stories world.

Sadly, there's no music, poetry or magic here.

There are no songs and no poetry in an epic fantasy based entirely on songs and poetry. I can't even begin to understand that or adequately explain how frustrated this makes me. How can you write a 400+ page fantasy epic with poetry and music as the basis for your magical world and then not write any poetry or music? Its like setting your novel in an underwater world and then having the whole story unfold on land. To make things super frustrating we occasionally get scenes where poets are performing or (at the very, very end) working magic and we get as far as them opening their mouths and then...nothing. Wind blows, and no one can see clearly, darkness, light, pain blah blah blah and then cut scene and on to the next thing.

This isn't my only problem with this book though its certainly the most glaringly obvious. Myer's characters are a strange mix of stereotypical and so bizarre as to be unbelievable. I'd like to say this strange combo results in at least interesting people populating an astoundingly boring narrative but alas I cannot. We're treated to a cast of the usual players in stories like this; damsel in distress, awkward not quite a hero guy, smarmy kind of bad guy with a heart of gold, sexy dark lady with a magic devil vagina who was beaten as a child and that's why she's mean, quippy devil may care hero, pointless Gandalf knock off who's here because you need old sages in epic fantasy novels, and not conventionally pretty woman with hidden depths who saves the day because she's "chosen."

This obviously suggests there's a plot, and there is, but its so vague as to be almost nonexistent. The poets are wandering around trying to free "the enchantments" (their ancient lost power) but we never even find out what these enchantments are! Are they spells? power they no longer have access to? How did they lose the powers? What are they planning to do once they have them back? What the heck is this "path" everyone keeps referring to? Its like in naming things "the enchantments" and "the path" Myer seems to think she's done enough to explain what's going on. I was pulling my hair out when a climax involving poets "joining together" was happening and the most description or explanation for what that even means was a bunch of guys holding hands and "singing" something we never hear....

So what does happen in 400+ pages you ask? A whole lot of personal monologuing about feelings and endless, endless, endless descriptions of people walking around and just observing shit. I so wish I was kidding. That's the only part of "epic quest" Myer seems to have taken to heart, making sure there's a lot of walking around.

I just didn't get this. I stuck it out in the hopes that what amounts to a lot of "pretty" writing would somehow come together in the zero hour and provide at least some explanations for what everyone was looking for, but we don't even get that. The answers, what few there are, are so utterly mundane and boring if you're like me you will be hard pressed to work out what in the world you were hanging around for.

Because I'm quite certain the narration did play a role in my intense dislike of this book I do need to talk about it. Alison McKenna has a very pretty voice but that's all I can say for this. Gandalf knockoff sounds like a wheezy old man with a high reedy voice perpetually trying to catch his breath before he passes out. Cocky hero's every sentence is punctuated by a slight uptilt to his sentences just so we know he's being snarky. Bad guys are distinguished ENTIRELY by soft, breathy voices and sounding what I can only describe as "extra Irish" since that appears to be Ms. McKenna's native accent. Its like the degree to which they sound more Irish than she's making the other characters sound indicates their level of evil? I don't know.

From a purely technical level this sounds like it was recorded in a few very long takes by a woman who read the book maybe once based on the different ways the same characters names are said and complete blowing of sentences (putting commas where there are obviously periods, blatant mispronunciations, and occasionally forgetting which character is actually talking or thinking). Honestly the only thing keeping me from giving up on the audio and switching to the book was the fact that I would have had to special order it from another library and I could not be bothered.

You cannot label something "high fantasy" because it has moderately pretty language and keeps referencing things like "being noble" and "destiny." You have to show me that destiny and explain why being noble is important! Give me some stakes to invest in that aren't just repeating "time is running out" and "you are the key!" over and over and over again.

If you are a fan of epic fantasy please don't waste time on this. There is other, far better stuff, out there. This was a huge waste of time despite a promising premise and was deeply disappointing on absolutely every level.
Profile Image for K. Lincoln.
Author 16 books92 followers
August 9, 2017
This one took me a long time to read. I went into it based on a friend's recommendation, not really thinking the cover drew me in....and found out its an emotionally lush, richly woven world and story in the vein of Guy Gavriel Kay, Patrick Rothfuss or Melina Marchetta. So I had to slow down and appreciate not only the descriptive and evocative writing of the locations, but also to fully appreciate the emotional ramification of what was happening to each of the main characters.

And I was surprised. Which is unusual in fantasy, I've read a lot and I know the tropes. But here Myer surprised me in a totally true-to-character way by several of her main POV characters choosing difficult paths that caused lots of juicy angst. People don't end up necessarily being who you think they'll be, or loving those they start out with. Delicious.

This is an ensemble cast novel, begun with a pair of Poets (kind of like wandering Bards in this world) who are traveling to a city for a contest to be named greatest Poet in the land by the very powerful King's Poet, Nickon Gerrard. Both are handsome, talented, hero material: but in disposition they are the moon and the sun. You can kind of guess what's going to happen there, can't you?

And there's also a girl heading towards the same contest...except there are no female poets. And there is the daughter of a rich merchant being courted by a nobleman.

All the characters will be thrust from their usual lives and assumed futures as the contest ends exile, bloodshed, and danger to the entire kingdom because someone is using blood divination magic.

This is lovely, lyrical, darkening alternate world fantasy. And I readily fell in love with the characters. The ending of the book felt rushed, I won't lie. I might have been tempted to only give 4.5 stars because it gets mighty confusing due to the author's penchant for switching POV without telling you who's the voice at the start of the chapter as well as whether this is happening real time or in Poet magic time and where it is happening in the timeline of the story.

In the end, I didn't actually care enough to change my stars. It's so rare (like not since discovering Melina Marchetta, actually) that a fantasy novel has sung to me like this. Beautiful. Luckily, it looks like the author has another book coming out next year set in the same world. Awesome.
Profile Image for Aidan.
Author 12 books194 followers
November 25, 2015
On the surface, Ilana C. Myer’s debut fantasy, Last Song Before Night, sounds familiar. It’s about a group of young men and women, from various casts of life — from wide eyed and naive, to ambitious and dangerous— who are manipulated by the great poet, Valanir Ocune, and his rival, Nickon Gerrard. Magic, once thought lost, is returning to Eivar, for good or ill, and the fate of the world is at stake. It’s all been done before, but, rooted in compelling characters, and a deep-seated sense of respect for their emotional journeys, Last Song Before Night is so much more than an over-tread quest for lost magic.

On her website, Myer cites Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin Hobb as a major touchstones in her development as a reader and novelist. Their fingerprints are all over this novel. There’s attention paid to the delicate, intertwining relationships that grow between the various characters — some of whom have past histories, others who form bonds of friendship or animosity over the course of the novel — and greater weight given to their goals and motivations, individually and as a group, over building out a deep fantasy world with a millennium-long history or complex, rules-based magic systems.

Last Song Before Night caught me completely by surprise. It’s not often that a debut novel forms such an immediate relationship with some of its genre’s grandmasters, but Last Song Before Night will please fans of Robin Hobb, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Lois McMaster Bujold , and leave them desperate for more stories set in the fabulous fantasy world of Eivar. Be ready to laugh and cry, gasp in horror, and vent steam through your ears, because Last Song Before Night will toy with your emotions from its first page to its last, and you’ll love every minute of it.

Read an expanded review here.
Profile Image for Traci.
117 reviews8 followers
December 16, 2015
Surprisingly bland. The prose is stilted and dry, the characters are thinly-drawn, the worldbuilding is poor---and to top it all off, the storyline is tepid and unengaging. I'm usually somewhat lenient on debuts, but this book just showed so little in the way of actual writing talent that I have nothing positive to say about it. Okay . . . the cover art was beautiful. That's really the only positive thing I can say about this book.

Last Song Before Night was uninspired on pretty much every conceivable level, and I'd recommend people give it a pass.
Profile Image for Alissa.
617 reviews86 followers
January 23, 2016
3.5 stars.

It would occur to her later that sympathy is disarming even without surprise, but unexpected sympathy leaves no defense.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,000 reviews235 followers
February 25, 2020
“She read books of poetry, though they had lately begun to stoke her fury. It was all very well for these poets, who wandered off to have adventures and then could string them to words, to music. Anything she might write would be formless, a creature of rage and stormcloud. No music there.”

Last Song Before Night is the first installment in the Harp and Ring Sequence trilogy by Ilana C. Myer.

The poets of Eivar long ago used to hold power over the rulers, creating enchantments from music and words, constructing them throughout songs. But then blood magic unleashed a horrible plague, known as the Red Death, leaving the king to renounce their magic. In order to protect the world, music became strictly regulated by the Court Poet, limiting the songs that could be played, as well as who could become a songwriter. When the magic disappeared, so did the sense of equality and freedom. Now subservient to the king, women are no longer admitted into the Poets' Academy.

Set mostly in the city of Tamryllin, Last Song Before Night follows three poets as they pursue their musical ambitions, facing many obstacles and dangerous setbacks.

Lady Kimbralin Amaristoth, going by the name Lin, has fled her childhood home in order to get away from her abusive shitbird of a brother; Darien Aldemoor, a popular Academy student, is expected to win the Silver Branch contest but finds himself betrayed by his best friend; Valanir Ocune, a high-ranking seer in exile, appears at Master Gelvan’s ball, performing a forbidden song that gets him arrested.

The Red Plague has returned and is making its way to the city, although most do not know it yet. Ocune puts out a call during his performance to change the course of what was lost, to restore the magic of music, regaining what the poets once had. The group sets out on a journey to discover the Path to the Otherworld, where the enchantments are hidden.

"It was then that they saw that in the distance before them the trees stopped to reveal a valley filled with sunlight, the white walls of a city arising like a jewel at its center. And in that moment the forest around them began melting away, the trees vanishing to reveal the sky and sun, the undergrowth transforming into wild grass and weeds stirred in a gentle wind. A road, wide as a king's highway, wended toward the city walls."

I maybe sorta kinda love music. Like.. a lot. And fantasy. Very much so. This was an amalgamation of those two things that I hold near and dear in my heart of dark hearts. However, I did have some niggles with the story, mainly the examination of gender binary. With the symphony of nuanced perspectives, including multiple strong female characters, I would hope a world as exquisite as this would have more diversity within.

Bloody bards, rogues, nobles, espionage, religion, feminism. Myer's beautifully layered levels of evocative storytelling reflect tragic, yet hopeful tones. I'd be remiss if I didn't compare this to Rothfuss's Name of the Wind. Similarly stunning, but wholly unique in their own way.

Music is magic in the same way that book are. Ilana C. Myer's Last Song Before Night takes that idea and creates melodic, spellbinding poetry of the fantastical kind. Music weaves in and out of the narrative, serenading the reader with a gorgeous debut.
Profile Image for Ville Kokko.
Author 14 books20 followers
July 8, 2018
Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer is a masterful fantasy story. The plot revolves around bringing lost magic back into the world to counter a supernatural threat — but even more around the fates of the characters, who are so achingly real that the reader has every reason to care about them.

Even before the main conflict is introduced, the story weaves a situation rich in conflict and potential just by introducing the setting and characters. The story starts in the city of Tamryllin in the days before the Midsummer Fair, in which Poets — musicians — compete for the Silver Branch in front of the king and everyone else. But of course there’s a twist. Events take an entirely new turn before even the supposedly pivotal contest. At a ball where the Poets are performing in front of distinguished guests up to the king himself, a surprise performer whose very name causes ripples shows that, magic or no, music can still have a great deal of power, and changes the lives of those present and upsets the political situation with one song.

The beginning of the story is a captivating page-turner of winding threads, set in a fictional city that has its own tangible twilight atmosphere. The pace is steady and eventful, introducing one twist after another, never lagging. However, this is nothing compared to reading the middle for the first time — written with blood from a quickly beating heart, it left me no choice but to read on and on to find out what happened to the characters I already cared so much about, poised on a knife-edge the whole time, not only physically in danger but in spiritual and moral peril as well, with truly everything at stake. This goes on almost to the end and the satisfying conclusion.

The characters are obviously a strength of the story. As another reviewer pointed out, they are also more than they appear to be — or, at least in one case, appear to be more than they are, which is just as interesting done in moderation. More than anything, they are women and men trying to find their place in a world that opposes them at every step.

A central theme in this story is music, or rather, art on the whole, represented by music, largely from the artist’s point of view. The book itself is a good example of what art can be and do. In my mind, it ranks just below the very best I have ever read.

A longer and more in-depth version of this review can be found at https://thoughtsonx.wordpress.com/201...
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,077 reviews372 followers
July 21, 2019
It is time to abandon ship me mateys!

I just could not finish it. I tried. And tried. And tried again. Failure. I only managed to read 228 pages out of 415. I even liked the main character, Lin, a super lot. Now, this book got many starred reviews. People seemed to love it. Many authors that I enjoy blurbed it – Fran Wilde and A. M. Dellamonica among them. They said it was a wonderful debut set in a world full of music.

I can agree with the full of music part. This book is all about music. Music permeated the sections I managed to read anyway. Perhaps that was the issue. I am sadly not musically inclined myself. Now do not get me wrong, I enjoy a sea shanty or two and do sometimes spend entire evenings enjoying the art of music. But music does not live in my soul like it does for some other scalawags I know. If I had to do without, I would survive and still be hearty. However, I do have some of me crew who removing music from their lives would almost be like turning them over to the gallows. They would rather hang then lose music.

I thought most of the characters were two-dimensional, the world building not strong enough, and the conflict to be rather boring. So maybe this novel is just not for me. But I can count the number of books I have not finished on two hands and am very sad to have added to the list. Had I know people compared the writing style to Patricia McKillip and Guy Gavriel Kay (I have read their novels but not particularly loved them) then I probably would have forgone this novel in the first place. If you read this book and think it is the most wonderful thing ever, I would love to hear about it. But this Captain refuses to go down with this ship.

If you liked this post and want to read others visit me at https://thecaptainsquartersblog.wordp...
Profile Image for Liz.
524 reviews
October 21, 2015
Saints preserve us from Gandalf-wannabes like Valanir Ocune: the mysterious wizard who arbitrarily selects a Chosen One and pops up occasionally throughout the story to push the plot along.

Though heaven knows the characters in this story needed some pushing. Without VO's help, they would have wandered around the countryside until everyone just died of boredom.

Such a big deal was made of the main character Lin -- the woman who wants to be a bard! (Gasp!) Her desire for music would have been more convincing if she were at all musical. Where were the scenes of her singing, playing an instrument, struck by poetic inspiration?

I could go on about how the other characters annoyed me, but they're not worth the energy it would take to type any more.

The comparisons of this book to A SONG FOR ARBONNE or TIGANA are entirely overblown. Myer is a competent author who shows signs of promise that will hopefully reach maturity after a few more novels, but she's no Guy Gavriel Kay.
Profile Image for Sharon.
753 reviews
July 12, 2015
Exciting, daring, and thoughtful. I read this book on my weekday commute, at the beach, and in bed at the end of the day, and it was perfectly suited for all three. The writing is rich and beautiful without being precious and while the plot moves quickly, the action/adventure serves character development rather than the other way around. I especially loved how the love stories are handled - without giving any spoilers, this book skips the usual predictability of True Love with blinder focus, and instead reflects the real world in which true love happens on a spectrum, sometimes landing on more than one object, sometimes disguising itself, sometimes connecting a good heart with a bad one.
Looking forward to the sequel!
Profile Image for Kristen.
324 reviews262 followers
March 18, 2016
This character-driven debut kept me turning the pages. Though it contains darkness and tragedy, it never seemed overly grim or completely hopeless to me. It is a book to read for the characters' journeys rather than the plot, and I especially loved Lin and Rianna and their determination. I did feel like it had the potential to be superb but just missed the mark for various reasons: some cliches, a rushed ending, a tendency to overexplain, and some underdevelopment. However, I enjoyed reading it very much and will definitely be keeping an eye out for future books by Ilana C. Myer!

Actual Rating: 7/10

The Long Version: http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2016/0...
Profile Image for Ollie.
26 reviews4 followers
December 22, 2015
I try not to judge a book on the basis of what I hoped it might be, but this one had so much potential and disappointed me so thoroughly. Its themes--censorship, trauma and art--get buried quickly in tropey macguffin-chasing. The lore and world-building never quite cohere. I never got a solid sense of who the characters were; they're painted in loose brushstrokes and then set free to make dramatic plot-moving decisions for reasons that often remain unclear. There's also a lot of clunky expository dialogue, which some people I'm sure count as a minor fault but which I loathe passionately. And I'm not sure why every major female character needed some sort of sexual trauma in her life. Just saying.
Profile Image for David Mack.
Author 332 books597 followers
September 15, 2015
This summer, I had the privilege of reading an uncorrected advance proof of Last Song Before Night, the debut fantasy novel by Ilana C. Myer.

(Full disclosure: Ilana and I have been friends for several years, and she and I are both writing novels for the same editor at Tor Books. That said, please note that I almost never review works by my friends. I am doing so in this case of my own volition; my review was not solicited. I have been offered nothing in exchange for this review, nor have I asked for anything. Furthermore, I have no financial or creative stake in this novel.)

Last Song is a fantasy adventure about artists struggling against oppression, and it’s a tale of a once-great society poisoned by corruption and censorship run amok. Its theme is one that never goes out of style: the need to fight back against authoritarianism in all its forms, to sing truth to power and hold one’s government accountable to the people. Its narrative is propelled by the mystery behind a series of grisly murders in the glittering, jasmine-scented, romantically Mediterranean-style capital city of Tamryllin, but its most compelling element is its vividly drawn characters:

Kimbralin “Lin” Amaristoth, a highborn woman plagued by a cruel brother who refuses to let her escape his tyrannical control, is a musician and lyricist of uncommon ability in a culture where women are barred (by custom if not by law) from the noble calling of the poets. Her partner-in-song, a poet named Leander Keyen, knows next to nothing of her past.

Darien Aldemoor and Marlen Humbreleigh are esteemed, nobly born poets, graduates of the revered Academy, and best friends. Unfortunately, ambition and temptation threaten to pit these two boon companions against each other in a bitter rivalry.

Rianna Gelvan, the daughter of a wealthy and powerful merchant, is betrothed to the nebbishy but well-meaning (and utterly smitten) young nobleman Ned Alterra, who is unaware that Rianna has fallen for the poet Darien.

Rounding out the ensemble are the treacherous court poet, Nickon Gerrard; his old rival, the venerable but mysterious seer-poet Valanir Ocune, recently returned from a decades-long journey through distant exotic lands; Rayen Amaristoth, Lin’s complexly vicious older brother; Marilla, a woman who excels at manipulating men and extracting secrets, and for whom pain and pleasure are intertwined; and troupes of troubadors, legions of political power players, and a host of common folk, every one of whom feels as fully realized as Myer’s main cast.

Murders and betrayals force our characters onto a perilous journey, one that entails unraveling centuries-old mysteries and unearthing the lost secrets of magic that once informed the music of the poets, a power that was stripped from them by a paranoid and power-hungry political class. At the same time, a deadly plague known as the Red Death—an affliction whose origins are linked to the practice of forbidden “blood magic”—has many people of Eivar fearing for their lives and turning against the poets who represent the only hope for their salvation.

One of the richest pleasures of Last Song is seeing how Myer subverts readers’ expectations of the epic fantasy genre. It evinces all the hallmarks of a typical quest tale—then it becomes something deeper, more intimate, and ultimately unflinching in its examination of its characters’ ugliest qualities and darkest secrets.

Plotwise, this book shines. Its pacing is excellent; every scene crackles with conflict and urgency, pushing the story and its dramatis personae deeper into peril with every page. Myer does a fine job of foreshadowing, and of setting up pieces early to be knocked down later when the reader least expects it. She also displays a deft touch for nonlinear narrative, moving the reader forward and backward within her tale with grace and skill, so that one is never confused as to the true sequence of events.

The dramatic choices Myer makes concerning her characters’ private lives and tragic backstories are impressive for how fearlessly she depicts them. Where a less confident author might have pulled punches or softened the rough edges of the characters’ lives, Myer plumbs them for their maximum dramatic value. In particular, the exquisite details of Marilla’s relationships, and Kimbralin’s motivations for fleeing her old life, are brilliant in their ruthless honesty.

Pulling all of these elements together is Myer’s lush, lyrical prose. On nearly every page of this book I found sentences to make my reader’s heart swoon and my writer’s ego quail in admiration. Allow me to present a few of my favorite lines, excerpted for your pleasure:

“It was while occupied with this particular thought, this melancholy satisfaction, that Dane heard a new strain of music break the silence. But this was not music such as he had ever heard before. Dissonant, it ripped across the night. Across his soul. And then blackness before his eyes, and then nothing at all.”

* * *

“Jasmine and honeysuckle twined in starry abundance on walls that sealed the mansions of Tamryllin from the streets.”

* * *

“Roses greeted them in a profusion that appeared white by moonlight, islands in a dark sea of thorns and leaves. … Stone benches were scattered under the trees with deliberate artlessness.”

* * *

“Valanir, eyes alight, had begun to speak.

‘It is good to be home.’ Each word, shaped with the precision of a rock carving, falling into breathless silence.”

* * *

“He was still in the old district, where ancient marble gave art to each slope, every winding passageway and soaring arch.”

The lines above are all from the first half of the book; there are many more of equal or greater beauty, subtlety, and power throughout the novel. Individual lines divorced from context fail to convey the flowing precision of Myer’s prose, which is imbued with the kind of lasting music to which her story’s poets aspire.

Last Song is an elegantly executed, masterfully conceived tale filled with memorable characters—some base, some noble, all steeped in real human complexity and eminently plausible in their motivations and actions. The wider world of Myer’s fantasy milieu, the lands beyond Eivar, are only hinted at in this first book, which gives the future volumes of this trilogy-to-be room in which to grow and explore new octaves of Myer’s opus.

If you love fantasy novels, I recommend you get yourself a copy of Ilana C. Myer’s debut, Last Song Before Night, at your earliest opportunity. It’s one of the most impressive debut novels I’ve ever read; I am in awe of what Myer has accomplished here.

The book’s official publication date is Tuesday, September 29, 2015. Let me humbly encourage you to pre-order a copy in hardcover or eBook format today.

David Mack is the New York Times bestselling author of nearly 30 novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure. He is currently writing the Dark Arts trilogy for Tor Books; its first volume, The Midnight Front, is tentatively scheduled for publication in the first quarter of 2017.
Profile Image for Aneta.
292 reviews44 followers
December 23, 2019
"Swift the river flows, and with it all my hopes. My lady," he sang, and then found the line that had been eluding him, that his heart had been searching for all through their long journey. "Never shall we see such times again."

Was it perfect? No, I can think of at least 5 flaws this instant.
Was the climax rushed? Yes, absolutely.
Did it break me? Also yes. 100% yes.

Last Song Before Night was for the most part slow and at times boring and at times infuriating, but it was also, oh, so beautiful: it made me care and it made me cry and I know it will stay with me. I understand the criticisms but at the same time: in the end, the book is more than the sum of its parts and I don't care enough about the bad to let it outweigh the good. So there we go, with my very subjective 5 stars.

Brb going to go cry myself to sleep now.
13 reviews2 followers
October 4, 2015
(No spoilers) Most reviews of a high fantasy novel feel like they could only be intelligible to already-fans of high fantasy, or are more summary than review. Mystical names, invocations of lost ancient history and some lost potential of the original civilization, leading to some sort of quest are the backbone of the summaries. Yes, all the details are perfect in Last Song Before Night. A rich world surrounds and impinges upon the two main locations and characters' lives of the book, the lost magics are a fresh vision in fantasy, and the discovery of the hidden past and the idea of a pathway back to them emerges in its own kind of haze.

Ilana Myer's vision is coherent and engaging. She earns perfect scores in the demands of the genre. Those are reasons enough to read the book -- if you know you like high fantasy.

The problem with these summaries is the they make it seem the book is purely about that: about spinning those worlds. It's a great accomplishment, requiring buckets of sweat, blood, time, imagination, and continuity-checking -- but beyond the fact that strong thread has been spun, what of the full book woven from those threads?

This book is vivid, visceral, fast-moving, and real. I usually (and increasingly) have minimalist tastes. I found the first 25 pages or so difficult to wade into -- like walking off a New England beach into an unwarmed Atlantic ocean of early June -- and just as well worth it after the first few acclimating slaps from the waves. Murder. Ballrooms, secret whispers, and red wine tossed from the glass. I knew I was sucked in when I found myself asking my spouse to pour me a glass of wine (not actually being a drinker) and vaguely wishing I had any jeweled necklaces to fidget with, and/or maybe a hand-engraved dagger. The author trusts her reader's intellect, flicking forward riveting scene after scene, each following the next like the lash of the whip. You won't be skimming paragraphs of description to find where the plot picks up again in this read!

After a couple chapters the author had my faith that she'd give me the detail I'd need when I needed it -- and not before. My favorite kind of deal. With that established, I fell into a rich universe of suspense, culture, and intertwined personal and global history -- finishing the final 350 pages in one sitting. Dreams, magic, personal timelines and flashbacks are difficult to manage, yet they flowed for the most part seamlessly. I decided not to worry about the occasional instance where I didn't get it. Later I'll test whether this means that it'll reward repeat reading. Near the end, complications had spun out so I began to worry the book couldn't possibly wrap anything up in time, yet it was completely satisfactory. And I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Some early reviews, and even the publisher's materials, identify the setting's 'women can't do this' or 'men must do that' as moving the story along. But gender roles are a cultural precondition, as they are in any story. The real difference here is on the other side: that the characters are no less than people, whose reactions and desires don't necessarily align to the roles they were born into -- economic, gender, political, or anything else. Among all characters, there's a rich variegation of self-awareness and savvy level. The characters also think -- palpably, constantly, but unobtrusively. They are thus very real and extremely modern. This is not just a high fantasy book -- this is also a modern novel. Those two are not often found in the same jacket.

As a reader, I'm not primarily a fantasy reader. But I am someone who fell in love with Robin Hobb's series' especially Assassin and Tawny Man, read a bunch of fun stuff in between, and who was burnt out by George R.R. Martin's too consciously self-congratulatory narrative style (back in 2009 before TV was in the picture). I don't like feeling an author is pulling levers on me, and being tongue in cheek, superior, or unsympathetic about the results -- or that he thinks it's brave in and of itself to have pulled the same old lever in a different direction. Everyone knew the lever was there, and what it would do, so, how is it brave just to be the one to pull it? In contrast, my main complaint about this book is a minor one and it's for Tor: Tor, I found myself wishing you'd copyedited a touch more aggressively, especially in the early chapters when it's important to get the reader funneled into the world without distractions. Maybe next time. Overall, that the author of Last Song Before Night succeeds in creating a world of drama and constraint without making a fetish of any of its elements or getting stuck on irritating stylistic quirks is another refreshing aspect of the work.

Finally, I was drawn in by plot and setting, and then found the world deepening and expanding. Characters who might seem tangential at first are pulled into the growing web of central characters, each becoming more interesting throughout the book. The author also finds new methods for subtle plot twists. So not just in establishing the world of the setting, but throughout every aspect of the work, the reader finds original thinking. If feminism is 'the radical notion that women are people,' as the saying goes, and that correspondingly, men are people too, this book is the most feminist one I've read in a long time, simply by being fully imagined, with great integrity as well as imagination.

Profile Image for Kerry.
1,448 reviews60 followers
March 3, 2018
As is so typical of (fantasy) books these days, the story begins coherently--even if not spectacularly or with original ideas--and then unravels as the end approaches, as if the writer, the beta readers, and all the editors got bored by the time they reach the halfway point and just give up. After all, the readers who have bought the book have already ventured too far in to get a refund, so why bother with making sure that the story flows till the end?

This may be a cynical reaction to this book, but I can tolerate stereotypes and trite writing to a point if the story is actually well considered and holes are credibly filled. But this story unravels increasingly quickly as the story progresses, and by the end, I don't know what I'm reading. Motivations are not clearly indicated, cause and effect is not clearly explained, the rules of the world are not well determined, and character personalities do not fully support what they become in the end.

Furthermore, there is a lot of cliche and stereotype and many unclear settings and problems with characters' ages. None of the characters are really interesting or unique, and at one point we can gather that Lin is probably 21 or 22, but she seems much younger through most of the story. Palaces and castles are much different, and what seems to be a place has . . . crenelated walls like a castle?

There are some other really uncomfortably old-fashioned ideas perpetuated throughout. The characters are homophobic and use homosexual slurs to insult each other. Rianna is "changed" by losing her virginity, a sad and wearying idea even in this overly conservative world. If you're going to establish a society where women are coming into their own, then let them do so; don't hold them back with shame-based ideas about sexuality.
Profile Image for Na'ama.
Author 2 books5 followers
April 27, 2015
I simply was not prepared enough for the journey that I have just completed. When I started the book, I had no idea of the breadth and scope of the story; of the depth of the characters and how invested I was to become in their well-being and success. The beautifully written and complex interweaving of the stories was handled with a deftness and maturity that belies the fact that this is Ms. Myers' first novel. I pray it will not be her last!

The story unfolds in one city, and yet sweeps across the fictional world that Ms. Myer has created, with a clarity and richness of description that leaves you feeling as if you had been there, and experienced the sights, the sounds, the smells. Equally as deftly, Ms. Myer weaves a story of magics and political maneuverings worthy of the "Game of Thrones" in its complexity and intrigue.

I find myself still thinking about the story, the characters, certain scenes that were described so vividly and beautifully, that I want to revisit them as if they are my own memories. Books that touch you to your soul are rare, and this one has. I am different for reading it, and I am thankful for the fact.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone with an adventurous spirit. If you are looking for a new genre to try, this is written with a soft touch and will not offend your sensibilities. My only warning - it will be hard to put down!
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