We talked about a wide range of topics, including the ups and downs of the writing life, my recently published works (Star Trek: Seekers #3 – Long Shot and 24: Rogue), and my upcoming projects (book two of the Star Trek: Legacies trilogy and Dark Arts, my own historical fantasy trilogy for Tor Books).
(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 oppression 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.
Last month, during my whirlwind weekend at Shore Leave 37, I carved out a few minutes to talk with the fine folks from the Baltimore County Public Library about a number of topics, including my current and upcoming work.
A short video of my and fellow tie-in scribe Robert Greenberger‘s thoughts on the craft of writing licensed fiction, aka media tie-in novels, has been posted by the BCPL to YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Give it a watch!
I am a New Yorker. I remember September 11, 2001.
I remember running to work at the SCI FI Channel for the first and (so far) only time in my life. I remember watching the towers fall.
I remember policemen, firefighters, and EMTs charging into burning towers so many others were desperate to get out of.
I remember every fire engine and ladder company in the city racing toward the disaster, along with every ambulance and police car.
I remember New Yorkers lining up for blocks, trying to donate blood because we held out hope there would be people in need, people we could help.
I remember me and my fellow New Yorkers buying and bringing bottled water to first responders.
I remember loyal rescue dogs who followed their handlers into a smoky hellscape to search for survivors.
I remember legions of unthanked construction workers, firefighters, police, and people from every walk of life digging through smoldering rubble, on through the night, and for days afterward, relentless in their search for one more person to save.
I remember the name Rick Rescorla, a man whose entire career was about safeguarding the lives of those who worked in the World Trade Center. I remember that his monthly drills and security recommendations helped speed the evacuation of the Twin Towers and likely saved thousands of lives that might otherwise have been lost.
I remember the story of passengers on a hijacked airliner who fought back and forced their plane down on a lonely stretch of ground rather than see it used to attack another target full of unsuspecting civilians.
I don’t care to remember the names of the villains who perpetrated that day of infamy. They don’t deserve my remembrance.
I remember the heroes.
I’ve been a guest of three weekend conventions in the last four weeks, and I’m exhausted.
No doubt, the veteran road warriors of the convention circuit scoff at me for that opening declaration. But you need to understand, this isn’t my usual gig.
I haven’t attended many conventions per year during my two decades as a professional writer, but this year and next year are seeing an uptick in my planned appearances. In the last month, I’ve been a guest at Shore Leave in Baltimore, Md.; LI-Con 2 in Ronkonkoma, NY; and, this past weekend, Dragon Con in Atlanta.
And fool that I am, I traveled to all three by car.
That was no great hardship for the first two shows. Shore Leave is about four or five hours’ drive from home for me. LI-Con is even closer, just over an hour’s drive outside New York City.
But the road trip that Glenn Hauman and I just made to Atlanta (for which he did nearly all the driving, because the man is a demigod) … that was an adventure.
Fortunately, we had glorious hospitality awaiting us in Georgia, at the home of my dear friends Jon and Jen. They generously hosted Glenn and me in their guest room, treated us to a steady flow of Old Fashioned cocktails and good wine, and made the Labor Day long weekend a joy.
This was my first trip to Dragon Con, and I had a fantastic time. All of my panels were quite well attended, and though I feared no one would come to my Sunday morning signing or even notice me at the show, I was kept busy during my signing, and I sold more books on one Sunday at Dragon Con than I have ever sold at any other show. Don’t tell me there are no readers at Dragon Con — if I can move books at this con, anyone can.
I also got to spend some time in lovely Decatur, Ga., and I had the joy of dining at such venerable Atlanta institutions as The Varsity — a retro-style drive-in near the Georgia Tech campus — and Fat Matt’s, home of the finest barbecue ribs I’ve ever eaten. And, as one might imagine, the road trips down and back were punctuated by visits to Waffle House.
The atmosphere of Dragon Con is intoxicating; Glenn described it as “the Mardi Gras of genre events,” and I think that’s an apt description. The cosplayers were impressive, and the sheer scope of the con was daunting, but also exciting. I hope I am able to return as a literary guest next year, and for years to come after that.
But next time, I’ll be traveling to Atlanta by plane.
Next on my convention schedule: New York Comic Con (no panels for me there, but I’m hoping to do some signings for Star Trek: Seekers #3 – Long Shot and 24: Rogue), October 8–11, 2015, in New York’s Javits Center; and then World Fantasy Convention, November 5–8, 2015, in Saratoga Springs, NY. Watch my website’s Events page for more details!
This is an all-new, original adventure for Jack. It takes place roughly two years after 24: Season 8 (New York), which ended with Jack going on the run, a fugitive from the United States and its allies, after he went rogue to take down the members of a conspiracy that killed his beloved Renée Walker.
It’s also set nearly two years before the events of 24: Live Another Day (London), which occurred after Jack emerged from his four-year-long, self-imposed exile.
This is my first novel for Tor/Forge Books, so get your copy today!
The custom header art was created by illustrator Jordan Grimmer, based on some requests from yours truly. The site itself was designed and built as a custom WordPress theme by Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios. Content transfer and input from my old site was ably assisted by Molly Tanzer.
I am quite pleased with the new site’s aesthetics and functionality, and I think you’ll all dig it, too. Come on in and have a look around. It’s pretty sweet.