Thursday, March 04, 2021

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft: review

3/5 stars on Goodreads

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Down Comes the Night is a debut fantasy novel by Allison Saft. It’s advertised as Gothic YA romance, and it’s set in a unique world with both magic and early technology like electricity and steam engines. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wren is a healer in the military, skilled both in magical healing and more scientific approach. She’s also the queen’s niece, and the two have an antagonistic relationship. In an act of defiance after the queen sends her on a fool’s errand, she accepts an invitation from a friendly neighbouring country to come and heal a random servant in a nobleman’s castle. But when she arrives there she learns that the servant is actually her country’s greatest enemy Hal Cavendish. She has to choose whether to heal him or take him to the queen so that she can finally earn her approval.

There’s something sinister going on in the castle. Hal is there to find out what it is, and since the mystery concerns Wren’s country too, they begin to solve it together. But the corruption runs deeper than she could’ve imagined. If they can’t solve it, she and Hal both will be lost, and both their countries plunged into a war.

The book starts well, with an interesting and concise backstory about two countries in a permanent war, Wren antagonism with the queen, and Wren’s relationship with her commanding officer Una, whom she ends up betraying in order to leave the country. Then comes the middle part, which is some sort of Gothic romance with all its clich├ęs (a castle with odd restrictions of movement, peculiar host, snowbound couple with only one bed etc.). And then the last quarter is again like from a different book as it returns to the earlier setting. From a triangle between three strong women, need for love and the lack of it, to a very boring romance that never really takes flight, and back to the three women again.

If I were to guess, I’d say the middle part existed first as a standalone romance into which the author then added the backstory. The middle is much too long for its contents and not terribly interesting or romantic (Wren and Hal are seasoned soldiers yet they suddenly behave like innocent teenagers). The backstory barely plays a role. It’s as if Wren is a different person with completely different motivations; she doesn’t spare a thought for Una whom she’s loved for years. The book changes for the better once the Gothic castle is left behind; the pace picks up and stakes get higher. But while there’s some emotional payoff, it’s not really enough to compensate for the clumsy middle section.

The world is a mishmash of everything. Two countries have magic and one doesn’t for some reason, as if interbreeding never happened, but they have electricity, which the other two don’t have. Yet Wren has a working knowledge of genetics. But the concoction sort of works, if one doesn’t pay too close attention. What did annoy me were the many consistency issues, especially in the middle part. The time of day changed from paragraph to paragraph (like, the sun shines, yet it’s pitch black and  then snowing in the next instance) so that I never knew if it was morning or evening. This wasn’t a bad book, but it could’ve used a more careful editing. But the ending was satisfying for all parties and it doesn’t set the scene for a sequel. If you like stand-alone fantasy, give it a try.

 

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