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Sigh. This book sure lacked an atmosphere. Yet reviews are so useful, because if I hadn’t started Down Comes the Night knowing that I shouldn’t expect any kind of Gothic undertone, I might have been even more disappointed, as reviewers before me were. Our mind is a complex thing, and ripped of undue expectations, it allows pleasure to blossom, sometimes.
As it is, however, the door opened by my low anticipation wasn’t enough to revolutionize my reading experience and make a success out of it. I’ll get to why in a minute.
We love to see the story of a healer, don’t we?
Down Comes the Night follows Wren, illegitimate niece of the Queen and military healer, and at first, I was enchanted by her. I loved that we got the story of a healer, which is – or seems, in my limited knowledge – rarer that stories of fierce warriors and clever politicians. Healers are often the kind, gentle secondary characters, and I appreciated that for once, one stole the lights, you know? Wren isn’t our perfect character, either, but you should know by now that those annoy me : she was reckless at times, yes, but who can judge her? It’s not like she’s swimming in choices, really. Okay, there were one or two times during which I reaaaaally struggled to get on board with her decisions but I was willing to be lenient. Because above everything, I loved how empathetic she was and I thought that the discussions around what it means to be strong and how listening to our emotions isn’t the antithesis some think it is were well done.
Having been raised around people who believe that being emotional is a weakness, Wren struggles with self-acceptance, and her unrequited love for her best-friend, Una, whose whole personality relies on her need to follow orders, doesn’t help. I don’t know if we’re supposed to root for them as a couple at first, but let me tell you, it was painful to watch. Upset on Wren’s behalf, I could never warm to Una, which was a good thing in the long run but which still let a bad taste in my mouth. I just – couldn’t stand how Una dismissed Wren’s feelings every time, and so I couldn’t feel any kind of connection between them, unfortunately, which is a shame, really, because I loved that Wren was bisexual.
Great potential, failed execution
But the downfall of Down Comes the Night lies in the way it tries to do so much and ends making a mess of everything. I mean, we have:
- a war between to countries we barely know anything about, because the world-building was thin at best ;
- a disappearance/murder investigation that had potential but ended up in a fishtail ;
- an enemies-to-lovers romance that was… nice? Maybe? – but that didn’t fully work, in my opinion ;
- an old house that never conveyed the Gothic atmosphere it was chasing.
First let’s talk about the world-building and let me tell you : it’s painfully lacking.
- We know that Danu, Wren’s country, has been at war forever with its neighbor, Vesria. Some people have magic and others don’t, because *genetics*. People there worship a goddess in an abbey, and if you’re a healer you’re actually faced with two choices : working in the military or be a nun or something. The country’s kinda smelly, and its soldiers wear a black uniform Wren likes very much, especially the black boots. Its Queen, Isabel, is Wren’s aunt and wants to go to war again because that’s what’s expected from her, I guess.
- As for Vesria, Hal – the second half of our romantic pair-‘s country, it also has magic and it’s led by very corrupt and war mongering politicians, which is truly ground-breaking. They also have a god, but theirs is a god of death, which is fitting, if I might say. Hal says it’s “white”, whatever that means (he was talking about the buildings? I think?).
- Finally, in Cernos, there are mountains, snow, not magic but electricity (oh yeah, there isn’t electricity in the other countries because they only care about magic, not science) and the creepy house of a creepy man Wren keeps asking herself why she’s creeped out by (you guessed right: because he’s creepy).
Ta-da! It’s quite an endeavor to be all over the place and insufficient at the same time, and I wasn’t convinced.
As for the mystery, it grappled me alright, and for a time there I thought that it’d be the book’s salving grace. Too bad it all fizzled out when I realized that the obvious choice was the only choice at all.
Now, the romance. Sigh. It wasn’t a total failure, and my treasonous heart did quicken a bit at some point, but it was still disappointing. I’m gonna be plain, but if you want me to believe in a relationship, especially when half of the pair is an alleged mass murderer, you’re gonna have to help me a little and give me something. The whole thing – starting with their meeting – was anticlimactic, to be honest, and Hal’s portrayal reeked a bit too much of “mass murderers can be soft, cute boys too”. The thing is, Hal was never Wren’s enemy. Her country’s, absolutely, but he never disliked her at all, and as far as I’m concerned, the tension this particular trope usually creates just wasn’t there. It felt lazy, to be honest.
It doesn’t mean that I disliked Hal’s character, though. I could understand his descent into self-hate and the way he evolves, after having been groomed as a killer since his childhood (he’s only 19, after all). As a character it’s an arc I can go behind and even appreciate, but as a love interest? I need more.
It’s just – sigh. I thought we were past “war is bad and make monsters out of men”, but that’s probably my inner optimist talking. I do appreciate the shift young adult fiction has undertaken these past few years, because I sure remember a time when main characters were revered for being soldiers without any kind of reflection put upon it. This is good. This is great. This is something so self evident for this reader that it’s boring, but who am I to say that it’s not needed anymore? It’s just – I really don’t need pages and pages of pseudo-philosophical rhetoric to come to the conclusion that war in particular and the military in general are the worst but again, I’m not the target audience. If that’s what it takes, then it’s alright, I guess. All the same, it feels too tenuous a thread to withstand the whole book’s weight, if you ask me.
Still I liked Allison Saft’s writing, and will check out her books in the future, because there’s potential in Down Comes the Night. It wasn’t enough, but it was there. 2,5 stars tentatively rounded up.
About Down Comes the Night
Author : Allison Saft | Publisher : Wednesday Books | Genre : Young Adult Fantasy | Pages : 400
He saw the darkness in her magic. She saw the magic in his darkness.
Wren Southerland’s reckless use of magic has cost her everything: she’s been dismissed from the Queen’s Guard and separated from her best friend—the girl she loves. So when a letter arrives from a reclusive lord, asking Wren to come to his estate, Colwick Hall, to cure his servant from a mysterious illness, she seizes her chance to redeem herself.
The mansion is crumbling, icy winds haunt the caved-in halls, and her eccentric host forbids her from leaving her room after dark. Worse, Wren’s patient isn’t a servant at all but Hal Cavendish, the infamous Reaper of Vesria and her kingdom’s sworn enemy. Hal also came to Colwick Hall for redemption, but the secrets in the estate may lead to both of their deaths.
With sinister forces at work, Wren and Hal realize they’ll have to join together if they have any hope of saving their kingdoms. But as Wren circles closer to the nefarious truth behind Hal’s illness, they realize they have no escape from the monsters within the mansion. All they have is each other, and a startling desire that could be their downfall.
Allison Saft’s Down Comes the Night is a snow-drenched romantic fantasy that keeps you racing through the pages long into the night.
Love makes monsters of us all.