Review of Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft
I adored the romantic setup and seemingly ill-fated attraction in Saft's young adult fantasy-mystery, but I was dissatisfied with the reasoning and motivations in the final section.
I loved the setup of Saft's romantic young adult fantasy novel Down Comes the Night.
Wren is a loose cannon, a fierce soldier, intensely loyal, a magical healer, and she has an uncontrollable spirit--oh, and she's niece to the queen, who would like to be rid of her altogether.
Hal is from a neighboring land and is known as the Reaper of Vesria. He's known to be cruel, ruthless, and he's Wren's sworn enemy, a deadly force who has destroyed her countrymen and women in the wars that seem constant between the kingdoms.
When the two are unexpectedly thrown together, it becomes clear that Hal isn't precisely who Wren thought. She must determine whether to abandon the force of her formidable healing powers and leave him to die or let go of her long-held anger. Meanwhile she's desperate to solve the mystery of her fellow soldiers and friends who keep disappearing on patrols between kingdoms.
Saft's premise is irresistible: supposed enemies realize they’ve been pitted against each other with liiiiies…and seem destined to become star-crossed lovers! The great young adult fantasy elements are all in place here: magic, healing, a defiant main protagonist with a conscience, loyalty, drawn-out romance, wonderfully faulted characters. Saft doesn't overdramatize the "love that must not be fulfilled" aspect, wonderfully structuring the reasons for (and the prolonged tension surrounding) the forbidden romance. There's even a Gothic undercurrent in this book, which I love.
Yet in the last 100 pages or so I found myself growing impatient with some false-feeling elements that had significant repercussions for the plot: Certain characters were desperate to find their missing people and knew something dark and dangerous was going on...but huffily announced that they'd wait until they had a search warrant to pursue their potentially life-and-death-stakes lead. There's a key mentioned multiple times...so the confusion about where the all-important key might be felt nonsensical. Characters delay taking action on potentially urgent and lifesaving leads for days and undertake treacherous winter travel only in order to confirm basic facts already known and to reconfirm minor information that was already suspected. I felt dissatisfied with the logistics surrounding much of the resolving of the mystery--as well as with the outcome of that particular situation, because the careless delays seem to have potentially mattered in a significant way.
A side note: the title felt so oddly vague that I kept forgetting what the book was called, which felt strange, because Saft's setting and characters were so captivating.
I'd rate the first part of the book as 4.5 stars and the last 100 pages as 3 stars for me.
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Saft is also the author of another romantic young adult fantasy novel, A Far Wilder Magic. I loved her character-building, her balance with the young romance, her fantastic, detailed setting, and her pacing for the vast majority of Down Comes the Night, and I'd definitely read more books by Allison Saft.