Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft
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
CONTRIBUTOR(S): Saskia Maarleveld (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Macmillan Young Listeners
LENGTH: 400 pages (12 hours 47 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
General Vibe: Beauty and the Beast with war crimes.
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Secondary Character(s), Bi/Pan Main Character(s).
I enjoyed Wren as a queer protagonist who never has her queerness be questioned or even be an issue within the text. She's in love with her superior officer and best friend, someone who cares about her but doesn't put anyone above her own work as a soldier. Wren's interest in anatomy and the more scientific aspects of medicine are used but not really appreciated by those around her, because they don't understand the value of this learning and the additional lives that can be saved by combining scientific knowledge with magic. This lack of emotional support from those around her also leads Wren to be more vulnerable when it seems like her knowledge is finally being appreciated by someone who is in a position to help her. She receives a letter from a lord from a neutral nation who promises her political help if she'll come save his servant from a mysterious illness.
When she arrives, the lord is eccentric and the patient she was summoned to save is Hal, a war criminal and former child soldier. He's an assassin who can kill with his magic gaze, and the lord seems to have no idea, demanding that Wren do all she can for his "servant". Gradually, it becomes clear that Hal's illness is more complicated (as are her growing feelings for him), and Wren will have to choose between turning him in and stopping the war.
I saw a review which characterized Wren's dilemma as a choice between supporting a current war criminal or a former war criminal. That is definitely literally a choice that gets made at several points in the text, and dampened some of my enjoyment of the story. However, I did appreciate it as a narrative about two people who didn’t have much choice about whether to join their respective nations' militaries, but now are trying to find other paths for themselves and stop those who want a war to continue. When the options are to root for the character who was a child soldier but now is trying to stop the violence, or to support the character actively kidnapping and torturing people for his own personal and political gains... that's not nearly as tricky of a problem for me as this other reviewer found it.
One of my favorite worldbuilding details is the way that the small cluster of three countries (two of which are shown) have very different levels of technology, largely driven by whether or not their citizens have access to magic. Next is the way that this feels like a Beauty and the Beast retelling. It's probably not meant to be one, however, so many of the larger story beats fit neatly into the mold of that narrative, that, at the very least, someone who loves Beauty and the Beast (depending on the reasons) would likely be very interested in this book. It has a snow-covered castle lorded over by a strange man with strict rules about where the heroine may or may not go, an arbitrary timeline to solve a strange problem, a ball, and lots of wound care. The cadence of the plot follows that other one in some interesting ways, but getting into those details would be too many spoilers.
Graphic/Explicit CW for blood, gore, violence, injury detail, medical content, medical trauma, murder, death.
Moderate CW for sexual content, alcohol, xenophobia, religious bigotry, terminal illness, kidnapping, emotional abuse, confinement, war.
Minor CW for excrement, vomit, chronic pain, child abuse, torture, child death.