Down Comes the Night

Down Comes the Night book cover


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Book Review

Wren is summoned to a mysterious castle to use her magical healing ability. Trapped in the snowbound fort, she finds that her patient is none other than her sworn enemy, the Reaper of Vesria. Yet, everything isn’t as it appears.

Plot Summary

Wren Southerland had always longed to belong somewhere. And as a Queen’s Guard medic gifted with healing magic—not to mention finding love (she believes) with her female commanding officer—she thinks she may have finally found her place. Unfortunately, her compassion is her undoing when she heals a wounded prisoner of war who then promptly escapes.

The queen, her aunt, is outraged with Wren’s choice and demotes her to the mines. But Wren avoids that sure death sentence when a mysterious offer from a Lord Lowry comes in with a request to heal his sick manservant.

Wren is sent off to Colwick Hall, a crumbling castle filled with strange sounds and hidden passageways. And it strikes her that the mercurial Lord Lowry—who forbids her from leaving her room after dark—is hiding something in this cold, forbidding place. She doesn’t think much about the castle’s secrets at first, because she’s devoting so much attention on the sick man. But turns out, that man is keeping a secret himself: In truth, her patient is no mere manservant, but her country’s sworn enemy, Hal Cavendish, the Reaper of Vesria.

At first, Wren thinks that the best thing she could do is to kill Hal, so that her suffering country can be done with this brutal killer. But she can’t do it. It’s not in her. So, she determines to help him get healthy and bring him back to her country as a prisoner of war.

Yet, while treating him, she comes to understand that Hal profoundly regrets his past actions. And he praises her kindness. It’s all so confusing for Wren, and she’s not sure of what she’s thinking … or feeling.

But Wren’s definitely sure of one thing: Sinister forces are at work in Colwick Hall. Hal may have come here seeking a sort of redemption, but he’s not the only secret kept in this keep. And Wren and Hal realize that they must join forces if they, or their kingdoms, hope to survive.

Christian Beliefs

There are no true Christian beliefs in this tale, though Hal does feel the need to seek some sort of redemption for his past sins (which has a bit of a Christian feel to it). But two major religions at play bear some similarities.

Other Belief Systems

Two major religions vie for devotion in this book. In Wren’s homeland of Danu, people worship a three-headed goddess in a belief system that, in its structure, can feel similar to Catholicism. Women in convents address each other as sisters, and they join in confessions, prayers, and rituals of joint contemplation. The god of Vesria is described as an old man who loves war. Both Wren and Hal admit that they don’t believe in the gods and that those deities have been used to justify the brutality of the war.

About 10% of the population has magic. This magic shows up in different ways, including the ability to heal, kill or change body density. Wren has the ability to bring people back from even mortal wounds. While it’s all called magic, it is explained as a recessive trait that some have and can access and manipulate.

Authority Roles

Wren’s parents are dead. However, her aunt, the Queen, is very much alive and pretty hard on her. She criticizes her and pushes her away until the very end where they are forced to work together.

That said, Wren is still a young woman imbued with courage, empathy, and selflessness. She puts herself in harm’s way to serve her kingdom and protect loved ones.

Profanity & Violence

There are one or two uses each of the words “bulls–t” and “b–tard.” There’s also a word used which combines goddess and “d–n.” We read occasional insults in the story mix, and people are called “stupid” and “idiot.”

The people of Danu have been in a centuries-long holy war with Vesria. Battle scenes are described where people are injured through swordplay. Wren is a healer who fixes broken bones, does transplants and heals open wounds.

Also, characters are experimented on, poisoned and tortured. One individual experiments on corpses and transplants body parts. Adults (including Wren) drink wine at a party. At one point, to stop hypothermia, Wren and Hal drink some brandy. Someone gets drunk.

Sexual Content

Sex, kissing and alternate lifestyles are portrayed in this book. The story begins with Wren and her commanding officer Una being in a lesbian relationship. . The story flashes back to a romantic scene featuring the two of them, but it doesn’t get overly graphic.

This relationship can almost feel abusive because of the rank difference between the two. They eventually break up because Una chooses her job over Wren. Wren then falls for Hal. Hal and Wren sleep together twice, with about a page full of details. They express love for each other. Finally, the innkeeper, who is male, mentions his husband.

Discussion Topics

Wren is told if she can’t be loved for who she is, she must work to feel like she’s at least useful. And since her aunt does not love her, Wren decides to make herself the best medic ever. What is wrong with this message? Why does Wren feel relief when she uses up her magic and cannot perform healing anymore?

In the book, Wren is sometimes criticized   for being too merciful. Hal is the first to tell her that mercy and not hurting others shows strength. Consider Jesus in the garden and his Resurrection. What did He display regarding mercy?

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Additional Comments

Down Comes the Night is a story that promotes the value of empathy and perseverance while encouraging readers to look beyond stereotypes and bad reputations. Author Alison Saft also uses some beautiful prose in this gothic tale that centers on the theme of redemption.

That said, readers should also note this is a story with lots of magic, some non-gory violence and romantic encounters (including same-sex encounters) sometimes described in depth.

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Review by Danielle Pitzer