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Nathan’s review of A Memory of Song by Scott Palmer

The tl;dr: Dark and heart-shattering, A Memory of Song follows a former prince and a mother seeking revenge as they get ensnared in a game of warlocks, monsters, and magic. While full of everything you would expect from a dark, epic fantasy, this book remains character-focused, and you will fall in love with and empathize with characters, both POV and secondary. This makes all of the hardships and trials they endure that much more emotionally resonant – and gut-wrenching. This is a stunning debut novel, and Palmer is an author to keep on your radar in the epic fantasy space. Come for the the music-based magic system and stay for several good cries. This book has my highest recommendation.

Cover of A Memory of Song

My full review:

John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn Saga meets Michael Michel’s The Price of Power in this dark and gut wrenching fantasy epic that will draw you in, tear your heart to shreds, and then do it all over again. A Memory of Song is an absolutely stunning debut novel and belongs in the hands of all readers who love the grim and magical. Palmer is an author who belongs on your radar and is already on my “blind buy” list for any of his future books!

Like most epic fantasy books, A Memory of Song is hard to summarize in just a few sentences. There are a lot of moving parts here – from a woman seeking revenge on her estranged husband for the death of their son to a former prince coming to terms with his magical abilities and place in powerful prophecies, a drunken wizard with few morals, a dark menagerie of warlocks trying to take over the world, song-based magic, and a world that has lost its basic natural elements. The beauty of A Memory of Song is that this book is chock full of ideas, but it never feels overstuffed, confusing, or overwhelming. Instead, Palmer gifts readers a lived in-world with a deep history that completely envelopes you (in an immersive but definitely not heart warming way!).

I think the reason this book can avoid the standard epic fantasy barrier to entry is that Palmer never loses focuses on his characters. A Memory of Song has all of the magic and monsters you would expect from this genre, but its characters have very human and relatable motivations – even when they are being hunted down by evil men in wolf helms or amphibious beings. James (who has the unfortunate “Paul Atreides” problem of having a normal name amongst a cast of fantasy names) does have larger-than-life political and magical storylines, but at the end of the day he is just a man seeking to reunite with his sick and dying girlfriend. Wulfee is a mother on a quest to get revenge on her husband who killed their son, despite also being wrapped up in the larger trappings of the epic and magical plot.

No matter if it is one of our two main POV characters, or one of the many secondary characters that join in on these quests, Palmer has a real knack for quickly endearing you to these three-dimensional people – even to the point where they do something terrible and you empathize with them. Palmer’s characters come alive in a way that characters often don’t in dark, epic fantasy; his characters never feel like chess pieces on the board, just being moved around the board. A Memory of Song is the ideal blend of character-based fantasy with awe-inspiring, chilling, and magical plotting.

The absolute best part of Palmer’s characters is that you empathize with them so much that it shatters your heart when when bad things happen. And ooohhhhh man do bad things happen. There were at least three points in the back half of the book where I needed to stop reading and just sit with what I had just read. You know when you get that text that something bad has happened and your heart sinks and you just need to sit down? That is what this book made me feel – over and over again. It might not sound like it, but this is the highest compliment that I can give a book! I usually have the worst recall when it comes to books; when I finish a book I barely remember reading it after a few days. A Memory of Song has stuck with him. It found a way to drill itself into my heart and sit there, poking at me as I am reminded of this journey that Palmer has taken me on and all of the shit his characters had to go through.

For readers concerned about the “dark” elements of A Memory of Song, the book never crosses the line into being too dark or overly gratitous. What happens in these pages is no worse than what you would expect from a fantasy book with wars, battles, monsters, and potentially the end of the world. It’s not cozy, but I would hesitate to call it “grimdark” since the ethos of the work never descends into nihilism. The characters are thrust into morally ambigious situations – and some of the heart-wrenching scenes come about because characters are forced to do things they know are wrong. A Memory of Song imagines a world that could be better, and isn’t confident that this better world is not possible – but that it takes a lot of mucking through the mud to make that happen.

A Memory of Song ends (don’t worry – no spoilers!) in a pretty satisfying way. It ends on a cliffhanger that left me eagerly awaiting the sequel (WRITE FASTER SCOTT) while also feeling like it fully closed this particular chapter. A Memory of Song felt like it had its own internal narrative arc, a self-contained whole in service to a larger story being told. Since it will likely be at least a little bit of a wait until the sequel (WRITE FASTER SCOTT), having a chunk of the character and thematic arcs wrapped up made up for an immensely rewarding reading experience.

As of the time I am writing this A Memory of Song is available for preorder for only 99 cents, so there really isn’t anything stopping you from picking up this book. And heck, at that price you’ll have the money for therapy for what Palmer emotionally puts you through in this book!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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