REVIEW: A Memory of Song by Scott Palmer

Last Updated on May 29, 2024

Pitched as Braveheart meets A Song of Ice and Fire, Scott Palmer’s A Memory of Song is a sweepingly epic yet intimately character-driven Norse-flavoured fantasy that will make any dark fantasy lover’s heart sing with both joy and sorrow.

A Memory of SongAs with any good first instalment in an ambitiously epic fantasy series, A Memory of Song has a lot of moving pieces. Set in a bleak world that has lost its basic natural elements due to an ancient order of warlocks singing songs composed of blood magic, we follow two broken souls who are both on their own quest to seek vengeance and to protect their loved ones, no matter the cost.

On the one hand, there’s Wulfee, the fierce and fearsome leader of the sacred Feldarra clan who is hell-bent on getting revenge on her estranged husband after losing her sons. And on the other hand, we’ve got James Culdaine, the displaced last heir to the Northern throne whose powers, legacy, and destiny are much grander than his ordinary name might have you believe.

I personally really enjoyed this dual-POV set-up, especially because Wulfee and James’s journeys constantly mirrored each other, without it ever feeling forced. Whereas Wulfee is pure emotion and stubborn determination (giving Orka from John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn Saga a run for her money), James is much more quiet and erratic as he struggles to embrace his long repressed magical ability to commune with the spirits of the dead, while also simply longing to reunite with his dying girlfriend Maggie.

Before long, they both get pulled into an intricate web of politics, prophecies, conspiracies, enigmatic wizards, dangerous warlocks, amphibious monsters, mystifying magic, and bloody action, but I loved that the narrative never lost its intimate focus on the internal battles. Themes of loss, regret, trauma, morality, redemption, and the dangerously thin line between love and hate are explored beautifully through both of their journeys, be that in the present or through their harrowing flashback dream sequences.

And what’s more, Wulfee and James are both also surrounded by a dynamic cast of side characters, whose fates I became just as invested in as their own, for better or worse. I did think Maggie deserved a bit more fleshing out, as she plays such a big part in both Wulfee and James’ lives, but I did warm up to her later on. In contrast, the baby giant Gen who Wulfee has taken under her wing absolutely stole the show for me, and I was deeply touched by their unconventional mother/son dynamic.

Though as character-focused as the narrative is, the rich world building is absolutely the biggest strength of A Memory of Song. Ardura is a dark world with a complicated history steeped in lore and legends, and it is clear from the very first page how much time, effort, love, and wild imagination has gone into the creation of this world. Diverse races and cultures, breathtaking yet haunting landscapes, supernatural powers and creatures, and a mystifying song-based magic system that filled me with both wonder and terror; A Memory of Song just kept surprising me with each turn of the page.

That said, the awe-inspiring yet dense world building contradictorily also ended up being the biggest hurdle for my personal enjoyment. Even with an extensive glossary, I had a hard time finding my footing in the first half of the novel, as I simply could not keep track of all the history, factions, allegiances, rivalries, and in-world concepts that were thrown my way.

But thankfully, my trust in Palmer paid off in spades, because that initial sense of overwhelm and bewilderment completely vanished in the second half of the novel, which I devoured in one sitting. Palmer went down some surprisingly dark paths with these broken and flawed characters, and I really appreciated that he didn’t shy away from exploring both the depravity of humanity as well as the darker realms of the human mind through their journeys. There were multiple times where I was gasping out loud with horror and emotional anguish over some exceptionally gut wrenching, but that is exactly what makes A Memory of Song such an impactful and memorable (pun intended) reading experience.

While this promising first instalment in the Last Ballad series largely has a satisfying self-contained arc, the shocking final lines have left me desperate for the sequel in the best way possible. Fans of John Gwynne, Anthony Ryan, and Ryan Cahill will find much to love in this character-driven epic fantasy, but just be warned: bring the tissues!

Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. A Memory of Song is scheduled for release on 29 May, 2024.

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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