Blog Essay: ‘Down Comes The Night’ and examining Gothic Literature

When one considers the term ‘Gothic Literature,’ notably specific images come to mind: abandoned castles or manors, crumbling architecture, flickering candlelight, and an eerily quiet, almost chilling atmosphere. In this essay, I set out to examine the gothic elements that Allison Saft’s Young Adult debut Down Comes The Night (2020) utilizes, that present it as a truly classic gothic tale.

An essential ingredient for any piece of gothic literature is setting. The locale is crucial because it is through the descriptive language, minute details and history that we see it slowly become almost its own character within the story. For DCTN, that is undoubtedly the secluded estate of Colwick Hall, where our heroine Wren Southerland travels to in order to heal a servant according to its eccentric owner, Alistair Lowry.

Saft’s novel takes place in a world where there are countries with long-standing histories, a centuries-long war leaving two magical countries (Danu and Vesria) reeling with unresolved conflict. In addition, an isolated territory known as Cernos, which possesses no magic so in this case, it has largely kept to itself. Using a medical science-based magic system, Saft’s choice of words from the description of the magical vein where the protagonist connects with her magic or the anatomy terminology describing bone, blood, tissue, etc. is used to further provide a particular ambience. In addition to the reliance on what can be presumed to align with the Victorian era plus 19th Century technology, there’s a blend of the macabre and magical that brings ‘Down Comes The Night’ to life.

Gothic literature also uses setting to establish a divide or isolation for the protagonist, making the reader feel a sense of unease, or even a fear at the uncertainty. 

Wren could make out the enormity of the hall, it’s startling emptiness…Everything outside the candelabra’s unsteady reach swam indistinctly, as if the house breathed and stirred the shadows like wind over still water…

(Ch. 8, 120)

Aligned with the setting is the atmosphere, and in this case Saft presents a deeply rooted winter backdrop seen through the various locations that Wren travels to throughout the novel from the abbey where all healers are trained, her journey to Colwick to even the estate itself. 

Weather, in this case the established winter season present throughout the novel, is a facet of atmosphere which provides another layer in which to explore even more vital elements of Gothic literature. Across the various locales, the mood of this story is made clear through character, setting, and a more obvious way to showcase the inner or undisclosed feelings of the cast.

Examples of this are heavily implied and stated throughout the text by associating the winter climate with words such as “cold,” “frost,” “chill,” among others. By using these types of descriptors Saft has not only directly presented the reader with an ambience of which to perceive this story, but it also serves as a function in which readers “decode the inner landscape of the protagonists…” according to Marquette Library’s Glossary Of The Gothic entry which provides a definition for the element of weather in this type of story.

Snow-smothered fields sprawled for miles…The wind whistled through the abbey’s towers. Cold bit through her cloak…if she stayed still too long, she feared she’d go brittle and crack…

(Ch. 6, 96)

Next, another important element of this sub-genre is emotion. Saft explores this overtly and rather brilliantly through the protagonist and heroine, Wren Southerland, healer in the Queen’s guard of Danu. Driving her decisions at every turn, whether it’s for the unresolved feelings she has for her commanding officer and best friend Una, the sense of duty she feels to seek out her missing comrade, the deep, complicated emotions she feels for the sworn enemy of her kingdom Hal Cavendish, even the opening scene where she can’t stand idly by while seeing a prisoner injured in the snow, the exploration of this is essential to her makeup and gives the novel in my opinion, a unique twist.

Throughout the plot, Wren is penalized and often seen as “foolish” for relying heavily on her emotions and empathy in response to situations she finds herself in. However, Saft never paints this a weakness for the heroine, but a strength she learns to accept about herself despite what she’s been taught.

Could that be true? After everything she’d endured because of her emotions, after everything Isabel and Una had told her, could she really believe that?

Yes, some buried part of her said. Isn’t that what makes us strong?

(Ch. 28, 430)

A more obvious example of this is when Wren, over the course of the story, learns to confide in Hal and their romance is a symbol for the “hope” of bringing peace to their lands. Wren learns to overcome her uneasiness around him as the ‘Reaper Of Vesria’ through compassion, empathy, and understanding. 

Even before the start of the novel, it’s clear Saft intentionally meant for this element of Wren’s character to be a monumental piece of her identity and for like-minded readers to admire going in at the start of the dedication: “For all the girls who feel too much.”

In perhaps a more subversive or allegorical way of presenting us with this component of a Gothic novel, Saft allows our heroine to clearly and genuinely wear her emotions on her sleeve.


Notes 📝🖊
1. Page numbers when referencing the text, corelate to a digital ebook, which may not reflect the accurate page numbers in a physical copy

What did you think about this literary DCTN essay? Did you pick up on these elements while reading Saft’s novel that clearly presented it as Gothic? What do you enjoy the most about these kinds of novels?

In recent months I noticed that I’ve become more interested in deep-dives (like video essays) or literary analysis of media and fiction. I don’t often see posts like this about books and thought this would be great starting point for new kind of content on the blog introducing literary-type essays. There was quite a bit of research I did for this post and genuinely I had a fantastic time bringing it all together. I’m hoping to deliver more posts like this about YA Books and would love your feedback on this first one! Thank you for reading! 📚💖

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft Review

Down Comes The Night by Allison Saft

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Pages: 388

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist (Jacket Design): Olga Grlic

Summary: 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.

My Rating: ★★★

My Thoughts: Down Comes The Night is an atmospheric gothic YA debut that melds fantasy with a bit of horror and suspense! Through an intriguing world, science-based magic system, including an intriguing romance at its center, Saft delivers a solid standalone filled with twists, mystery, and an immersive world that comes to life!

While I’m not one to often gush about anticipated releases on the blog, DCTN was absolutely one of them! I luckily got an ARC early in the year and was captivated by the setting. The aesthetics of this novel build such a distinct atmosphere, world, and I just had to learn more about this intriguing cast of characters.

Wren Southerland is a healer of the Queen’s guard and from the very beginning of the story it’s made clear that her strength lies in her emotional, empathetic nature, which makes her journey as a protagonist not only relatable to me, but also quite interesting. She’s not on the best terms with her aunt, Queen Isabel and is on very thin ice after letting a possible suspect go early on in the novel, which could have been a clue to the whereabouts of her missing friend Jacob Byers.

After her dismissal, she receives a mysterious letter from a noble by the name of Alistair Lowry who’s in need of her skills to heal an ill servant of his. In exchange, he’ll offer Wren assistance in brokering peace between the warring kingdoms of Danu and Vesria, while also restoring her reputation. What Wren isn’t expecting is the servant “Henry” to be none other than, Hal Cavendish, “Reaper Of Vesria” and her kingdom’s sworn enemy.

As she stays in the eerie Colwick Hall to complete her work, she learns along the way that Hal is not all he appears to be and there’s something sinister about the desolate mansion. They are both eager to find comrades who’ve gone missing and perhaps together, they can find answers?

The worldbuilding has a unique set-up which is established in such a way where the setting feels lived in, expansive, and left me wanting to know more. Danu and Vesria are countries that rely heavily on magic, compared to the neutral region of Cernos which relies more heavily on technology-based innovations. There’s a clear dichotomy Saft explored through the magic system and politics, which add yet another interesting layer to the world. With a science-based magic system, the introduction to the fola, or the special vein that allows people such as Wren to tap into their magical abilities, is an integral part of the world that’s explored through both Wren and Hal.

In a world with magic, I appreciated how Saft also delved into this distinction between countries that either rely heavily on magic or 19th century technology. Through a 3rd person perspective the writing creates an atmospheric, dark. ominous tone with an equally cozy ambience. The imagery and Saft’s writing style deliver the aesthetic so well. In addition, the medical terminology adds even more to the atmosphere of the story, especially as it’s reflective of Wren’s skill as a healer.

As Wren makes herself at home within Colwick for the time being, she learns that the Reaper isn’t all he appears to be. The dynamic and chemistry between these two was my FAVORITE, despite being from opposing sides they are left on even ground with the crumbling mansion and wintery atmosphere, isolating them. This leads them to uncover more about each other, realizing there’s a lot they never really knew about one another or their countries. Wren / Hal each have their own goals, ambitions, and motivations, that propel them to grow throughout the novel.

Each character comes to life on the page and they have their own distinct personalities giving you a clear sense as to who they are. Una is Wren’s commanding officer, but also her friend and former love, there’s so much history, story, etc. between them that despite spending quite some time apart, their relationship really stood out to me. However at times certain characters can feel a bit static (in my opinion I felt this way with Queen Isabel), especially when their motivations don’t feel too fleshed out…but as a whole this is pretty well-developed cast. Wren’s dynamics with the cast overall were given enough interactions to the point where I knew them and enjoyed their arcs: Una, the Queen, Lowry, Sister Heloise, etc.

Throughout the novel, Wren is led to believe her emotions are what make her weaker, she is driven by them at every turn. However, I appreciate how Saft built this as her own personal strength. I’d say I’m a pretty emotional and the way Saft explored this as a constant through Wren’s character, presenting it as a core spirit to her character was satisfying to read about, especially in fantasy. Wren’s character arc to me felt incredibly well developed and satisfying, she grows along the way, but also stays true to her self, especially when it comes to her emotions. Una is driven by her loyalty to the kingdom, but underneath you can also tell she still worries for Wren, despite the obstacles along the way.

Interestingly despite being pitched as an enemies-to-lovers romance, I felt the execution didn’t work. Both Wren and Hal are given preconceptions about one another, their countries, etc. to the point where once they actually meet in person, there’s more of a hesitancy to their conversations than any solid antagonistic feelings between them. They do have meaningful conversations, challenge one another, and find that their love inspires growth within them, so with that said, I personally felt the enemies-to-lovers element wasn’t the best descriptor here, in my opinion.

Additionally, together the politics, magic system, mystery, character arcs, worldbuilding, and more combine so incredibly well, however looking back on each element on its own separately, it felt like more detail or development could have made them a bit stronger.

Overall there’s lots of elements woven throughout this book that I enjoyed and perhaps at a later date I hope to dive into them a bit more.

Down Comes The Night is a promising gothic fantasy debut that’s immersive, atmospheric, and packed with many different layers sure to keep you intrigued! Saft’s YA Fantasy is perfect for those who love a good fantasy with romance, and are looking for a solid standalone!

I’m shouting out fellow book blogger Cossette from Tea Time Lit and her review of this intriguing debut! In the short time I’ve known Cossette, I can tell you she is passionate about this novel, from the lush writing to Wren’s fantastic character arc, all of it! She loved this world, its characters and her review constantly reminds me of the stand out elements that Saft has weaved together. If you have yet to read this and need a motivator to pick it up, READ Cossette’s post!