Publisher: Titan Books Ltd, June 7th 2016
Edition: UK Paperback, 407 pages
Synopsis: Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
This Savage Song is the first novel in V. E. Schwab’s new urban fantasy series – Monsters of Verity – and it is a brilliant beginning. I went into this book expecting brilliance, after all, the hype train must have been fueled by something. V. E. Schwab is also the author of the Darker Shade of Magic series, one which I hope to begin quite soon. I do not typically read urban fantasy, however, I definitely want to read some more novels from this genre now that I have read this.
First off, I want to begin by stating: the bulk of this narrative is road-trip-esk. It isn’t a road trip, but it has the same feel due to the characters bouncing around the map for the most part. However, it works well within the narrative, while also allowing you to see more of the setting and understand how their world contrasts with ours. Plus, this structure also plays as a platform for August/Kate relationship building.
Additionally, this novel primarily focuses on the location of Verity, of the series title. However, throughout the novel, we read small droplets of information about the state of the world around Verity, focusing on the United States of the novel’s reality. There is a clear reference to a much wider universe and alternate history, which I cannot wait to dive into during the following books. I eagerly await an explanation for the monster’s existence and to learn more about when their history separates from ours.
One issue I found, is the amount of time spent in the equilibrium stage of the narrative. Although, this was necessary as Schwab used the bulk of the equilibrium narrative develop the world and present the possible conflicts, it made the narrative feel ever so slightly off-balance. Plus, due to the way the structure was framed, the ‘final showdown’ was slightly rushed. However, I suspect this is due to the increase in action that is set to come with the sequel. Furthermore, the revelations, although expected, were effective and exciting.
The ending was exceptionally satisfying as certain characters learnt about karma and what a bitch she is. Scwab expertly created a sense of relief following the climax and final act, while also emitting a subtle tone of dread as you could feel how this novel was only the beginning, and how August and Kate’s lives are about to get a whole lot crazier.
Secondly, authors often struggle to create a balance between the character of the setting and the characters themselves. One often outshines the other, sometimes the protagonists take centre stage, using the setting merely as a backdrop; while, in some novels, the setting is its own character. Although, no author can perfectly master the balance, Schwab comes pretty close.
Verity City feels alive. This may be due to the shadows, morphing into literal monsters at the mere presence of violence. Or maybe, this is due to Schwab’s descriptive nature. She manages to capture the perfect details for you to build upon. Her descriptions are not vague to the extent that you cannot picture anything, nor are they too detailed. They demonstrate a good balance of conveying the settings within the world, while also leaving room for the imagination.
Thirdly, August and Kate are the main protagonists of this series. Kate is a Harker, August is a Flynn, and they are both children to leaders on opposing sides of the war for Verity. Kate wishes to be a ruthless leader like her Father, while August wishes to be normal, human, not a soul stealing Sunai.
Throughout, the main protagonists develop away from their dreams, accepting the realities and come together to fix a larger issue – the beginning of a new war in their City. You witness as these characters come to fight together and grow together. And, due to the amount of development time spent with these two, you connect with them, hoping they survive and achieve. Additionally, one thing I mentioned on Twitter when I completed this book is that, there is no romance between August and Kate. Hallelujah! What a refreshing thing to see. A romance would not be necessary to the narrative, nor would it be suitable for the characters. August struggles to feel human, because he isn’t human, and a romance with Kate would not change that. I am quite tired of seeing unnecessary bouts of romance in novels.
Moreover, due to August’s constant struggle and attempt at being human, you are constantly waiting for him to lose control of himself and erase his tally marks by accepting his true nature and acting as a Sunai does. This waiting keeps you hooked as it could happen at any moment within the novel.
Unfortunately, one issue I have with the cast, is the lack of diversity. Everyone is white. This novel is set in an alternate version of the United States, there should still be POC there… Schwab recently mentioned on Twitter that it is an author’s decision to include a diverse cast, and there is ‘nothing wrong’ with not doing so. However, diversity is a necessity in young adult fiction as you can have the most amazing story, but if the majority of people cannot find at least one character to connect or relate to, then that will hinder reader’s enjoyment and rating of your book. I have quite a few thoughts on this issue, however I will save them for a discussion post in the future.
Fourthly, as mentioned above, urban fantasy is not a genre I typically read. In fact, I don’t think I have ever read anything quite like this novel. Schwab demonstrates a unique idea, with developed characters, in a living, breathing city and does not hold back on the gory details.
Overall, This Savage Song achieved 4/5 stars. There are certainly areas of improvement, an increase in diversity would not do any harm and a more balanced narrative structure would be nice. However, this novel was an overall great read. Schwab managed to present an alternate reality, with compelling characters, and an engaging plot. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to get into urban fantasy.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? Leave a comment down below!