Boyfriend Book Reviews is a feature where my book-loving boyfriend, Max, reads and reviews YA that I either haven’t yet read or is outside of my current TBR. If you want a thorough and thoughtful perspective on a guy’s take on YA, keep reading!
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity, #1) by Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: City of Ghosts (Cassidy Blake, #1)
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th 2016
Pages: 427 •Goodreads
There’s no such thing as safe.
Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.
August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.
Their city is divided.
Their city is crumbling.
Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.
But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?
“ ‘And you?’ asked Kate, “Your brother is righteous, your sister is scattered. What does that make you?’ When August answered the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. ‘Lost.’ He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. ‘I’m what happens when a kid is so afraid of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently.’” –Schwab 308.
When I picked this book up I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard a lot about the author. The hype cloud was real. So I tucked in and I must say it did not disappoint. The writing is evocative, the action gripping. It kept me turning the pages from cover to cover, as all good books should.
The premise is pretty simple: the world’s gone to hell and is filled with literal monsters. For one reason or another after the world ended some regular way (nuclear war, etc.) monsters appeared. There’s three basic types, Shadow Demons (Corsai), We Swear We’re Not Vampires Guys! (Malachi), and Music Boxes+Lilin Demons=Bad News bears (Sunai).
Showing that of course Humans are the truest monsters of all, there has been a long civil war in the city of Verity (somewhere around where Virginia used to be if I remember correctly). On the North Side, a Machiavellian thug has taken control using the very beasts that ravage the city and the countryside. He, of course, rules with an iron fist and the people “under his protection” are the rich pieces of garbage who somehow kept that resource through the apocalypse. They live in relative safety. The closer you get to the center of town the nicer things are. This is, of course, a veneer and illusion of security in an insecure world.
On the south side, only one set of monsters has sided with the downtrodden resistance movement led by the self-styled “security force.” The people here are poor, surviving off the meager scraps that are left of the old world. Food is rare, crime is rampant, and monster attacks are an almost daily occurrence. The leader of this side of the city is more a military commander than an autocrat. He and his family try to keep order but their influence is slipping, the unrest of the dangerous world they live in wearing the people thin.
From this mad world we find out two characters. Katherine “Kate” Harker is the daughter of the leader of the North side. The dynamic between them is the tried and true “Mobster dad, kid desperately wants to prove they’re a worthy successor.” Kate herself has an interesting inner conflict in which she attempts to show a strong front to the world but internally can’t really stomach much of what she has to do to become and knows she will have to do as the undisputed leader of monsters and the rich denizens of Verity on the north side.
August Flynn, is, for lack of a better word, a monster. He is a sunai, a kind of beast who use music to devour people’s “souls,” leaving them a hollowed husk with smoldering eye holes. The trick is they can only do it to people who have murdered another person unjustly. If you know Marvel’s Ghostrider, it’s kind of like his Penance Stare. August as a character is insecure and like the quote above suggests, lost. Not in the usual “I don’t know how to live in the post-apocalyptic wasteland” kind, but the teenage “WHO AM I?!” variety. Erikson would call it identity vs. role confusion, and boy howdy is August confused. The book is ambiguous about how old he actually is, but it is implied that he is maybe 3 years old in regular years. In any case, he looks like a normal 16 year old and 99% of the time he acts like one. For the plot’s sake he also acts like one. He just happens to play a violin that lets him eat people’s life essence.
The central theme of the book seems to be humanity vs. monstrosity. On the back you read that Kate wants to be ruthless and August wants to be normal. In many ways this is true. The best parts of the story are the kind of dialectic Kate and August have going on. They are thesis and antithesis. Kate, the regular girl who wants to prove she is a beast, and the monster who wants to be a real boy. Do they eventually come together to form a synthesis? Well, kind of. They end up learning not only about each other but that perhaps being the thing they want is not only not that possible, but not that great. And it is done in a very competent way that feels as if the characters really learned new things and grew. If you’ve read my other reviews, you’ll know I love the arcs. This one has two. And both are excellently done.
As for the writing itself it is very, very competently done. Schwab’s writing style is what I would call minimalist, but the pieces she leaves you with allow you to paint a vivid picture with your mind’s eye. My complaints with the work are pretty mild. There is a sequence near the end where August and Kate leave the city which really drags and gets a little hard to believe. (It feels like a kind of homage to the Godric’s Hollow sequence in Harry Potter… but not in a good way if that makes sense). The two characters are very interesting but the events that befall them are not exactly original. It turns out at the end of the day that the people who look like monsters usually are and the people you think are moral at the beginning pretty much are at the end.
The “twist” isn’t really a twist at all if you’re paying attention and I feel as if Schwab tipped her hand too early in the plot. When she finally shows at the end of the proverbial match of poker, you’re left sitting there with a better hand but not the thrill and excitement of not knowing what the outcome would be. August also did the protagonist thing that I hate, where he fights his nature to a degree that puts other people in danger. I know that he had to in order for the ending to work and that it “made sense” that he would do what he did in the context of his character, but if you became what the plot hints is basically a bomb if you starved yourself long enough, would YOU really STOP EATING?!
That is all.
In conclusion, I quite enjoyed this book. Its pace was good, its characters interesting, and its plot engaging. There’s even some rather biting social commentary thrown in. (Force is the last law of the land, money won’t protect you, some stuff about mass murders, etc.) I complained about unoriginality but not everything needs to be a “new idea.” When things that are tried and true are done this competently it’s hard to complain, but listening to me complain is why you’re still reading this. (I assume)
Overall: If you like the author, you will likely love this book. If you’re a newbie like me, you will likely love this book. If you don’t, it must just not be your thing. (Or you’re a weirdo).
About the Reviewer
Max is a twenty-something recent psychology grad, avid gamer, and self-proclaimed Hufflepuff. He and Cristina met in high school, where they bonded over a mutual love of food, Harry Potter, and Disney. When he’s not dutifully attending book events with his book blogger girlfriend, he can be found gaming, reading fantasy & sci-fi, and becoming overly invested in Food Network shows with Cristina.