I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Series: The Monsters of Verity #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5 2016
Genres: Young adult, Fantasy
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The nitty-gritty: Another unique world from Schwab, a touch of Shakespeare, and a fast-paced story that flew by much too fast.
Humans were too fragile for this fight, but the Sunai were too few to do it alone, and even if three could wage a war on thousands, the Malchai and Corsai weren’t foolish enough to get close, opting instead for prey they could catch, and kill. And so the Sunai focused on hunting sinners in order to stem the flow of violence, and the slaying of the monsters fell to the humans, and the humans, invariable, fell to them. It was a cycle of whimpers and bangs, gruesome beginnings and bloody ends.
So far I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Victoria Schwab (Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic, The Archived) and so I was very excited to start her new YA duology, The Monsters of Verity. And I was thrilled to find the same magical world-building and earnest writing that I’ve come to love about her books. This Savage Song has a unique idea that immediately sparked my imagination: in a future America, monsters are “born” from acts of violence. Imagine the emotional energy from an act of murder creating a creature out of the shadows. And then imagine what type of monster would be conjured from something really horrible like a bombing or mass suicide. In Schwab’s world, the characters don’t have to imagine. They are living in the midst of a world where three types of monsters roam free: the Malchai, who drink blood, the Corsai, who tear people apart with teeth and claws, and most dangerous of all, the Sunai, who absorb people’s souls by first mesmerizing them with music.
The story has a definite Romeo & Juliet feel to it, with two feuding families controlling different parts of Verity City. Kate Harker is the daughter of Callum Harker, a ruthless man who rules over North City. He’s convinced the Malchai and Corsai to work for him, and people can pay Harker for their safety and protection. On the other side of the Seam, an invisible line that divides Verity, is South City, where Henry Flynn and his FTF (Flynn Task Force) are on the front lines, battling the monsters. Flynn has a secret weapon, though. He controls—or rather, he’s accepted into his family—the only three Sunai in existence: Leo Flynn, the eldest “brother” and the most dangerous; Ilsa, the “sister” who is mostly mad and was responsible for creating the Barren, a swath of burned land where hundreds were killed; and the youngest, August, who wants nothing more than to be human.
Twelve years ago, an event now called the Phenomenon occurred, and the monsters came into existence. After six years of bloodshed, the Harkers and the Flynns agreed upon a truce, with each group staying on their side of the city and protecting their citizens. But that truce is a shaky one, and any small act of aggression could easily end it.
Just like Romeo and Juliet, August and Kate are destined to meet. Kate, who has just been kicked out of yet another boarding school—in an attempt to get her father’s attention—has finally been allowed to come home to V-City (as it’s called), where she plans to show her father that she can be just as cruel and ruthless as he is. Meanwhile, August has convinced Henry to let him “help” the cause, but Henry’s idea of helping is for August to enroll in Colton Academy and keep tabs on Callum Harker’s daughter, who is also attending the school. Kate and August do meet and form a tentative friendship, but Kate is immediately suspicious of August and knows something is up with him, she just doesn’t know what—yet. But after Kate is nearly killed in an attack by a gang of Malchai, August rescues her, knowing that in order to save her, he must reveal his true nature.
Uneasy allies, August and Kate are now on the run from a plot to end the truce and start a war between monsters and humans.
August was definitely my favorite character, although I really liked Kate as well. August is a monster who looks human and only wants to be normal, to fight Malchai and Corsai with the rest of the FTF, but his father is so protective—remember, he’s only one of three Sunai in existence. He’s a peace-loving teen who doesn’t want to hurt anyone, really. But he can only go so long without eating before he starts to get really dangerous, and so his other side must make an appearance if he’s to stay sane.
Kate’s relationship with her father was great: she’s willing to kill for him if it will make him love her, but deep down she knows what he’s doing is wrong. I really loved the fact that there isn’t a romance between Kate and August (at least not in this book). We’ll see what happens in the next book, but for now I’m satisfied with their unusual friendship.
Schwab has created an intricate world with lots of rules, and as wonderfully creative as it is, here’s where the story falters a bit for me. Blame it on being an adult reading YA if you want to, but I do tend to scrutinize fantasy world-building. I think anyone who has been a book review blogger for as long as I have will sympathize and agree that it’s nearly impossible to read for pure entertainment’s sake. No matter how caught up in a story I get, my inner critic is still paying attention and weighing in whenever something doesn’t make sense.
Such was the case with This Savage Song. I had so many questions after finishing the book, and not the sort of “ooh what’s going to happen in the next book” questions, but rather questions about elements of the world that just didn’t make sense. Why are there only three Sunai? Why does August play the violin in order to “feed” but Ilsa sings? The violin was a seriously cool part of August’s characterization, but in the end it just didn’t make sense. August came into being already knowing how to play the violin? But he can’t really play because every time he does, people die? And the weirdest thing to me, Colton Academy conveniently has sound-proof practice rooms where August can play without killing anyone? In the end, the violin ended up being more of a prop than a necessary part of the story.
My other issue with the story is that I had some trouble picturing exactly what the monsters looked like, which is weird since this story is about monsters. Schwab tends to describe them in broad brushstrokes, as having “teeth and claws” and being made of “shadows.” But as poetic as her writing is, those descriptions didn’t quite satisfy my need for a clear visual. (There is one exception, late in the story, when August “goes dark” and his monstrous side comes out. But even this didn’t quite do it for me.) I also noticed that lots of the violent action, where presumably the monsters and humans are attacking each other, takes place off the page, and we only hear about it after the fact. There’s blood aplenty flowing through these pages, and yet I felt detached from most of the horror. Because of this, I was never really scared of the monsters, and I wanted to be.
But the truth is I gobbled up this book in only a couple of days (and hey, that’s fast for me!). The first half of the book is a careful set-up for the second half, when the story takes off like a rocket. Schwab’s deliciously tragic Shakespearean ending was perfect, and thank god, there’s no cliffhanger to worry about. Small quibbles aside, I can’t wait to read book two, because I do love this world, and I want to know more.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.