Review: This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab

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5 out of 5 savage stars

This was amazing. I’ve done a lot of rereading and some finishing of series lately, and there have been several that have underperformed, but this one just blew the doors off the barn. This is such a unique and original idea, and I’ve never read anything like it before. I also don’t know how I’m going to review this without spoiling it.

In case you don’t know, this is about a city of monsters. There are two main characters on opposite sides of the city, divided by ideology. Kate Harker wants to show her father how brutal and ruthless she can be, in hopes of gaining his acceptance. He has taken control of all the monsters in his territory and makes people pay for his protection. The other main character is August, a monster, who lives on the other side of the city, where monsters are hunted down and killed. But August is a very special kind of monster – one who doesn’t want to be one at all.

In this world, the evil deeds of humans create actual monsters. Call it sin, call it altering the fabric of the universe by doing wrong deeds, those things become real and find a life of their own. There is so much about this I don’t want to spoil for anyone.  I hate it when people say that – I often find it’s a gimmick by authors who think their work is some kind of masterpiece, or just so damn clever when really you can’t even know the nature of the story or it will give away the “twist”. Or the publishing house wants to drum up buzz. But trust me, there’s no twist. There’s no gimmick. This is just such an amazing story to discover, and Schwab slowly unravels it for you like this amazing tapestry.

I had so many questions. The blurb mentions that August is part of a family. So how does a family have a monster? Or a monster have a family? Are the monsters human? Are humans turned into monsters? Well. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I think those questions are the backbone of the story. What, who is a monster?

There isn’t a love story in this. Everyone says it’s about a friendship, but the way the story is laid down, it’s not like there is an instant bond between the two main characters, so it’s more like they are two people thrown into a situation. That’s what I loved about it. Typical “quest” stories set our story in motion right away (unless you’re Tolkien and you take decades to get your hobbits out the front door). You know how it goes. Meet character A. Meet character B. They bump up against each other, a little banter, inciting incident, usually at the crux of the relationship, and bam boom bang, we’re off to solve a mystery, grab the last piece of the puzzle, or we gotta go do …. something! That’s not how this goes down. First of all, Kate Harker isn’t in the habit of making friends. Friends are weakness. Weaknesses can be exploited. She knows. Her mother was one. Her father is the warlord in charge of the Northern part of the city (I mean, he doesn’t call himself that, but when the ‘phenomenon’ happened, he moved in and took over. He found a way to grab control of the monsters and the city.) He lets them roam free. He turns away from the things people do that add to the problem… well, the things people who have paid him for safety, do.

In the South is the old guard. The Flynn family was in charge of the city before the phenomenon that started the rise of the monsters, but Henry Flynne’s entire family was killed. He was the only one left and he wasn’t a politician, he’s a surgeon, a man of science. He wants to destroy the monsters and rule with law and order. He and Harker went to war, and it was a secret weapon, a terrible cataclysm that ended the war and brought about a truce, one that is beginning to crumble. August doesn’t know what that weapon is. There’s a lot that he doesn’t know about his family history.

Instead of the usual quest beginning, we meet both sides. We live in their different parts of the city. We are introduced to the world and the way it works gently, always with little hooks, hints, suggestions to character history and development. There are painful things in both August and Kate’s past. There is so much they don’t know. There’s danger all around – remember, they live in a city populated by monsters. And humans who create monsters. When the inciting incident happens, it’s a result of the world and what is going on – it’s the adults problems that starts things going, and the two characters are thrust into action together.

Where this book does a fail is in the diversity quotient. It’s all white people. Or at least, it could be. There’s not much mention of skin color, but let’s not kid ourselves. That shouldn’t be an out. There aren’t many romantic relationships, but I do not remember any LGBTQ references. I know V.E. Schwab has been questioned about this, and been taken to task over it. I hope she does better in the future – I will always make note of the diversity of the books I read. I always try to have at least 2 diverse reads every month. But I still have a lot of her books on my shelves, and frankly,  I really want to read them. I’ve also read Vicious, which was freaking amazing. I hope she improves…. if she doesn’t, she will have to move farther down my list of writers that I will read.

I loved this so much. The ending was genius, and also different from your typical quest storyline. I thought this was an amazing mix of dystopia genre and the fantasy quest. The world had a gritty reality that’s missing in so many YA dystopia, and somehow, it managed to be beautiful and even… lyrical. I thought about waiting to read this until the next part of the series comes out, but I’m so glad I didn’t. I will gladly give this a reread when the 2nd ones comes out.

 

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