Schwab does it again ~ 4.5/5 stars.
The blurb: 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.
I’ve been a firm fan of Schwab’s writing since coming across Vicious last year. With This Savage Song, she’s come up with another brilliant and elegant concept: the monstrous consequences of violence become manifest as, well, monsters.
But, of course, a great concept soon runs out of steam if the reader doesn’t connect with the characters. Fortunately, I quickly became attached to the two main characters: August and Kate. August is initially more sympathetic, but only because Kate is a bit of a spiky character. Also, it’s beyond fabulous that there’s no romance between them. There’s an affinity and a sort of friendship, but that’s it. Actually, more than once I had the thought that the Twilight saga could have been this brilliant if the focus had been on the monsters instead of the romance.
This book is fantastic and if you enjoy YA fantasy then you should read it. Rather than continue this review by listing its many virtues, it’s probably easier to say why I haven’t given it a full 5 stars. Firstly because I found the final act less gripping than I wanted. I can’t even put my finger on why (sorry, I know that’s rubbish). Perhaps because this is the opener for a new series, so it has to leave quite a few threads dangling? Also, while many readers will probably enjoy all the running from the monsters, fighting the monsters, etc. my favourite parts of the book were when we get to see Kate and August chatting in relatively peaceful circumstances. There’s always something wonderful about two characters who apparently have little in common but who find they “fit” together, and it was nice to watch them during the earliest phase of their relationship before everything gets very complicated.
I think my other issue is with Kate’s primary motivation: her quest to gain her father’s approval. While this is written to be entirely understandable, I found it grating at times. In every other way she’s a strong, capable young woman, and I would have liked her to have put her daddy issues aside more quickly. But then it’s also essential to plot… so it’s just me being really picky again. And this is YA, so the characters can be forgiven for acting like teenagers because… well, because they’re teenagers.
Basically, I can attribute the 0.5 star deduction to what I’ve come to think of as “the Patrick Ness problem”: when a writer’s output is so reliably terrific, they become a victim of their own high standards.
Overall: all fans of YA fantasy should pick this up now. Seriously, go get it!
Claire Huston / Art and Soul