Series: Monsters of Verity, #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th 2016
Genres: Dystopian, Paranormal, Young Adult
There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
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.
If you know anything about my reading tastes you know I love Victoria Schwab. I have now read five of her books and have loved all of them with the exception of This Savage Song. Considering it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2016, I can clearly say: I am disappointed.
As is usual with Victoria Schwab, the story concept is magnificent. A dystopian world in which monsters are bred by acts of human violence. How great is that? And then we also have the musical element and the promise of no romance. Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But with this book something happened that I’ve experienced countless times with other authors, but never with Schwab. The book doesn’t deliver on its promise.
Schwab has a skill of taking worn-out concepts and making them great again through her flawless execution. We have the idea of ghosts and the after-world which gave us The Archived. The idea of parallel worlds that gave us the Shades of London series. X-Men and superpowers equals Vicious. But in all these cases, the books are better than their premise, Schwab makes it fresh. Not so with This Savage Song.
But before I get into all the reasons why I didn’t like the book, let’s first take a look at what I did enjoy. As I mentioned, the concept is great and even if the rest disappointed me, I’m glad I read it just to experience such a cool idea. There is also no denying that Victoria Schwab books are incredibly cinematic. We can see the story evolve in front of our eyes, follow the action-scenes meticulously. Her books are entertaining, the short chapters that always end in cliffhangers make you want to read on. It’s fast-paced and action-packed. And then there is the fact that the story contains no romance, which really is refreshing. The lack of romance definitely made me appreciate the characters more and put increased focus on what was actually happening in the story.
Unfortunately, this is already where my praise ends. I know, trust me, nobody is more saddened than me.
Firstly, there is the execution of the concept and the world-building. It just didn’t do it for me. Honestly, the world was so generic. It felt like any other dystopian novel, with no explanation as to how the world became what it is now. The idea of the monsters was unique but…if you were to exchange the word “monster” with “vampire”, would you really get something very different from another story? Don’t get me wrong, TSS is better than your average paranormal dystopian, but it also isn’t that special. In terms of development the book lacked. The information you start out with is pretty much what you get throughout the entirety of the novel. Questions that have you confused in the beginning will still confuse you at the end. How does Callum Harker bend monsters to his will? Why can some Sunai only use one musical instrument while others can use multiple? Why do those metal disks around people’s necks protect them? Why do monsters have a problem with metal? And why don’t the Sunai? The list goes on.
Also, Schwab violated her own world’s rules. We’re told that Sunai can steal souls through music, so why can they suddenly do it with just their hands as well? Because it suits them? Music turned out to be superfluous to the story so why bother with it in the first place? If you ask me, Sunai seemed more like gods than monsters. And same thing with the “going dark”: View Spoiler »Going dark is supposedly something the Sunai can’t control, so why can August suddenly do it!? Can we get an explanation for this please? « Hide Spoiler
The characters were underwhelming. I found both the main and secondary characters to be quite flat and rather dull. Kate was kickbutt and I liked the fact that she kept calm in difficult situations and had her priorities straight. She wasn’t fooled into making stupid decisions. And yet, I couldn’t connect to her. I didn’t like the fact that she was a bully and there were no consequences. Her past doesn’t justify her actions. She really didn’t move away from that initial stereotype. Also, she reminded me way too much of Lila Bard, though without Lila’s wit and spark.
August was so boring. I couldn’t care less about him. His only defining trait is that he’s a monster that doesn’t want to be. That’s it. The rest of him is weirdly inconsistent, sometimes he’s a goodie-two-shoes, other times he’s the aloof, brooding type. Most disappointing of all, he isn’t morally ambiguous. He’s just plain good (which is fine, but not what the book was supposed to deliver).
Also, just because there is no romance between two characters, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be any chemistry. Friendships need chemistry too! But this book was completely devoid of it and it made care about the two protagonists even less. And there really isn’t any character development to speak of.
The secondary characters were simply tools to move the story along and never became fully fleshed-out. Both of August’s siblings were wasted potential in my opinion.
In terms of plot, I was left wanting. It took me a long time to get into the book and once I was in (around the 200-page mark) I still didn’t feel fully immersed. I was bored a lot of the time. The story was also predictable for the most part and the ending anti-climactic. I missed any discussion on the dualism of human nature, which I was so certain I was going to get considering Vicious and the fact that the book starts with a freaking Victor Vale quote. But the lines between heroes and villains weren’t blurred, the characters weren’t morally grey. True, we have both monsters and humans that take good and evil actions but it never went beyond that. And what about situations that aren’t clear-cut? What if a human kills another person to save someone he/she loves? What if someone steals medicine to save another human life? What about killing in self-defence? There was no commentary on that!
The writing style was good since it is Victoria Schwab, however, you could tell it was written for a younger audience. The writing was less complex than in her other books (I can’t remember how it was in The Archived) and felt a bit repetitive at times. Some of the dramatic moments felt overblown. Still, it flowed nicely and was quick to read.
Lastly, one little comment (I didn’t take off a star for this or anything but it still bothered me). There is a scene where a school counsellor meets a student ONE time, decides she needs medication against anxiety, opens a drawer and just gives the student pills. Like, what? In what world are school counsellors allowed to do that without medical examination? I wasn’t very happy with that particular depiction of mental illness (though I appreciate the thought).
You may feel that reading this review, the book should really get less than 3 stars from me. And maybe you’re right, but I want to give it the benefit of the doubt, knowing that I went into it with high expectations. It’s really still a pretty good book and I would recommend it to people, it just wasn’t what I’m used to from this author.
P.S. In case you’re worried, I am still a devoted Schwablin and look forward to whatever I get to read from her next.