Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab 
Genre: fantasy
Series: Monsters of Verity #1
Pages: 464
Published: expected July 7 2016
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

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.

It is utterly perfect that This Savage Song opens with a a quote from Victor Vale, who was both a monster and a human and who would have fit right in on either side of Verity. Schwab's previous novel Vicious was a great first exploration into the the nature of man and monster and this new, unconnected to her previous work, YA novel is a new spin on that age-old theme. The vivid and twisted imagination that this clever author has come to be known for in her adult fantasy novels is once again on display, this time creating a violent and dark, interesting read.

Schwab is a great fan and reader of fantasy and it shows in her own writing and subsequent takes on the genre. She tends to go for sink-or-swim when it comes to this particular book's details and worldbuilding, and it took a bit for all the moving parts of This Savage Song to come together. There are a lot of new terms and rules to understand, a "Phenomenon" that changed everything but isn't directly explained, new countries and divided cities, and various "safe" zones defined in creative but not intuitive ways.  Schwab finds a way to gradually clue the reader in, but the first chapters can be confusing.

The monsters fashioned by Schwab in This Savage Song are dark and dangerous things. This book is hard enough to classify, pulling as it does from several genres in bits and pieces, but the creepy Malchai and the ravenous Corsai definitely bring the feel and element of a horror novel. The way a Sunai functions and use powers are similar enough to the other two types to feel related, but also provide a powerful foil for the more-populous monsters. It's a complicated setup and system, but the way the author reveals and builds leads to a sure grasp of how this new world works.

I have the admit that outside of some early confusion about Verity's division and the safe zones, the characters were what kept this novel from a full five-star rating for me. It could be that I am used to the ease with which Schwab defined Kell and Lila and Rhys from her adult fantasy novels, or just that the author intended both main characters of August and Kate to feel remote. Either way, they don't engender emotion, sympathy, or empathy. That doesn't mean I wasn't invested in the story. They're interesting people and they do interesting things and this is a bold world, but it's a very distant feel, no matter which characters perspective we share.

This Savage Song is the beginning of a new series and if prior experience is any indication, Schwab only gets better with sequels. Though not a perfect read for me, any time spent in a world of this author's imagination is unique and memorable. If you're only reading Schwabs YA or only her adult, you are limiting exposure to the sheer imagination and talent of this author. As a series launchpoint, This Savage Song was well-paced, quickly-moving and darkly inventive; above all, it's indicative of good things to come in the next addition to the series.

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