YA Weekend: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Monsters of Verity
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (July 5, 2016)
Length: 427 pages
Having read Vicious and the books in the Shades of Magic series (under V.E. Schwab) I’m not a stranger to the writings of Victoria Schwab, though this is admittedly the first time I’ve tried her Young Adult. I was really excited to dive into This Savage Song, and delighted to discover that it was just as unique and engaging as her adult fantasy novels.
The story follows the lives of two teenagers who cannot be any more different. Kate Harker and August Flynn are both the children to the rulers of their respective parts of the city, but being an heir to power is just about the only thing they have in common. Kate is the daughter of Callum Harker, the man who runs the north side of Verity City, while August is the third adopted child of Henry Flynn, who runs the south. Kate is a troubled young woman, desperate to prove to her father that she is a Harker, strong enough to live up to the family name. On the other hand, August isn’t even human. He and his two siblings are monsters known as Sunai, the only three in existence among a sea of other monsters such as Malchai and Corsai.
Outwardly, August appears human, able to hide in plain sight, but inside, he craves to be more than that. Every day he lives with the fear that he will lose control and hurt someone again, when all he wants is to be a good person, like his father, who took August in when he was just a boy and raised him as his own. Henry Flynn is a moral man who could not abide the conditions of the north, where Callum Harker lets the monsters roam free and only grants protection to the human who are able to pay for it. Determined to protect all innocents, Flynn took to the south instead and arranged a truce with his North City counterpart, which was somewhat successful in quelling the unrest. However, that truce is about to break down. When it is discovered that Kate Harker has been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and has now returned home to attend school locally, August jumps at the chance to help his family by gathering information about her. Together, the Flynns hatch up a plan for August to go undercover as a student in order to gain access to the daughter of their enemy.
By far, the most impressive thing about This Savage Song is the world-building. Not surprisingly, it can be a little confusing at first, as Schwab dispenses the information in bits and pieces as the plot unravels, so that the more you read the more you’ll learn about life in the surprisingly rich and complex world of Verity. The most fun part of this gradual revealing process was discovering the different kinds of monsters. We have no idea what the Malchai, Corsai, or Sunai are at the beginning of this story, but the details slowly work their way to us via creative means, such as through overheard songs and nursery rhymes sung by children on the train, for instance. Every time I read one of the author’s books, I’m always amazed at her ability to weave in so much about the world into without resorting to overt info dumping.
I also liked the fresh twist on the forbidden friendship trope. Surprised I didn’t say romance? Not every YA novel starring a male and a female protagonist has to end up with the two of them getting together, and I thank Schwab for not going down that route since the relationship between August and Kate is so much more compelling as it is now. The bond between them comes from a deeper place, forged from a shared desire to vanquish their inner demons, even if they do face very different challenges. August wishes he wasn’t a monster, and tries hard to suppress that part of himself, while Kate surrounds herself in a cold, unforgiving shell in the hopes that her father will finally accept her. Both characters battle with their identity, but finding peace won’t be easy.
Perhaps my only criticism with this book is Kate. Thankfully, August made up for a lot of my dissatisfaction over her character. I tried, but I never did manage to warm up to Kate, even after all the progress made by her character at the end of the book. Strangely, I felt similarly turned off by Lila in A Darker Shade of Magic, and I have to wonder if this is just a weakness whenever Schwab tries to write “badass” female characters. Instead they come off as really desperate and arrogant, as demonstrated by Kate’s approach of using aggression to overcompensate for her shortcomings.
Aside from that though, I really enjoy Schwab’s writing and the way she spins a tale. I had a feeling This Savage Song would be as entertaining and original as her other books I’ve read, and I was happy to be correct. I liked what I saw here, and I look forward to more from this series.