#WyrdandWonder Review: Book of Night by Holly Black
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Tor Books | Macmillan Audio (May 3, 2022)
Length: 320 pages | 12 hrs and 33 mins
Narrator (Audiobook): Sara Amini
Wow, a lot to unpack with this one! I wish I could say I loved Book of Night because I’m a big fan of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series, but somehow the magic in her YA simply did not translate as well to her first go at a fantasy novel for adults. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book, but not going to lie, there were times where it was a real struggle to keep my focus.
As the story opens, we meet our protagonist Charlie Hall, a former thief who specializes in stealing for and from gloamists, the term for individuals with magical abilities. In this world, shadows can come to life and be controlled by these magic users, who fuel this shadowy power with their own blood. Needless to say, it can be a nasty and cutthroat business, and there’s always treachery afoot with gloamists trying to get at each other’s secrets.
Enter Charlie, who used make a living being hired to acquire rare and magical documents prized by gloamists. Now though, all she wants is to turn over a new leaf and leave her dark past behind, but unfortunately, walking the honest path isn’t exactly paying the bills and when a lucrative job suddenly lands in her lap, she can hardly bring herself to say no. Before she knows it, Charlie is dragged back into her old life, trying to survive in the underworld of dangerous magic and shadow trading.
First, the good: Holly Black is a world-building expert, whether she is trying to put together a fae society in The Folk of the Air or, in this case, a world where shadows can quicken and manifest into being—which, by the way, is as creepy as it sounds. Gloamists with these magical shadows can cause them to shift and manipulate them to do their bidding, which could include killing or even possessing another person. Of course, there are magical defenses that gloamists can employ, but these will only stop other gloamists and magical attacks, and so that’s where non-magical people like Charlie come in.
Speaking of Charlie though, that’s where the novel’s self-assuredness begins to crumble. Our protagonist is a fascinating character, with a well-written and engaging background which made me want to keep reading. However, in the process of writing a badass and more mature character, Black had apparently neglected in giving her much of a personality. If that sounds harsh, it’s not meant to be; Charlie was interesting enough, but overall there was an underwhelming “flatness” to her I couldn’t shake. Put it another way, I didn’t find her to be a very memorable or inspiring.
Perhaps that’s why I had to struggle through certain parts of the story. The plot was serviceable, but not even the amazing world-building could elevate it much more beyond that. The middle section of the book dragged a little, which resulted in me taking longer than usual to finish. Things are steady, but there’s just no drive.
And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I love how lately so many well-known YA authors have been stepping out of their comfort zones and trying their hand at adult fantasy, but there’s clearly adjustments to be made—in tone, style, pacing, level of detail and depth…in pretty much everything.
Hate it say it, but Book of Night just wasn’t quite there. Yet. I am optimistic though, because it does show a lot of promise, and the ending strongly points to there being a sequel. Even with all the elements that could have been improved, I very much want to continue the series.
Bottom line, fans of Holly Black will probably find this to feel quite different. It’s not a “great” different, but at the same time, it’s not a bad kind of different either. If this is going to be a series, it’s going to need some time to grow and develop, but I have a feeling it’ll get there, and after that punch-in-the-face of an ending, I’m interested to see where things will go.