Book Review: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Goodreads Description: 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.
My Review: This review will contain some spoilers regarding the end of the book. There will be a warning before you reach the spoilers.
I'm sure that Victoria Schwab doesn't actually write. I'm sure that she sits in front of her computer and waves her hand, and with a magic only she can master, summons words and twines them into a visual tapestry. Her words literally have a possessive power, and once I crack a cover I can't stop until I've reached the last page, no matter what kind of torture Schwab has in store.
This Savage Song begins with a spark. In a desperate attempt to be moved home with her father, Kate burns down a chapel at her religious boarding school and succeeds in getting expelled. She returns to V-City, where her father runs the northern half by offering protection from monsters for those who can pay. On the south side of the city, August lives in a compound with his Sunai siblings and his human parents, who are struggling to keep the southern city free of monsters. When Kate attends a new school in the city, August enrolls to get close to her in the hopes of using her for leverage in case the truce between the two sides of V-City should fall.
As always, the writing is pure genius. Schwab writes in a way that is incredibly descriptive without being overbearing. You can taste the air in V-City and hear the music trilling from August's violin. I mean it when I say her words possess readers, as as soon as I begin I no longer feel as though I'm reading. I'm simply there. Along with the gorgeous writing, the part of this book that truly sings are the characters. No surprise, as Schwab has always had a knack for creating vivid and emotionally 3D characters. It's one things to have your characters emotionally reactive to what's going on around them. It's another when your character has a backstory that haunts them. But Schwab does an excellent job of not only doing both of those, but of taking that backstory and making it an emotional motivator for the characters. Everything that happened to Kate and August in their past is what's currently motivating them, and all those emotions come to a head within the book. It's what make the book so emotionally powerful.
As well, This Savage Song breaks away from the norm of YA in two distinctive ways: there is no romance within the book, and one main character, Kate, is an unflinching asshole in many ways. She burns down a school, threatens her classmates, brutally murders monsters, and yet it's all portrayed with a delicate balance. You can see that a part of her is a much softer, kinder person, but the world she lives in has shaped her to be so rough. I love it when authors actually step out of the 'hero' box and actually examine other parts of our humanity. For that reason alone, this book was very endearing to me.
Despite the irresistible nature of the writing and the excellent tension and pacing, I found the beginning of this book a little slow in that not a lot of action happens. It is a lot of back and forth high school drama, and while it is necessary and didn't harm the book in any way, I could see some readers being put off by that initial slump. Also, the reason for August to go to school felt a little weak. Just to "get close to her" so she could be "leverage" if things went wrong? It felt a little thin. If there was a bit more explanation of how they planned to use her as leverage this way, then it would have felt a lot stronger. By verse 3, the plot picks up and it's a raging adventure straight to the end. I enjoyed the beginning, but by the second half of the book I couldn't put it down.
** Spoilers start here. Stop if you don't wish to know.**
I don't normally include spoilers, no matter how I feel on a book, because I like to let readers draw their own conclusions without spoiling anything. But as my major issue with this book lies in its climax, I will have to break one of my cardinal rules.
Near the end of the book, Kate's soul goes "red" by killing a man who was attacking her. Later, when confronting her father, she has the chance to kill him when August stops her, tells her to leave, and that he'll do the job himself. The whole thing felt really off to me. I wish Kate had lost her soul through killing her father. She spends the entire book trying to convince us she's a monster, and then when the hammer falls, it's this act that would make her unforgivable. So she gets away with doing all these horrible things, while August, who has spent the entire book trying to be a good person and get away from his perceived destiny of being a monster, has to do the dirty work.
It wasn't intentional, but it left me with a strong feeling of "Bad people get away with whatever they want, while people born to crappy circumstances have no hope of escaping their destiny." It drew an uncomfortable morality line about who is okay to kill and who isn't based only on their race. Kate kills multiple monsters without a second blink, but the second she accidentally kills a human (which you can justify as self-defense) suddenly she's irredeemable? Killing her father would damage her beyond repair but killing the other man was sorta okay? There was an inequality there that didn’t feel right. I understand that these monsters are supposedly “born from violence,” but when you have a character like August, who is a monster, it feels more like, “You can be as awfully violent and horrible to this boy as you want, because on a technicality he’s not like us.” This is probably all just my interpretation, but I just couldn't shake the bad taste in my mouth after I turned the last page.
TL;DR: 4/5 stars. A brilliant book with amazing characters and an immersive world.