Book Review: Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
Goodreads Description: THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.
KATE HARKER isn't afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she's good at it.
AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.
THE WAR HAS BEGUN.
THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.
Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims' inner demons.
Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?
My Review: Verity has fallen. The monsters have risen. And Kate Harker is nowhere to be found.
Our Dark Duet takes us back to Verity six months after the events of the last book, to a city overrun with monsters. The North side has fallen to Sloan and his army, while the FTFs on the South side struggle to keep the shadows at bay. August works with the night squad to snuff out sinners or monsters, determined to do what must be done to save Verity. Meanwhile Kate is living an almost normal life in Prosperity since her father's death, aside from the monster hunting. She can't keep away from the monsters of Verity, and so when she discovers a new creature-- a Chaos Eater-- that leads her back to Verity, she doesn't hesitate to follow it. The monster is one Kate has never seen before-- a shapeless creature that cracks the minds of its prey and turns them into murderers-- and it may be more than she can fight. Because with a single look, the Chaos Eater cracked something in Kate, and the voice of violence won't stop whispering in her ear. At any moment, she could fall to its power and turn into just another mindless killing machine. But to save Verity, stop the monster, and save herself, Kate will have to stay in control as long as she can.
All right, so first off, I fell absolutely in love with the new monster in this book. Probably not the most common thing said in book reviews, but it was really cool to see a monster that brought out the monstrous parts of humans. If the corsai, malchai and sunai were a representation of the repercussions of violence, then the Chaos Eater is a symbol of that tipping point inside us all, the crack that turns us from human to monster. Especially because it was implied that those affected by the Chaos Eater didn't necessarily kill blindly, they targeted people they already had a grudge with-- old coworkers, ex-lovers, etc. There's a great quote by Nietzsche that was in the front of the book which so perfectly sums up the monster: "He who fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster-- if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." The Chaos Eater is literally described as an abyss, and it gets into its victims heads through eye contact, so it is possibly the most literal translation to that quote, which was really cool to see. As well, all of the passages from the Chaos Eater's point of view were written in prose. I loved how the passages really captured the essence of the monster within such short chapters. Plus, it was just cool to be inside a monster's head for once. I mean, when do you get to see the monster's point of view anyway?
If there was one word to describe Our Dark Duet, I would have to go with atmospheric. Every scene is incredibly vivid, and creates a tension so thick, it was like I could hear a movie soundtrack in my head hitting all those low notes that make you slide to the edge of your seat. Schwab accomplishes so much with so few words. Description is threaded through the action, so even though there's a lot of description, the action doesn't stop in order to set the scene. This book shows such a mastery of tension, as even minor scenes build up a terrible dread when little danger is actually present. It makes this an incredibly hard book to put down. I found the pacing to be even better than in This Savage Song, as even though there was a similar setting shift in the first book (school to monster fighting, and now Prosperity to Verity) it didn't feel as abrupt in Our Dark Duet. What was happening in the first setting fed into the events in the second setting much better in this book. As well, since a lot of the world-building had already been established in This Savage Song, the sequel was able to focus on action from page one.
We're reunited with some familiar faces-- or should I say the survivors from the first book-- and greeted by some new characters that really change up the dynamic. As well, we get to see the characters we love under a whole new light: Sloan drunk on power, August falling closer to darkness, and Kate forced to restrain herself. The cast feels completely different from the first book, in a fresh, exciting way. As well, we are introduced to a new Sunai named Soro, who could probably be described as agender or genderqueer. Soro goes by they and remains ambiguous on gender, and it was so natural for their character that I couldn't imagine them any other way. Soro fit seamlessly into the world, no one questioned their gender, they were simply allowed to be. It was so nice to see a character who didn't fit the binary in a fantasy setting, as usually if they're in a story at all, it's only to represent the struggles of being non-binary. It was really refreshing to see a non-binary character simply exist unquestioned like the millions of cis characters before them. As someone who identifies as gender-fluid and has considered going by they/them pronouns, that representation was really awesome to see.
The issues that I did have with the book were relatively minor. It would have been nice to know where the Chaos Eater came from-- even just to touch on it would have been nice. I felt like there was so much build up about Isla's true form throughout the two books, that when it actually happened, it felt rather underwhelming. If it hadn't been hyped up so much (I swear the phrase "Our sister has two sides. They do not meet." must've been in the duology like 50 times.), it wouldn't have left me with a feeling of: "That's it?" I also wished the book would have touched on why Kate was able to resist the monster when no one else seemed able to. Even a simple explanation, or alluding to an explanation, would have been helpful and lessen that "chosen one" feeling.
All in all, Our Dark Duet is a masterpiece. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me feel magical in a way only words do. If you are a lover of fantasy, you cannot go wrong with picking up a book by Victoria Schwab, but this one in particular is something tragically beautiful. It's like being hugged and stabbed at the same time, because although this book has its truly sad moments, there's a lot of beauty tied up in the struggle.
TL;DR: 5/5 stars. A tragically beautiful story of the monsters within us, the monsters around us, and what it really means to be human.