VC/Victoria Schwab is a weird author for me. Everyone else seems to rave about her. Intellectually, I am intrigued by what she does and the stories and themes she explores. She is very creative, as seen in this novel where monsters are the external manifestations or results of violence humans do to each other. And yet. And yet. Something about her writing fails to grip me. I was discussing this novel with a friend halfway through and told him, I wasn’t sure if I would pick up the sequel (having now finished it, I think I will). Even when her story is interesting and engaging, there is some emotional connection missing for me, something that prevents from getting completely absorbed and wrapped up in the story – despite all the interesting world building.
Kate Harker’s father is a human but he is basically a crime boss – he can guarantee people freedom from the monsters for a payment. August Flynn’s adopted father tries to protect the innocent and seems to be a genuinely good man. His three adoptive children are all Sonai, the rarest of the three types of monsters that inhabit this universe. While the Corsai and Malchai are the result of violence and murder, Sonai are the result of mass murder type of events, like bombings or school shootings. Their powers are linked to music, and all of August’s siblings use different types of instrument to activate their powers. August spends a lot of time trying to keep his abilities under control and preventing himself from slipping up since if left uncontrolled his powers can cause mass destruction, feeding on darkness.
When Kate Harker begins attending a local private school, August is given a mission to enroll as well and spy on Harker’s daughter. After they discover bodies after school, the two teenagers are thrown together to survive, not knowing who they can trust except for each other.
As I mentioned, the world building is absolutely fascinating, and the story really is deeper and more complex than described above. Intellectually, it is a great and creative story, but Schwab definitely seems to have a darker approach than some other YA novelists, and they can get dark. Maybe it’s because even though she is clearly writing fantasy, it is also gritty and feels very grounded in reality. It is much easier not to take the darkness in stories set in alternate world as reflective of the real world and Schwab strips that illusion from her readers.