I had very conflicting expectations coming into this book. On the one hand, I enjoyed V.E. Schwab’s Shades of magic trilogy very much, so I know I tend to vibe with her writing quite well. On the other hand, most of the reviews I’d seen for it were that the book was fairly disappointing. So I didn’t know what to expect, and now that I have finished I can’t say I know exactly how to recommend this book either. While I can’t disagree with the criticism I heard from the nay-sayers (yes, it’s slow; no, there’s not much of a plot; yes, the writing is a bit purple sometimes), I still loved this. It reminds me a bit of when I read The Night Circus last year – I was expecting to hate it, but the atmosphere really did make up for its shortcomings, and I got deeply involved with the story. It’s almost a little intoxicating.
Anyway, let’s get back to sad little Addie LaRue. Born in the late ‘1600s, 23-year-old Adeline is drowning on the expectations put upon her as a woman. She doesn’t want to marry, she just wants to be free. So she prays to all the Gods – Christian and pagan – every day to no avail. But never at night – one should never pray to the Gods who answer after dark. Until she runs away on her actual wedding day, and loses track of time while praying, and ends up with a Faustian deal.
This book is wonderfully atmospheric. We switch back and forth between the ‘2010s New York and ‘1700s Paris and the entire book is a love letter to to French history. It is slow and immersive and it feels like a dream.
The character work is also relatively well done. Addie is at the same time resilient and stubborn like very few characters I’ve encountered in fiction. She deals with the unravelling of her curse alternatively with a ferventness and a blasé attitude that made her feel like a real complicated human being – making all the wrong choices, but human.
While I don’t share her preocupation on leaving a mark in the world – I have noticed this is the central conflict of many books and movies, this need to be remembered, it is not something I intrinsically understand. I’d be perfectly fine if I died and no one remembered me, but she is not, so despite our different word views, I still understood her motivations.
I’m not gonna go into detail over the other characters because so little actually happens in this book that I don’t want to spoil absolutely anything – you should go into this blind, with low expectations.
So I guess that’s my review – do not go into this book expecting fast-paced fantasy. This is a slow unraveling, equal parts historical tribute and character study. Pure atmosphere and a narration that feels like cotton candy 🙂