I haven’t read any of Victoria Schawb’s works before this, but I’d heard so much about her, I knew I had to read at least one of her books!
Summary: 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. 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.
Story: 4/5: The story, at its bones, is very good. Some people may say not enough happens, but I think this was more about the characters than anything else. This makes the story section difficult to grade, as in a way, this is a two-person focused story.
Basically, it’s about these two characters. One is Kate Harker, and she’s the daughter of Callum Harker, the leader of the North side in Verity City, one of ten territories. Her father is a renowned monster killer as well. August Flynn is the “son” of Henry Flynn, the leader of the South side in Verity. August is a Sunai, one of the three types of monsters. August has always wanted to be more of a part in the treaty between the two sides, and one day he gets his chance: he is sent to spy on Kate, in case the treaty falls apart. Of course, other stuff happens too, leaving them to work together.
The whole, “human girl who wants to be monstrous,” and “monster boy who wants to be human”, idea may seem overdone by now. But here, it’s given some more variations and differences than the usual tropes. I can’t explain why, but it just feels different than most stories.
Characters: 3.5/5: Oh, how I wanted to give this a higher score. There are such amazing characters within these pages, but the reason I had to knock it down a notch is because of this: I didn’t like Kate Harker all that much for the majority of the book.
She just seemed to be the classic cold-hearted “strong” female lead, not really caring about anyone other than herself and only focusing on basically being as bad, if not worse, than the monsters she hunts. However, by the end of the book, I liked her much more. She seemed to have grown and realized more about herself, and was on the road to becoming her own person. But her “original” self needed work. Characters like Sameen Shaw from Person Of Interest are a good example of a likable coldhearted badass. I would say beginning Kate could’ve gotten some advice from her.
August Flynn on the other hand, I ended up liking a lot fairly fast. While I was concerned he would end up acting like the typical emo, tortured male lead (and he does have some of those tendencies), I can understand why he acts like that: sometimes, when a Sunai doesn’t feed on a sinner’s soul for a while, they “go dark”, and end up losing some of their soul in the process. It’s an understandable fear, especially when you put into consideration Leo, his older brother, who is quite scary. August is a sweet kid who just wants to be human, but makes mistakes and is sympathetic.
The side characters were pretty good. Leo, August’s older “brother”, is a Sunai who has gone dark so many times, he has lost all of his emotions. He can be cold blooded and quite frightening at times. Ilsa is August’s older “sister”. She is someone who Leo describes as “shattered”, and not all there. But she is genuinely kind and concerned, and very likable.
Sloan is a creepy enough antagonist, but he didn’t leap off the page as much as I would’ve liked. As far as villains go, he’s good, but there’s something that keeps him from being great.
Writing: 4.5/5: Usually, the writing style Schwab has isn’t my favorite, but after a few pages, I became engrossed. Like the title suggests, after awhile, it develops an almost melodic feel, and before you know it, you’ve read a lot of pages. While some of the emotional bits didn’t hit me as hard as they could’ve, overall, this was a really well written book that turned out be more engrossing than I thought it would be.
Details: 4/5: In most YA books, I can’t visualize the characters that well. There’s a lack of description about their looks. Not the case here. I could see everyone just fine, which is a nice change of pace. But as detailed as it was, it didn’t go overboard.
My main complaints can be seen in the world building section.
World Building: 3.5/5: The world itself was interesting. I thought it did a good job at meshing the dystopian and fantasy/paranormal elements really well. I’ve noticed I’ve been leaning towards dystopias with mixed genres more and more; they help keep the clichés away, which I like.
But as good as it was, there was too litttle background on the world building. How did Verity get split in two halves? What was going on with the war? What’s going on with the rest of the territories? There were too many unanswered questions, which irritated me.
- Romance free: In every single YA book, there’s usually a romance between the two leads. While there may have been tiny hints, for the most part, I can see the relationship between Kate and August thankfully staying as friends. That was a breath of fresh air. There aren’t enough great lead male/female friendships.
- Genre blend: Again, I love dystopias mixed with other genres. It keeps clichés at bay and they usually end up really creative.
- Interesting monsters: While the Malchai sound like vampires, for the most part, I thought each monster sounded interesting. The Corsai were the least described, but I hope that changes. But the most innovative would be, of course, the Sunai.
- Bland villains: The villains in this are very bland to me, with the exception of one. I can’t reveal who it is withou spoilers, but that one villain was the one I liked the most.
- Over the top female lead: Kate felt way too over the top. The book starts with her setting the school chapel on fire so she can get expelled. I don’t always have a problem with cold, badass, female characters (Sameen Shaw!), but Kate was kind of overboard.
- Tried and true method?: Some people may claim that Kate and August’s “opposite and contradictory” dynamic has been done too many times before. I don’t really agree at all, as I feel like it as revamped creatively and emotionally, but I can see why people would think that.
Final Grade: 4/5: This is a good book. It isn’t perfect, but I have a feeling some of my complaints will be resolved in Our Dark Duet. The best part for me was the lead’s friendship; it felt organic, sweet, and real.