Title: This Savage Song (2016)
Author: Victoria Schwab
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 411 pages
Release Date: June 7, 2016
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.
Let’s get this out of the way: anyone who has talked to me recently knows that I’m kind of in love with Schwab’s writing. I loved the dark, intense adventure that is Vicious and the wonderful, magical world in her Shades of Magic series. Well, you guys, This Savage Song doesn’t disappoint… at least in some aspects.
Verity, or V-City as the characters often say, is a city divided into two: the North part is ruled by Callum Harker, Kate’s father, who protects the humans from the monsters and has monsters followers of his own, while the South part is ruled by Henry Flynn, August’s father. This story is about Kate and August, teenagers who meet at a school in the North, where August is on a mission to get closer to Kate and Kate is on a mission to prove she’s her father’s daughter. Concept-wise, I loved this idea — just check out this children’s song repeated quite often early in the book:
Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They re gonna come and eat you all.
Pretty creepy, hey? But creepy is good, because creepy means atmospheric, and this book is definitely that. Schwab’s writing is also great as always, too, adding to the overall tone of the book: it flows well, it’s evocative without being overly descriptive, it’s easy to read but still demands your attention.
The plot takes quite a while to unravel. The beginning takes its time introducing us to the characters and the setting, and it wasn’t until the middle where the action really takes centre stage and the story starts moving forward quickly. It is human versus monster, human versus human, and monster versus monster — you really don’t know who to trust even when the characters are on the same side.
Speaking of characters, however, this is where the book kind of falters for me… at least a little bit. Kate is kind of your typical tough heroine, acting mean and cruel when there’s no real need to be mean and cruel. August, for his part, is more likeable — quiet, introspective, insecure — though also incredibly prone to self-hate and torturing himself, which does get a bit tired after a while.
It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.
Where Kate is about being as monstrous as she can be, August is about being as human as he can be. It’s a nice contrast, but for some reason, I just didn’t connect with or love these characters as much as I love Schwab’s characters from other books. I think it’s because there’s nothing remarkably unique about these two leads — you’ve kind of read about them before, in a different setting, in a different book, doing different things.
Where the book wins for me is the concept. I loved the idea of the three different monsters: the Corsai, the Malchai, and the Sunai. I loved that they were ‘created’ out of different acts of violence, and I loved their unique abilities and characteristics. The Sunai, for example, look exactly like humans but their eyes will turn into streaks of black in photographs. The Malchai drank blood, dark bones visible under their skin just so. The Corsai were the beasts, ones that killed savagely and ate other creatures. I did feel like all these should’ve been explored more — it’s all a bit grey — but I really enjoyed what was there.
Flaws aside, I really enjoyed This Savage Song and would recommend it to any paranormal/fantasy YA reader. It’s not Schwab’s best by far (my true rating would probably be 3.5 stars, but hey, no half-ratings for me!), but I loved the concept and am invested enough in the world to look forward to the next book in the series. 🙂