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. The first of two books.
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.
What can I say? Schwab strikes again in this latest series, in terms of brilliant character development and world-building. These strengths were already to the fore in the Shades of Magic series so far, and Schwab has no problem building a whole new world here, this time a dystopian nightmare city.
August and Kate are both great characters, their personalities coming across well, and fleshed out excellently in this first instalment. The story is told through their perspectives in third person. Schwab is the master of describing how a person feels through their facial expressions, their habits, to the point where you find yourself being able to predict what a character might do in a certain situation.
August comes across as a beautiful sensitive soul, while Kate at first seems the hard-edged type, but very much as a result of circumstance and a necessity to be tough. Both have a reputation before they even meet each other, which comes from their respective families’s legacies, but has little to do with them.
Schwab takes to the onerous task of world-building with aplomb. She doesn’t overburden the reader with exposition, instead taking us through the city and its surroundings through the experiences of the main characters. This proves to be an inspired choice as the immediate plot comes to the fore, driven by August and Kate, as their find their way in a world not created by them in any way, but one in which they must adapt to survive.
There’s some amazing imagery throughout, from the importance of eye colour to the way music can look and feel. These are the sequences that are the most enjoyable to read. They are so vivid that the reader is immersed in the world right there beside the music. I look forward to reading the second part in the series, and I have a lot of respect for Schwab and her ability to maintain such a high quality in two very different series of books.