This Savage Song

This Savage Song

This Savage Song was written by V.E. Schwab and first published in 2016. It is an urban fantasy story, set in a dystopian city divided by turf wars and ravaged by monsters. The novel is the first part of the Monsters of Verity duology, though at the time of writing the second instalment has not been announced.

Ever since the Phenomenon, V-City has been a battleground. Whenever a crime is committed, it gives birth to a different kind of monster – the flesh eating Corsai, the bloodsucking Malchai and the soul stealing Sunai – which in turn take to the streets in search of fresh prey. In the wake of the disaster, two leaders have risen and divided the city between them. Callum Harker has taken the North City, turning it into a haven where the rich can buy their safety. Henry Flynn has control of the South. His territory is less luxurious but his enforcers – the FTF – hunt the monsters who roam the streets.

When Harker’s only daughter, Kate, starts at a new school in North City, Flynn knows that he has a great opportunity to spy on his nemesis. He dispatches August, his youngest son, to infiltrate the school and learn what he can. However, blending in will not be easy. August is a Sunai and is cautious of the fact that he’s not used to being around human teens. To make matters worse, Kate is looking for a way to please her father. Delivering one of Flynn’s three tame Sunai to him would be the perfect way to do that.

Things grow more complicated when Kate is savagely attacked by two Malchai – deserters from her father’s private army – who seem intent on pinning her death on Flynn. She is saved by August and the two run for their lives. However, her disappearance is enough to dissolve the truce between the two families. Kate and August have no choice but to join forces to stop the war but in doing so learn that it’s not just the monsters that they have to fear…

Sorry for the long description but This Savage Song is a really hard novel to summarise. It’s not a simple story by any means. From its very first page it becomes apparent that its world building is its strongest aspect. The whole concept of the novel is rather fresh and exciting. V-City is dark and gritty, merging the feel of an apocalyptic dystopia with elements of a faerie tale.

On one face, This Savage Song is the story of a power struggle between two rival families who each wish to rule in their own way. Harker is basically a gangster – one who paints himself as a legitimate businessman but actually rules through violence and fear. Flynn is more just and tries to police his people fairly, however his side of the city is far more dangerous and run down. It’s easy to see at a glance where the strengths and weaknesses of each system lie.

Yet on the other side, it’s a novel about actions and consequences. Verity is a city where human deeds give birth to frightening and unique monsters. Violence becomes an unstoppable force, increasing exponentially with each fresh act. It sets a grim backdrop for the story but also holds a candle to the current state of America through subtle mentions to the kind of monsters that grow from terror attacks and school shootings.

However, I just didn’t think that the world building ran deeply enough and this frustrated me no end. As stylish and unique as V-City was on the surface, details about this setting were fleeting. We never learn what caused the Phenomena or the politics behind America’s decision to redivide itself into just seven territories. While some of the questions that I had did eventually get answered, the pace of the story was incredibly slow on the whole. I never felt that it became boring but This Savage Song did throw the reader in at the deep end and this was made worse still by the clumsy narrative.

While this was less of an issue at the start of the novel, the writing felt a lot less cohesive once August and Kate began to travel together. The story was told in third person and tended to flip between the two protagonists at random. Towards the climax, it got to the point where this was occurring sometimes several times over the course of a page. It made the action very hard to follow as I sometimes became confused as to whether the perspective shown belonged to August or Kate.

The themes of the story were also a little tried and tested, basically revolving around the difference between being man or monster. This is a really common trope in young adult fiction and I felt that I’d seen it tackled in a more interesting way elsewhere (if this is your bag, I’d suggest reading Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy). I also felt that the twist of the novel was a little too obvious for my liking as the villain behind the assassination attempt was tremendously unsubtle.

However, my biggest issue with the story was its cast. Mainly, I was far more interested in the secondary characters than the protagonists. As the story limits its focus to August and Kate, we miss out on the political upheaval that’s going on in the background. We see so little of the bigger picture and don’t even get many scenes of August and Kate interacting with their respective families. What I really wanted was to learn more about Flynn and Harker – how their feud began, why the truce lasted so long without a hitch, how each of them came into power. Unfortunately, the story was blinkered in such a way that we learn next to nothing about Flynn and only really discover what motivates Harker right near the end of the tale.

I’m not really sure what it was about the protagonists that prevented me from connecting with them, it was just like there was a glass wall between me and them. While Kate had many interesting attributes – her combat skills, her problem with authority, her deafness – none of it was ever really played upon. Over the second half of the story, she grew increasingly bland and was largely just protected by August. While at first it felt as though she had fire, this was soon lost as though Schwab struggled to make a human character as interesting as her monsters.

August was an animal of a different kind. While the Sunai were the most interesting of Schwab’s monsters, I just found him too whiny. Yes, I know that angst-ridden monsters do appeal to some readers (I have read Twilight) but they just do nothing for me. August complains constantly about how inhuman he is but, beyond his need to feed of the souls of sinners, there is nothing monstrous about him. He doesn’t struggle to fit in and certainly seems to feel the full range of human emotions. It’s just tiring to hear a character tell us why they’re a monster with every breath while never showing it.

Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so I’ll wrap it up. I’ve heard that Schwab is a very popular and successful writer but my first taste of her work has left me underwhelmed. While I loved the idea behind this story, I just largely felt disconnected from it on the whole. While I expect that this novel will speak to some fans of urban fantasy, its song just wasn’t for me. Maybe I’ll look at another of her series in a future review but I’m not in any hurry to anytime soon.

This Savage Song can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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