This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Although The Archived series remains my Schwab favorite, This Savage Song is a pretty close second, I think.
You always gotta love a bit of fantasy dystopian, and this book, perhaps the closest thing to a Black City spiritual successor there's been since that trilogy came to an end, is no exception. Schwab expertly blends zombies, vampires, and demons (the closest analogues I can think of to this world's three classes of monster) into a walled-off, claustrophobic big city of the post-apocalyptic near future. It's a well-built world, but you know there's a ton more details just waiting to be unveiled in later books. (And I really hope Our Dark Duet, at the very least, includes a world map.)
We get two main characters telling the story in third-person POVs - rebellious Kate, and August, a tortured, soul-eating Sunai, one of only three known. While Kate's head was so much harder to get into (something I think Schwab herself acknowledged), August was a different story, and when the narrative jumped into his POV, I found him surprisingly relatable, mostly because of how he's kept so isolated and pretty much only gets involved in society, in any way, when he hides who he really is. It actually kind of got to the point where I dreaded Kate's POV, because frankly, I connected infinitely better with August. Both of them, however, fit neatly into the Schwab tradition of morally gray leads.
As for the story, it sags just a little bit in the middle or so, where it feels like nothing's happened for a while. But then in the final third, Schwab piles on the twists and turns like nobody's business. I mean...holy crap balls.
So, while this book did get a little damaged by hype for me, it's still a unique and enjoyable read, and as long as I'm still waiting (with decreasing patience) for The Returned (or whatever the third Archived book will be called), this and any other new Schwab book had no problem keeping me entertained.
Since I first read this book last year, I've come across a review from another autistic reader that condemned it as harmful because August was coded as neurodivergent, and she felt it offensive because he's inhuman - but wants very much not to be. Looking back, and upon my reread in preparation for Our Dark Duet, I realize that she was right on the money with August's coding, but me, I found it the opposite of harmful, because I felt that August reflected me beautifully. Being autistic myself, I agreed that August feeling constantly subhuman, only at ease when practicing his art, extremely uncomfortable in society, people-watching to try and understand how to look human, feeling like a constant burden, etc. etc., was all very accurate to my own neurodivergent experience as well, even before applying the whole soul-eating Sunai thing to it all. So, though rereading this book may have contributed to me being a bit more depressed than usual lately, I nevertheless applaud Schwab for writing August as she did. Remember, no group is a monolith.
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