I haven’t read a lot of urban fantasy before, but This Savage Song was definitely a fun introduction to it. I liked the characters, the monsters, and the mix of high school drama with action and intrigue, and even though I found some aspects a little flat, they didn’t really ruin the experience.
The setting is Verity. It is divided in two, half ruled by Kate Harker’s family, and the other by August Flynn’s. The city’s two halves live side by side by virtue of a fragile agreement between the families, but it looks like it is about to collapse. Kate’s father has reluctantly brought her back to Verity after years of sending her to boarding school after boarding school, which is always manages to get expelled from. Now, she is attending a prestigious school in the city, to which August is sent to spy on her. However, August has a secret that is even bigger than the fact that he is a Flynn in Harker territory. August is also a Sunai, a monster that kills people with music, and if the Harkers got their hands on him, who knows what they would make him do?
The setting in this novel is quite basic. Although it was clear that the two halves were very different, the only information that we really get about the history is the generic background that you get in most dystopian novels. That means vague mentions of wars in the past and not much more. We did get more of an insight into the Harder side of the city and the politics of how it is run, but I would have loved to have seen some more of the Flynn side. It felt odd that, while we learn so much through Kate, we learn so little from August. On the other hand, I did really like the monsters that Schwab created. There are three types, Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai, and we saw a mixture of all three. I liked the idea that they are born out of horrific events, that they each kill in a distinct way, but above all, that they are very much like people. For example, August goes to school and passes as a human for almost half of the novel, and he and his siblings are part of a pretty normal family setting. It also made August quite an interesting character to read, as we see him battling with the two sides to himself. Even though he can only kill people who have sinned, he feels intensely guilty and just wants to be human.
On the other hand, Kate’s character toed the line between a good strong female character and a boring, cookie-cutter ‘bitch’. While I liked her ambition and desire to impress her father and be respected by him, I got bored quite quickly of her antics as she tried to dominate the school and of reading about her metal-tipped nails and heavy rock music. She started to feel like some sort of dark, gothic Regina George at times. While at times it was clear that Schwab was trying to show her human, softer side, such as when she returns to the childhood home that she shared with her mother, I think that these moments were sometimes too short and it wasn’t clear how much of that identity was an intentional facade. I would have liked to have seen even more of her fragility, and her simply being a nice person.
In terms of plot, I felt like it was a weird mix of exciting and dull sections. I can’t quite figure out whether I liked it or whether I just didn’t not like it. The blurb speaks about an assassination attempt, but it took around half of the novel to reach that point, during which we are reading about the pair of them going to school, and that’s pretty much it. While I didn’t necessarily find these aspects boring, I did find myself wondering whether I had been lied to. Also, while I did find the school scenes reasonably enjoyable, once I finished the book I was disappointed to find that the characters that we met in the school, particularly the friends that August makes, aren’t more relevant. August and Kate flee and spend the second half on the run, and it’s basically just them. I was expected perhaps to see them team up with the characters that we met at the beginning, but it seemed like that whole part of the book was forgotten, which was a shame, because they were quite fun to read.
One part that was definitely surprising however was the romance aspect of the book, in that, there was none. The whole way through I was sure that VE Schwab would make this a Romeo and Juliet style story between Kate and August. I was certain. Even when there were only a few pages left, I was sure she was just keeping it until the end, but it didn’t happen, and I loved that. It was so refreshing to see a male and female lead who go through the story together, save each other’s lives, become friends, and don’t get it on, or even really consider it. It just wasn’t a part of the story, and that didn’t feel weird. It felt right.
Although I didn’t love this book, I didn’t not like it. On the spectrum from bad to good, it’s on the border between okay and good. It is part of a series called the Monsters of Verity, and I think that I probably will read the rest of the series when I can, especially considering that the ending of the first means that it’s quite difficult to predict what will happen next.