Updated: Dec 31, 2020
by Ariel Kim
“Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what's left in its wake isn't just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There's something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”
Resonant in her profound views on human nature, Victoria Schwab weaves a tale of self, sacrifice, and inner demons in This Savage Song, the first installment in the two-book Monsters of Verity series. Taking place in V-city, twelve years since the Phenomenon, human misdeeds have begun to breed actual monsters: lurking in the shadows, out in the open, and even unnoticed among the population. When the heirs of this divided metropolis cross paths, they must learn to work together in order to save their home.
“It’s a monster’s world.” At least, that’s what Kate Harker has always been taught to believe. Her father is the mayor of North City — and his ruling style? He lets the demons roam free and forces humans to pay for his protection. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, worthy of the Harker name. When she is finally sent back home to her father after getting expelled from six different schools, she is determined to prove herself to him by any means possible — slaughtering monsters, burning down chapels, threatening classmates — you name it.
“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.” August Flynn is one of the monsters — he is sunai, a deadly humanoid monster with the ability to steal the souls of the wicked with a simple strain of a violin. The antithesis of Kate, August wants nothing more than to be stronger than his monstrous needs and to feel truly human. When he is sent on an incognito mission to Willston Academy to keep an eye on Kate, they will face near-assassinations, betrayals, and a deadly secret that will threaten to tear their lives apart.
Before I address anything else, I would first like to take a moment to praise the creative aspect of Schwab’s world building. As an avid fiction-reader who has explored countless fantasy worlds, I must say that I have never indulged in one quite like this. Comparable to D.C.’s Gotham, this urban futuristic-fantasy touches on real-world problems such as terrorism and political divisiveness that parallel our very own reality. But note how I said creative, not strong. It’s not very well-thought out, which may just be because Schwab is leaving room for action. It’s a world with promising aspects, but I’m let down by the lack of detail.
What I do find exceptional is Schwab’s knack for character building. The cast is layered with believable backstories, hopes, and dreams; I found myself engrossed within the characters’ lives from its first pages, exploring the nuances in my morality along with the cast. Both characters grew on me really fast: Kate, who is fueled by the yearning of a parent’s love, and August, who is ceaselessly pressuring himself to be someone he is not. Kate lives behind a mask of indifference, while August deals with clashes between his inner demons and his humanity. Their struggles, while seemingly distant from my own, touches upon subjects so close to home that I can’t help but eat it up. As difficult as it is to create a living, breathing being through mere symbols on a page, Schwab has definitely come close.
Additionally, something that I absolutely adored about this book was that it completely excluded the romance genre, instead exploring platonic relationships — family, identity, and friendship. The complex, deep, and entirely genuine entanglement between the different characters are intriguing without the need for a romantic interest.
Although there were a few bruises in her word choices, pacing, and detail here and there, they didn’t stop me from devouring this book whole. Overall, I would still give it four out of five stars because I thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously, it is not for everyone — the violence, mature subjects, and occasional swear words make it appropriate for people ages 13 and up, and as the main characters are teenagers, it may not be appealing to adult readers. But if you want a book to resound in your heart days after you’ve read the last page, pick it up. If the worlds of Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, and J.K. Rowling intrigue you, pick it up. If you are up for a fast-paced, heartwarming, and profound story that will leave you breathless, pick it up. A read that will make you redefine the term “monster,” This Savage Song will leave readers grabbing for the encore.