This Savage Song | Thoughts
“You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn't matter if you're monster or human. Living hurts.”
Have you ever wondered if, one day, there will be repercussions for the violence in this world? Whether in an after life, or if your religion believes in a day of rapture? Victoria Schwab does in This Savage Song, a highly original tale of humans and monsters, set in a not so unbelievable future.
"Violence breeds. Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what's left in the wake isn't just she'll casings, wreckage, bodies. There's something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”
In the once-United States, a group of territories has formed with populations rising into the 20 million range. People survive however they can, fearing monsters and humans alike, and the city of Verity is split into two very different sides. In South City, the people war with monsters, fighting to stay alive and following a leader bent on keeping the peace with their northern neighbors. In North City, the monsters have been cowed by their ruthless leader, and anyone with the money to pay for safety is given the pretty illusion that nothing is amiss.
Kate and August are on the two opposing sides of the city and their very kind. Kate is human, August a monster. Kate fights for the North, August the South...though neither is sure what they're truly fighting for. Both are children of two leaders, though their family situations are complicated for a multitude of reasons. My favorite element of this story is the examination of what makes you human, and what makes you a monster.
Let's talk first about the monsters.
"Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul."
There are three types of "official" monsters: Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai. All are born from varying degrees of violence. Corsai, made of darkness and shadow, are born from violent acts not resulting in death, and as the song tells, feast on body and flesh. Malchai are basically vampires—only in the sense they feast on blood—born from murder. And Sunai, the most rare and dangerous, are born from acts of mass murder. They feast on the soul, drawing it out with a song, and are the only monsters of the three who can appear human.
August is one of the Sunai, and we can instantly see he is tortured by what his nature forces him to do. And there is more to the soul-eaters than first impressions show, including the fact that they can only consume souls of sinners. August and his family sing—or play—to cleanse the streets of South City from the violence that is only ever breeding more and more monsters, but even this explanation does not help him when the time comes to take a life.
I loved August, so, so much. An adorable, gentle, musically gifted being who is trying with everything he has to go against his nature...even when it drives him to madness and despair.
“He could be the monster if it kept others human.”
Oh, so many feels!
We are not given much on the humans of South City as we stay focused pretty much on the North, in a fairly average school where August has the mission of getting close to the enemy's daughter, Kate. Kate is hard, and cruel, and from appearances every bit her father's daughter. But (lucky us!) we get to see inside, to where she too is fighting against what she is—ironically, she is fighting to be more a monster, to prove that she is worthy of her father's attention.
One part of me applauds, while another is disappointed, that there is absolutely no romance in this book. Oh, there are plenty of opportunities to turn August and Kate's relationship romantic (bathroom scene, anyone?), but I am glad Schwab gives us a friendship instead. Both these characters are battling with so much internally, the fact they are there for each other in a wholly platonic way is refreshing. Yes, the romantic in me waited for that aspect, but at the end I was pleasantly surprised by how much more respect I had for the story without it.
There are a few elements that ultimately dragged this book down, starting with how confusing the entire beginning is. This book is split into "Verses" (clever, clever!), and if you're reading this review before reading the book, then I've already given you some key information you won't get until you're through with Verse 1. Schwab releases facts about our characters and this world slowly, and unfortunately unless you've read some kind of synopsis or review before hand, you'll be lost for a while. This is not always entirely a bad thing, but for readers who get frustrated easily and find an overall lack-of-knowing to be off-putting, it may be a struggle to get sucked in.
I can say that once I passed Verse 1, I absolutely could not put it down. I had to know, in that sitting, what would happen. This is my first book by Schwab, and after reading I've added a bunch more of her work to my TBR. Her writing is solid, and although the confusing start was a hiccup, once I knew enough to make sense of monsters and the society, I was thoroughly engrossed.
The next flaw for me was the lack of exploration of Leo and Ilsa. Along with August, they make up the city's only three Sunai, and are by far the most complicated monsters. We get wonderful development with August, but I would have liked to learn a lot more about his siblings, especially as they are each so unique in their gifts and views. I have a lot of questions about them, and even August I would like to know more about the event that caused his making. Perhaps in the next book we'll get this, and for now some mystery remaining around the Sunai was the desired effect—much like the humans in Verity whose knowledge of the Sunai is lacking simply because they are so rare.
From an editorial standpoint, I found several extra or misplaced words that disrupted sentences, which never fails to throw me out of a groove. This annoyed the editor in me more than the reader, but still is only a minor flaw on my scale.
While it could have used some more fleshing out, the story moved quickly and was impossible to put down. Once the action started, there was no stop until the end, and I wasn't ready to say goodbye to August especially. Time to wait *impatiently* for another sequel!
"Nobody gets to stay the same."