I actually read This Savage Song a few months ago, as an eARC — I think it was in about March. It happened to coincide with a time when I was coming off some medication and feeling very unwell as a result, so I told myself I’d reread it closer to the release date and write a review then. I didn’t realise that it came out earlier in the UK than in the US, and as a result, the release day snuck up on me and I still hadn’t reviewed it. But I decided I wanted to buy it, because it was pretty and I had book tokens.
So now I’m reviewing it from my second reading, from the paperback. Although this book had the bad luck to coincide, on this occasion, with starting a new type of medication and so I’m feeling unwell again. I have bad timing. Oh well, at least both my readings were under the same kind of drug-induced ickiness, right?
I really enjoyed this book: it involves music and monsters, so why wouldn’t I? Those are two things I’m very fond of. I can see it appealing to people who liked books like Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater, which is one of my favourite books, but it’s also got that peculiar Schwab-ness to it.
That said… I think I liked A Darker Shade of Magic better (so far it’s my favourite book of hers). Mainly because it took me a really long time to figure out exactly what was going on in this book, and to get my head around the setting. The first time it took me until about 20% of the way through to get the hang of it, and again the second time.
By the time you get to the end of the book, most of the confusion’s been cleared up — it’s more about being disoriented by the worldbuilding than anything else. But it did make it a little bit hard to get into the story, because I wasn’t sure where it was taking place or what the situation was. I believe there’s going to be a sequel, and I can imagine that being really good, because it won’t have that aspect.
So, onto the more positive points of this review.
Well, first off, this book has no romance! Although I can see there’s potential for it to go in that direction, at the moment what we have is two main characters, a boy and a girl, who are FRIENDS. Which is appallingly rare. And that made me happy — that they got to care about each other without any romantic interests.
There are some beautiful poetic descriptions, though on the whole the writing isn’t overly flowery. The dialogue is snappy but natural-sounding, and while there’s some sass, it’s not over-the-top. It feels like something people would actually say, you know?
Then there are the monsters. In this world, monsters are created by the aftermath of horrific, tragic events — like mass shootings, for example. Schwab tweeted that she wished this felt more dated, but in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting last weekend, it’s never felt more relevant: the idea that acts of violence must leave something behind.
Sad as it is that they’re relevant, the monsters of this book are fascinating from a literary point of view, forcing you to question the nature of monstrosity.
This book also has a cat, called Allegro, who was possibly my favourite character. And it had musicians who can steal your soul / life force which, you know, is pretty badass. But back to Allegro, who seriously made me so happy (I like cats) — he should definitely be a more major character in book two, and one of my favourite things was the moment of communication between Allegro and August (a ‘monster’) near the end.
When he was done, he lifted the cat onto his knees and looked him squarely in the face. “Am I all right?” he asked, and Allegro looked at him with his massive green eyes, and cocked his head the way Ilsa did sometimes when she was thinking. And then the cat reached out and rested a small black paw on the bridge of his nose.
August felt himself smiling. “Thank you.”
But yeah, it’s a really well-written book, and the ending is probably the best part: wonderfully poetic in style, even leaving aside what’s actually happening, and ultimately an emotional journey that feels satisfying while also leaving me hungry for a sequel. If it weren’t for the early part of the book, where I was struggling to follow what was going on, it might have been a five start read, but it still gets four and a hearty recommendation.