For some reason, I put off reading this for quite a while after I was approved for it on NetGalley, even though the blurb made it sound like it would suit me to a T. I’m not sure why — I guess I just got distracted. I ended up enjoying it when I finally got around to it, though, to the point where I was reading it under the desk at work when there were no patrons in the library where I volunteer.
This book featured some things I really love: music, particularly involving violins; poetry and the spoken word; and a cool magic system. I’m always biased when characters are musicians, and when they play one of my instruments I automatically love them, so I got totally into the music/nightclub/performance side of this book. I liked seeing both the onstage and offstage side of that — the friendships and tensions as well as the actual music, and the world behind the stage.
I also liked how Soria quoted poems, although I would have liked a way of identifying what they were. I suppose in a non-ARC copy there might be a list of the titles because of copyright reasons at the back of the book? But maybe footnotes or something would have been good — I liked some of the lines, and wanted to look up the whole poem for myself.
I’m less wild about the setting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well used and effective — this isn’t a comment on the quality of the book, but on my own taste in historical settingns, because I’m weird. It’s set in Prohibition-era America, specifically Boston: I don’t have anything AGAINST Prohibition-era books per se, but they’re just not at the top of my list of interests. I’m going to both blame and thank A-Level English and studying The Great Gatsby — on the one hand, I knew what was going on and could read from a relatively intelligent perspective, but on the other hand, studying anything will destroy enjoyment of it forever, so I’m automatically wary about anything set in the same period as something I’ve been forced to write essays about.
I shouldn’t disparage the setting, though, because as I said, it’s effectively used, and it definitely helped ground the story. The setting’s essential to the plot, making it more than just a background, and it plays into the characters’ motivations to a great deal. This is evident both in the fashions and class tensions (socialism, privilege, length of skirts — all factors) as well as the plots revolving around stockpiling alcohol.
Add to this an interesting blood-based magic system, and that makes for an interesting, complex book. I had a few questions about the worldbuilding, especially since the ‘reg’ (non-magical world) seemed to take remarkably few precautions when one considers that music can be used against them. One would expect them to be more suspicious of all musicians, and perhaps limit the ability to purchase instruments, just as in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series everybody wears gloves, not just those whose touch is actually dangerous. There were definitely elements of the worldbuilding that I would have done differently. That said, I grew more and more convinced by it as the story went on, especially as more elements came into play, and the things I had previously picked up on no longer bothered me as much.
My main criticism of the book would be that it had the perfect opportunity for lesbians, but didn’t take it, instead giving the two female characters each a male love interest. There is a secondary character who is gay, and in a relationship with another man (he’s married, but his wife knows about it and is fine — she’s happy to be his beard), so the book isn’t entirely heteronormative, which in some ways made the decision not to make Corinne and Ada lesbians seem a little stranger to me. I don’t know, it just felt like a great setup for it, and while I’m a fan of stories about close female friendship too… well, magical 20s lesbians, what’s not to love?
I got the impression from the ending that there would possibly be a sequel, where I hope some of my worldbuilding questions — largely those that are discussed and inconclusive within the text, rather than things I find strange as artistic choices, such as why some people are hemopaths and some aren’t — would be answered. In the meantime, I’ll have to content myself with this book as it is, which is an enjoyable and original story. It’s got cool magic and some witty dialogue, which I enjoyed, as well as complicated relationships between the characters.
And protip? It’s somehow more enjoyable if you read it while listening to David le Page’s violin playing. After I read the first description of Ada playing the violin, it was one of his pieces that came to mind, especially as he often uses the interaction between music and spoken word to create a certain mood or story — something that worked perfectly with Corinne’s simultaneous use of poetry. I pulled up one of his albums on Spotify and played it in the background while I was reading, and it definitely added to the experience, so that’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking to make this more evocative.
But I did like the magic system, and some of the dialogue was very witty and entertaining. So, all in all, I don’t know why I delayed so long with reading this — it definitely didn’t deserve it.