Book review: Dystopian novel set apart by focus on friendship
September 17, 2016
"This Savage Song," by Victoria Schwab
Monsters and humans are at war in this stunning young-adult novel by author Victoria Schwab. Years ago, the world was thrown into chaos when the darkest human sins began to materialize as the Malachai, Corsai, and Sunai: monsters who hunt humans for sustenance and sport.
On the pristine north side of Verity City, Harker rules over humans and monsters with an iron fist. Kate Harker is the teenage daughter of her city's overlord. She is eager to prove herself as vicious and battle-hardened as her father, if only her conscience would step out of the way.
The decrepit south is run by the Flynns, who have the only three existing Sunai monsters in their corner. August Flynn's last name isn't really Flynn … he's a Sunai who popped up as a 12-year-old boy in the wake of a horrific tragedy and is constantly at war with his own soul-consuming nature.
When the Flynn family fears an attack by the Harkers, they send their youngest monster to school with the enemy's daughter, in hopes that he'll be able to coax useful information out of her. Nobody expects these two people to draw strength from their shared brokenness. While their relationship is rocky, to say the least, Kate and August share an innate knowledge of their circumstances and eventually a common goal.
Through all of this, the reader is left wondering if Harker and the Flynns are really who they seem to be and if their allegiances, or perceived dominance, over the monsters of Verity City is really as air-tight as it may seem.
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"This Savage Song" is a new kind of young adult dystopian novel. It's not that Victoria Schwab doesn't include all the (nearly cliché) aspects that have made the genre so popular in the past few years, including explosions, rebels, and a sense of foreboding. What sets this story apart is the focus on a single detail that has been sorely overlooked: a genuine friendship between two young people who come from vastly different backgrounds and find common ground within the turmoil that surrounds them.
In a genre plagued by love triangles, it is refreshing to read a story about a boy and a girl trying to improve their world without all the "will they-won't they" pandering. The darkness that permeates this book is punctuated by small lights, which always lead back to the relationship between the two main characters.
I love that while there is eventually resolution, Kate and Flynn's world is not all rainbows and butterflies at the end.
Victoria Schwab also does a superb job of creating an entire world within one city and, at the same time, providing just enough details of the outside world that you'll be left hungering for more. I have no idea if a sequel is planned for this one, but I will be keeping my eyes open.
This book is available at Off the Beaten Path and Bud Werner Memorial Library.
Jenna Meier-Bilbo is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.