“There were too many monsters and not enough good men.“
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
TW: smoking, violence (including gun violence), gore, graphic injury, medical scenes, car crash, implied domestic abuse, implied school shooting, death (including death of a loved one, child death)
I had meant to reread this book before going to the signing and tour stop in Columbus this March, but somehow life got in the way.
WELL, HOW DARE LIFE DO THAT.
It’s been a couple years since I first read TSS, but it captured my heart just as thoroughly this time as it did back then. Somehow, there’s something poetic and lyrical to this world of monsters and blood and loss, and the tension between beauty and suffering, life and death, is powerful propulsion in this novel.
We should also face the truth, though: I’m here for the characters.
August Flynn and Kate Harker are honestly the sharp girl and soft boy dream team, and I ADORE the fact that there’s no romance between them. They’re just two teens in a harsh, harsh world, trying to find their footing and their role in something so much bigger than themselves. And so often, what they want to be and who they are are in conflict with each other and the wider world. It makes for a tense story, one that keeps moving forward.
Of course, I know some folks don’t like Kate. If she was a real person, I’d hate her. But as a character, we get to see her drive, the things that make her cold and hard and guarded. And we get to see the way she used to be in brief glimpses; a long time ago, she was a girl who was scared of the dark, a girl who wouldn’t kill bugs. Now, she’s a girl with only one thing on her mind. Kate Harker, whether her reasons are right or wrong, is ambitious. And that makes her so fascinating to me.
And on the flipside, you have August Flynn, the monster who wants to be human, the boy who can’t lie (an incredibly interesting feature of monsterhood in Verity, by the way), the kid who exploded into existence in the wake of what’s implied to be a school shooting. He’s born from violence that ended innocent lives, and he wants anything except to be the monster that he is. Hell, he even adopts a kitten because he pities it, and has a family, strange as it may be, that loves him despite the nature that other people would shy away from. August is an amazing character because he doesn’t get to have a simple life, and his wants are so intensely human that you can’t help but feel for him.
I also love the thematic tension in TSS. The question of who the real monsters are lingers over every dark corner of the city, and watching Kate and August try to reconcile who they want to be with who they’re becoming as well as who they’ve been makes for an emotional, character-driven tangle.
This does mean that sometimes the plot is a little lacking. Personally, I would have loved to have dug a little deeper into the world, especially its history with monsters, and I also would have loved more and more about the Harker-Flynn conflict. What we get makes sense, but it feels like it’s shy of enough for folks who are eager to know the whole story.
Additionally, some of the plot points seem a little lackluster, but I’m inclined to forgive that more often than not since the story is told in relatively close third person. Kate and August have no way of knowing what the other is thinking unless they communicate, let alone what the antagonists are thinking and why. They don’t have that luxury, and they don’t have a chance to find out stealthily, either. The events of the book necessitate a fast-paced adventure once the biggest wheels are set into motion, one without time to worry about plot intricacies. Entirely reasonable to me in a character-driven novel, to be honest.
And what worldbuilding exists is so fascinating. This is a United States redivided in the wake of calamity, one that has reacted to a change in the world where monsters are born from acts of violence, one that has restructured itself to adapt to these new dangers. It’s definitely a far flung dream and unlikely to happen, but a field guide sort of book that details the types of monsters found in the different territories and details the territories themselves would be an absolute dream to me. I want to see more of this sandbox. I wouldn’t want to live in it, but I want to see more of its shape, more of the things crawling around inside it. I want to know, and not knowing is somehow acceptable and frustrating all at once, something I can come to terms with eventually.
Taking it all together, This Savage Song is an incredible read, worth blocking out enough time to burn through it in one sitting. The prose is stellar, the characters multi-faceted and never necessarily good, and the tension perfectly established on every page, a masterclass in balance. I recommend it to anyone who feels up to a dark, gory read, anyone who wants to face demons of the shadows and one’s own past alike. And of course, to any Schwab fan who hasn’t read it yet; like the rest of her work, it has that lyrical, beautiful quality in the prose that is so distinct, plus the sharp, ambitious female characters V is so known for writing.
So, have you read This Savage Song yet? If you have, tell me your favorite character, or which monster interests you the most! If you haven’t, think you’ll give it a go? Let me know!