Title: This Savage Song
Author: Victoria Schwab
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Fantasy
Page Count: 468
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Notable Notables: Compelling human and non-human characters
Recommended Readers: Anyone who’s into monsters and morality
My best friend Jennifer and I read This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab as both a buddy read and as our pick for the Femme Trash Book Club featured on our podcast. We had a great time with this and hope you guys do, too, whenever you read it.
Ever since Vicious, I’ve been besotted with Victoria Schwab. I love how often and how well she writes about monsters and villains. Oh, boy, do I!
This Savage Song follows Kate Harker, daughter of the terrifying and powerful Callum Harker who rules North City and offers his protection from the monsters–for a price. In South City, we have August Flynn, a Sunai monster who looks human but is all too aware that he isn’t, even after Henry Flynn takes him in.
With the Corsai and Malchai siding with Harker and the Sunai siding with Flynn, Verity is locked in an uneasy truce and a gang war that’s about to errupt, and Kate and August find themselves caught in the middle.
I like how Schwab gave a kind of hierarchy to the different monsters. Corsai are shadows with teeth and claws, operating as a hive mind and obsessed with feeding. They’re created from non-lethal acts of violence and work in darkness. Malchai are vampiric in that they thirst for blood, but their skeletons are dark beneath their translucent skin, and their eyes glow red. They are born of murders and act more solitarily. Sunai are born few and far between from acts of mass devastation. They look the most human but are the most dangerous, and they feed on the souls of sinners using music or pain. Every day they don’t “go dark,” a tattoo appears on their skin, the only outward sign of what they are.
In truth, there are only three Sunai: August and his siblings, Ilsa and Leo. I wanted to hug August through most of this book because his existence is very painful. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he wants to be human, but in order to keep the humanity he has, he can’t go dark and lose his tally mark tattoos, which means he has to harvest souls. He has to abide by his monstrous impulses and make sure he doesn’t go too long without eating.
Ilsa has two sides of herself that never meet, one the caring sister who truly loves Leo and August and who cares about what’s happening to the world and one that appears only when she goes dark. I love how her tattoo markings were stars, how she loved the sight of those tiny bright lights in the darkness, holding it at bay.
Leo is a tall glass of milk of whom I would happily slake my thirst. Emotionless, pragmatic, described as “more god than monster,” Leo is on something of a holy mission, viewing himself as judge, jury, and executioner of the sinners of Verity. He’s gone dark so many times he barely has any cross tattoos on him, freely giving up his humanity and reveling in his monstrous side, pushing the boundaries of all the ways he can harvest souls even without music. My only wish is that I had gotten more of him because hmmm yeah, sounds like a personal challenge to me.
My real problematic fav, though, was Sloan, Callum Harker’s pet Malchai and servant. The moment I read him slinking around Kate, taunting her with his “rictus grin” and creepy conversation, his eyes glowing red, I softly whispered, “Fuck,” and that was all she wrote. I HIGHLY enjoy him and all his nefariousness. More of him immediately.
I also really love Kate because she follows through with what she says. Determined to be the daughter her father would be proud of, she does whatever is necessary, taking her own initiative and not being afraid to get her own hands dirty. But she’s still so incredibly vulnerable and hellbent on never letting her father see it because she wants his approval and validation so desperately. It’s ironic that while Kate is a human, she has barely any human contact even with her own father, and yet August has real parental figures in Henry and Emily Flynn and he cares deeply for Ilsa.
The ginger, careful way August and Kate were feeling each other out in the beginning was perfection, making how they later have to rely on each other for survival even more amazing. They make an awesome, badass team, and I adored how much it was based on learning to trust each other and rely on each other’s strengths rather than because of an ill-timed romance, which never really happened. I think it’s implied that a romance could form between them one day maybe, but right now, we got shit to do.
Ultimately, This Savage Song seeks to answer what acts truly make us monsters. Is it about our intent or is it merely the nature of the act itself? Born a monster, August starts off with a very black and white definition of evil and what constitutes a sinner; he’s so focused on his own monstrous nature and not being human that he doesn’t start to question his thinking until much later.
Kate, meanwhile, is a good person, but she will also be cruel and exacting to achieve her goals, to both fellow humans and monsters alike. I thought it was interesting how she could commit the same terrible act toward both a monster and a human, but it only counted as “wrong” when it was done to a human, forcing the reader to question why that is.
What’s the difference between monsters and humans? Not sentience, clearly, so does it truly come down to possessing a soul? What about their nature? We see constantly that August, while lost and troubled, has a good nature, and Ilsa cares for others and the world at large before herself. However, it’s through August’s friendship with Kate that we start to see some of the black and white mentality of good and evil, human and monster, meld into gray, and I loved that. I don’t do strictly black and white anything, except on penguins and clothes.
The main thing about this book I was iffy on, though, was how the monsters actually got here. I wish that Schwab had been a little more detailed with the world-building and the Phenomenon aka what that actually was, especially since this book takes place in the former United States. The vagueness made some parts of the book fairly confusing, which is the main reason this book gets four stars instead of five. How exactly did we get to this point where the states are no more, the country is divided up into territory cities with the Waste in between, and travel back and forth is largely barred? I’m hoping these questions and more will be answered in the sequel because I do like what I was given; I just needed more of it.
Overall, this book is a strong “YES” from me. I can’t wait to get to the sequel, and I’m excited because I only have a vague idea of what it’s going to be about, which can only mean that there are so many surprises in store.