Monsters, Monsters, big and small,

They’re gonna come and eat you all.

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.

Two households, both alike in (in)dignity, in (un)fair Verity City, where the indomitable Victoria "V.E." Schwab lays her scene. A recent grudge breaks to a new unthinkable mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean – and where violent acts breed actual monsters. Two youths, one from each house, destined to be enemies but slowly turned allies and friends. In a story full of blood and shadows, fear and division, who are the real monsters?

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Now that I had my fun spoofing Shakespeare (sorry not sorry, Shakes), let me retrace my steps: it’s been over a decade since “The Phenomenon” took place – ever since then, any act of violence can breed monsters, any foul act you commit becomes imprinted on your soul. There are vampiric monsters who feed on your blood. There are those who will eat you raw, flesh and bone and sinew. And then there are those who will see the shadows that tell you are unclean, and they will consume your soul. The Corsai and the Malchai monsters are angry, awful, fearsome but killable. The latter monsters, the Sunai, are not only invincible but also rare – the stories say that there are only three of them.

The humans who inhabit this new world make do and in Verity City, a place split into two, each side is run by a family:

The Harkers took over one part of the city, and they run it by letting monsters run free and offering protection to humans – for a fee. Kate Harker is its heir, a young, trouble teenager whose only wish is to prove to her father that she can be a ruthless as he is.

The Flynns kill any monster on sight and their part of the city is mostly monster-free but also decrepit and run-down. The Flynns have something up their sleeve though, for they have the Sunai. It’s a power play mingled with sincerity of heart because they keep them as family members. August is the youngest one, the untried sibling, the one who doesn’t want to be a monster. August is as earnest as he is scared but when he is hungry, his song is as savage and devastating as any Sunai’s.

This Savage Song is V.E. Schwab’s latest incursion into YA territory and the first part of a duology. It’s Urban Fantasy with a hearty side of horror and yet another fantastic novel from this author: one that pulls at the heartstrings just as it hammers its implacable twists: August isn’t human, and there isn’t escaping that (as much as he’d like to). There is though, a thorough examination of what makes a monster and that fuels and informs both Kate and August’s arcs. Their storylines converge and diverge beautifully, feeding into each other’s as independent people who happen to find themselves on the same side. I like romance, but I appreciated how their story has none – it reads like a cool bookish sibling to Pacific Rim, in which two great characters work together to achieve something and perhaps build a better world. The stacks are so completely against them though, it’s doubtful their earnestness will ever be rewarded but I shall be there to read the sequel and find out. 

In Booksmugglerish: 8 out of 10     

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.