It’s been such a long, long time since a book has shaken me up this badly.
Broke me. Our Dark Duet broke me.
If this was any other book, I’d follow the previous sentence with in the best possible way, but not this time. Yes, it’s true that sometimes I actually like to have my emotions twisted around once in a while, but this? It was on a whole other level: compared to its predecessor, and compared to any other of Schwab’s books.
The funny thing is, I didn’t come into ODD with high expectations, but not for the reason one might expect. This duology is fairly hyped (and rightly so, with V’s name on the cover), but the buzz didn’t leave me anticipation anything strongly because – quite frankly – I liked but didn’t love This Savage Song.
Now, don’t get me wrong: TSS was good; it was fine. But it was missing that little je ne sais quoi that characterizes Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy. It felt a bit .. awkward. The writing, worldbuilding, and charcterization were on point, mind you; it was perhaps the pacing, or development, that was off. Or something. Perhaps it was the fact that I was already in love with V’s other books (ADSoM and AGoS) and had subconsciously elevated them to the status of “model books”, which all others would have to be compared against. Compared to the Shades, TSS dulled. Big time. I liked Kate, I liked August, I liked their world. The only thing I loved, really, was the concept of the monsters themselves.
I had then decided not to worry or expect much from the sequel.
And this, my dear friends, is my first mistake.
Because I should NEVER underestimate a VE Schwab book so.
After ODD released and brought its glowing reviews with it, the idea occurred to me that perhaps I hadn’t given TSS much credit. It might be that I read it too fast, or was cranky that day, or was stuck in my endless ADSoM fascination, but the feeling quickly overcame me that perhaps I should give TSS another chance. So I bought the PB when it released, and decided on picking up a copy of ODD while I’m at it, only this time, with an open mind.
I reread the best parts of TSS, and I saw the appeal. I read them again, and I became fascinated. I read them a third time, and I finally began to cling to the characters (my thoughts ran thus: I wanted to be BFFs with Kate Harker while adopting the adorable August. Because why not). Bottom line: TSS was growing on me. And I was now, consequently, invested and anticipating the sequel.
Then I picked up Our Dark Duet.
My first thought was: Are these books even in the same series?
Quickly followed by: How did I think, for an instant, of putting this off?
Then: This is great. This is awesome.
Punctuated by: NINA YOU’RE AN IDIOT FOR WAITING THIS LONG TO PICK THIS UP (just two months late, but I’m an idiot just the same, fear not).
In short, I was loving it.
I wouldn’t call this book fast-paced, exactly, (not like the flawless A Conjuring of Light) but it’s got the same sense of this hectic underlying urgency to it that makes it imperative to flip those pages. A chapter won’t suffice (even though they don’t end on cliffhangers, exactly), and next thing you know it, you’ve reached the acknowledgements. It’s by and large a character-driven narrative (which I normally loathe), but once you care for the characters, the slow plot moves as fast as hell. And this makes clear one thing: you don’t have to be fast-paced to be compelling.
Schwab’s writing style, of course, continues to be its dazzling self, with lush-but-concise language – if you think that’s an oxymoron, read this with me, if you please:
“People were messy. They were defined not only by what they’d done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, molded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back – time only moved forward – but people could change.
And for better.
It wasn’t easy. The world was complicated. Life was hard. And so often, living hurt.
So make it worth the pain.”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I mean when I say “lush-but-concise”. No, you don’t need big fancy words or needless metaphors to be poetic. How? I just showed you how. I don’t know how Schwab does this. But I see proof right in front of my eyes (which hurt from reading this massive book non-stop, by the way. Who needs sleep. Certainly not me. *eye twitches*).
Oh! And how can I forget to mention the gorgeous, unexpected addition that is the Chaos Eater’s chapters written in free verse? Yes, you read that right. FREE VERSE POETRY. In a VES book. What a time to be alive. (it gave me a bit of AIDAN vibes, for some reason. Tell me I’m not alone?).
Anyways. Moving on.
The concept, of course, continues to fascinate me. The monsters. The sins. The sinners. The small details in the expansive worldbuilding, such as the fact that Prosperity has different monsters than Verity does, or the fact that the monsters look like a warped version of their sinner, or that some souls are a blur of red and white. It’s just so richly conceptualized and executed that I just .. wow.
But, ah, small confession: I did find many new aspects, at times, a bit too similar to The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski, and I know, that is such a weird comparison, but it’s been nagging me. The similarities run thus:
– Leo’s voice in August’s head is like Death’s in Arin’s
– Kate being good militarily with strategies and striding unwelcomed to offer such advice .. yeah, I’ve seen this before with Kestrel, too
– Mild spoiler (to ODD and TWK): [spoilers redacted, for spoilerly review click here]
– Kate and Ilsa’s relationship felt too much like Sarsine’s and Kestrel’s
– Do you see the mild problem?
– But this could be me being overly picky.
– So ignore me.
But obviously, this didn’t stop me from rating this a full (and then some) 6/5 stars. Rest assured, I know books can’t be 100% original. Similar ideas exist, and tropes exist. It’s fine, really.
Now we get to my personal favorite part: The characters. In list form. Because why not. (Note that I tried, very hard, to start this review cool and collected and with an air of semi-professionalism, but be warned: this is the part where I lose all that. Because these CHARACTERS ARE MY <3).
– Kate: Okay, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I seriously want to be best friends with Kate. We’ll hunt monsters together. She’s awesome. She kicks butt, and lashes out at people, and swears profusely, and is so sassily snarky, but .. she cares. She has her vulnerabilities, clearly stated. She cares about specific people (namely August and Riley), and this is clearly defined. And this, quite frankly, is what I needed to, and didn’t, see in Lila Bard’s characterization. Don’t get me wrong, I still like Lila, but remember in my review in TSS (if you haven’t read my review, go see it. I’ll count to ten before continuing. No? Okay then) when I said I liked Lila more than Kate? My, how the tables have turned. And this admission surprises me, because I’ve spent most of review (which I just noticed is so long, oh my goodness) saying ADSoM is better than the Monsters of Verity books, so.. yeah, a big reveal is coming soon. Just you wait.
Also: I feel like Kate is the most ME character that ever me-ed. It’s just .. so many of what she does, I picture myself doing? (not the monster fighting, mind you. i may be fabulous, but I’m not that fabulous.) Like when she keeps repeating the same joke over and over again to get August to smile, and he brushes her off and she keeps going before losing her temper at him even though she was the annoying one? My, isn’t that relatable. Just ask my sister. Or mother. Or goldfish. They’ll all tell you the same thing. Plus, I like my music deafeningly loud, too. Go us.
– August: I am somehow very very protective of August Flynn. He’s just a little violent adorable teddy bear of a monster that I want to hug and never let go. He’s a new version of himself in ODD, a bit unrecognizable on the outside, but with the same gentle core. He’s kind, and sensitive, and considerate, and I honestly love him. (I even named my new laptop – yes, I name my laptop, don’t you? – after him. Because what other names are there in the world, I ask you). August’s character development is legendary. His troubles were palpable. His relationship with Kate is so perfectly written I could cry.
– Let’s talk about the thing that ruined me, okay? Okay. [spoliers redacted. For spoliery review click here] And I swear to God, just typing this out is making me tremble all over again. This hurts, okay? This hurts me a lot. I feel like I’m not even supposed to care this much. But I do. Put in Queen Schwab’s words:
“After all, books can’t hurt you unless you care about them. That’s how they get in – through the cracks that caring makes in us.”
This just .. this just makes me shiver.
Let’s all just move on before I break down again, shall we? I’d hate to leave this review unfinished with nothing but sjgbjbbsbkjjjjjjjjjjjj left (or some other keyboard smash result) if I collapse crying against my keyboard. I don’t think you want to see that.
– The Chaos Eater: Why are you surprised I listed it here? It narrates, no? Anyway. The Chaos Eater is perhaps the scariest villain to date that I have ever read about. And I like, and appreciate, the fact that while the Chaos Eater is similar to Osaron, it isn’t Osaron. Yes, they’re both shadowed and lurking and downright creepy, but they are clearly different villains. Another check off the checklist.
– All the other characters, I cared about substantially, I assure you, but I don’t believe they warrant a mention. We have other things to cover.
No review would be complete without a direct comparision to A Conjuring of Light. Why? Because Our Dark Duet is my 5th Schwab book, and one my favorite things to do is compare author’s previous books with newer ones. I like tracking development. (this is a very condensced list; i’m saving the big list for a separate blog post). So allow me to do my thing, if you please.
– Structurally, ODD is plotted looser than the massive, plot-twisty ACoL, but it manages to have the same effect: that frantic urgency, as I mentioned before. A slow-paced narrative has the same whiplash effect as a fast-paced one. Odd, no?
-Light spoiler, maybe? I don’t know. (((((((( The death toll is much, much heavier in ODD than ACoL, and as a result, ODD made for a much more tense read. I literally lost sleep over this book, substituting recharging myself for drinking loads of coffee. Because why not. Also: caffeiiiiiine.)))))))))
– ACoL stands out a bit more than this duology as a whole, and I believe this is due to the Shades’ sense of .. epicness. Four Londons, extensive magic system, etc. And this duology? It’s much simpler. But it just now hit me – and once it did, I can’t ignore this fact any longer – that V managed make an outstanding duology from extremely recycled, cliché concepts: dystopia, post-apocalyptic United States, and vampires. And if someone were to tell me a book had these, I’d honestly run away.
And yet, here we are.
Y’all, my point in typing up this mini-comparison is to say this: I used to think ACoL was pure perfection and that it would snag the much-coveted title of “Best 2017 Release That Nina Crowned”, along came ODD and shake this assumption. It’s challenging ACoL, guys, the flawless ACoL. And it just might win.
Okay, I’ll wrap this up; this review has been going on for longer than I thought it would.
I loved this book. I adore Kate. August has my heart. This book is cruel. V is cruel. I might be crying now.