THIS SAVAGE SONG by V.E. Schwab.
Published by Titan Books, London, UK on 7th June 2016
£7.99 paperback. ISBN: 978-1-7856527-4-8
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan.
Over the years there have been various novels where some kind of disaster has occurred in the past and the story is set in the aftermath, the characters having no knowledge of exactly what happened. In the case of Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the cause is some while in the past and everyone has forgotten. In others, the cause is closer in time to the action and may be something like nuclear war or disease. The effects though are the same with characters coping with the results. A more recent incarnation of this theme involves an arrival of a supernatural event.
In This Savage Song the implication is of a far future setting when the United States has been reshaped into Ten Territories. One of the largest is Verity, in the centre of which is Verity City. Verity is populated by monsters. Twelve years previously the Phenomenon happened and the monsters began to appear. They were formed out of violence, shadows taking a life and form of their own. There are three kinds. Corsai are mindless hunger machines, living in the dark and killing anything that moves; Malchai are more intelligent and can be trained and enslaved as killers; Sunai are rarer and kill with music but only feed on the souls of sinners. Verity is divided into two. North of the dividing Seam in Harker territory. Callum Harker rules it with fear and the Malchai. South is Flynn territory. Henry Flynn has taken the Sunai into his family and uses them to dispense justice. Currently there is a truce.
Kate Harker is Callum’s teenage daughter. He banished her to school outside the city but she is determined to return home and burns down a chapel to achieve her wishes. August is the youngest Sunai and appears the same age as Kate. As tensions grow between the two parts of the city, August is detailed to watch Kate and is sent to the same school as her. Despite being enemies, they form a connection and when Kate is attacked, he comes to her aid. They realise that it is the Malchai, led by Sloan, her father’s aide, who has engineered the situation, planning to kill Kate and have it blamed on August in the expectation that war between Harker and Flynn will ensue, giving the Malchai the opportunity to take over. Kate and August flee.
This is a Y/A horror novel and the two youngsters have to face their natures in order to survive, especially as they begin to realise that those they thought they could trust are working against them. The plot is unusual, the characters are well drawn with their emotional range fully explored. It is a novel about expectations, limitations and hope as well as the need to face fear. It examines the nature of monsters. Not all monsters are totally evil, some have humanity; not all humans are kind, some are monstrous. The problem is working out which is which. The only thing I would take issue with is a matter of scale. Although, the Territory of Verity is made up of four Midwestern States, there is no sense of distance while they are travelling away from the city. The pace, though, is tremendous and the jeopardy Kate and August are in feels very real. It is a book to be recommended.