Holly Black has been a part of many childhoods and young adulthoods through her work on series like The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Folk of the Air. Her worlds are full of faeries and bargains, many of which end in unexpected and terrible ways. I loved The Folk of the Air series, as well as a couple of her young adult standalone novels, so when I heard that her adult debut was coming out this year, I was intrigued by the possibilities and excited to read it.
Book of Night is about shadows and the magic that they possess if they are quickened. People use their magic shadows in a few different ways to achieve their goals, most of which are hard to explain. But the most prevalent one in this story is that people can send their shadows to attack and harm others in their vicinity, with the rule being that the shadow can’t detach itself from a human and leave. Charlie is a thief with a normal shadow, drawn into a terrifying world of death and anger when she’s attacked by a man and his shadow whilst bartending.
I certainly expected more from Book of Night. I was let down by the oddly flat characters, the mediocre plot, and the lack of tension. It wasn’t a bad read, despite these, but it only got three stars from me. But first, let me explain.
Charlie was a fairly complex character, her background explained in detail over many chapters titled “Past”. I was worried Black was getting into the realm of over-explaining, but it landed quite well and backed up a lot of Charlie’s questionable decisions. The rest of the characters didn’t feel quite real to me. Charlie’s sister seemed quite flat: she reads tarot cards and wants a magic shadow. At least she had motivation, but I didn’t care one way or another if she succeeded. Vince and the rest of the cast felt similarly. They either had a singular motivation and weren’t working very strongly towards it, or they didn’t have a motivation at all. Vince was an exception near the very end of the novel, but it felt so belated that I didn’t have time to root for him.
This leads me to the plot. It was clever but anticlimactic. I predicted nearly everything that happened, which didn’t help the lack of tension. It was so different from the complexity of her YA novels. Surprising indeed, since I thought an adult novel would give the opportunity for more complexity in both plot and character.
I believe the lack of tension came from an unbalanced plot. The beginning felt like it took forever, and I struggled to stay interested in the first third of the book. After that, things seemed to rush towards the end without much of a rise in the rising action. And the “Past” chapters continued, which broke the tension and delayed the action (though they were necessary, and I understand fully why they were included where they were). Overall, it felt unbalanced, and I wish it had a bit more depth to it since the world-building was deep and amazing.
Two things saved this book for me; one was Charlie herself. I liked her character and how despite wanting to stay on the good and true path, she was a thief and a liar and willing to do what was necessary. And she liked being that way. The second was the magic system. It was complex and unique, with many moving pieces and so much room to expand. I had hoped the book itself would live up to the magic system and I regret to say that I don’t think it totally did.
Book of Night was a good read, but not a great one. I do recommend picking it up, as I believe there will be at least another book to make it a series and there is opportunity and skill to make this series incredible.
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