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#20Books of Summer 2022 #Book of Night by Holly Black #Fantasy @Tor Books

From the blurb:

#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black makes her stunning adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of betrayals, secret societies, and a dissolute thief of shadows, in the vein of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern.
Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make.

She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie’s shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies.

Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world—all trying to steal a secret that will give them vast and terrible power.

My thoughts:
Rightly or wrongly, readers have and will be comparing Book of Night to The Folk of Air trilogy and many will find this dark and gloomy adult world lacking the sweet excitement and irresistible pull of the Cruel Prince.
Don’t be hasty to judge Book of Night for not being as good as Holly Black’s much loved YA gems: the world-building is excellent and the writing is still as beautiful and compelling as ever. As for the main character Charlie…well, Jude wasn’t flawless, but we all loved this second generation immigrant for her drive, determination, and dedication to loving her damaged prince… Charlie Hall is impulsive (an adrenaline junkie), but she is also kind and loyal- she would do anything for her sister Posey who would love nothing better than to join the mighty and powerful magic elite. She is also in love with her ‘broken’, shadowless boyfriend Vince. Sounds familiar?

The tone and the themes are different, of course. Instead of fighting for acceptance, here we have the very adult, very boring topic of taking responsibility for our past decisions and mistakes and owning them. For some people Past is their foundation, something to look back and smile in satisfaction and pride, for others it’s something to run away from, suppress, ‘erase, rewind’, and Charlie, like most of us, is somewhere in between.

A con artist extraordinaire and notorious thief of magic paraphernalia (mostly books), Charlie has been on the straight and narrow for a couple years. It wasn’t just her narrow brush with death, it was her own emotional and ethical epiphany that made her say ‘enough is enough’. The problem is that being a con artist and stealing was something she was brilliant at and it isn’t easy to give up ‘the capable’ part of your identity when you’re struggling with the rest.

The world-building is as complex and brilliant as we’ve come to expect from Holly Black. The magic system is based on people’s shadows and there are various categories of gloamists/shadow magicians who can alter, use, and misuse them. Yes, even your shadow can be stolen in this world and with it a huge chunk of your memories and your emotions. Since we follow the events mostly from Charlie’s point of view and she is well-versed in this arcane world (given her professional expertise), there’s no easy and natural way to explain things to the reader. We learn on the go through meeting various characters and seeing them in action (there are quite a few, so it isn’t easy to keep track of them). There are also two timelines- Present is interspersed with Past chapters that slowly and gradually allow us to get to know and understand Charlie better.

Romance…There’s less of it…To be honest, I’m glad that Holly Black didn’t go the way other authors switching from YA to Adult went by including too many graphic scenes. I’m still in favour of her closed door, off the page descriptions ofintimacy, but just a bit more tension, more emotional build-up would have made it perfect and would have made me appreciate the last words in the book even more. Trust me, they are beautiful.

What we’re lacking in romance, we’re getting in mystery and suspense. Starting from the Liber Noctem itself, Blights and Blight Hunters, staged murders, gloamists, Charlie’s heists, and twists…including the major one…which you won’t have any trouble seeing coming. Despite all this action, something was missing and the pace felt too steady.

Then again, some of these narrative choices made by Holly Black must be interconnected. This is a spoiler, so read at your peril. Just before the climax, we get a chapter from someone else’s point of view and gain a valuable insight into their feelings, but Charlie doesn’t know any of this. My guess is Holly Black decided to diffuse/diminish the shocking twist value in order to give Charlie a chance to make a leap of faith. Action traded for more emotional subtlety?

I liked the climax and the ending. While the first one had all the drama we had been missing up to that point, the ending was quiet, sweet and almost too simple. It also followed the logic of the narrative and character development, hopefully, taking the story to the next level of adventure …in the sequel. Can’t wait to read it!

  • Have you read Book of Night or is it on your tbr?
  • If yes, what did you think of it? Where do you think the author could take the story in its sequel? Did you like Charlie and Vince?

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