Book of Night is compulsively readable, and the characters, despite their significant flaws and failings - or perhaps because of them - are easy to empathize with.
‘What makes you feel safe when you go to sleep at night? Being able to check and see that your secrets are still hidden.’
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy
Holly Black, popular for her many Young Adult fantasy novels, turns to Adult fiction for the first time in this gritty urban adventure. I had never read anything by this author before and to be honest, seeing how many readers likened her work to Sarah J. Maas’, I was kind of dreading it a little. Look at my review of Maas’ latest supposedly ‘Adult fiction’ novel, which I reviewed recently and which you can read here if you want to know why. However, I must say that as soon as I started reading the first chapter of ‘Book of Night’, I was immediately pleasantly surprised. This book is most definitely not YA, and the depth of characterization and beautiful prose used is apparent from the beginning.
Another aspect of the narrative which I personally enjoyed, is that the book is written in the third person, and not using the first person, as in the case of most YA novels.
The plot centers around Charlie, a world-weary ex con-artist with a traumatic childhood, who is trying to live a normal life without falling back into temptation and reverting to her previous illicit job. In the first few chapters we are not only introduced to Charlie, her sister Posey, her boyfriend, and various friends and acquaintances, but also, and most importantly, we are given flashbacks of her childhood and the downward spiral which resulted in her becoming a thief, a robber, and a scammer. One can say that there is a dual timeline, one in the past, where a teenage Charlie comes for the first time into contact with the swindler Rand, who introduces her to a life of manipulation and theft, and the other one in the present, where Charlie, now an adult, still grapples with the wayward and impulsive nature which makes of each dangerous situation, an exciting adventure.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the novel however, is the worldbuilding. Black constructs a world just like ours, but with one difference. Twenty years ago, it was revealed to the world at large, that magic did, in fact, exist. A mysterious dark kind of magic, which only a few individuals have, and which is centered around shadows. People with the capacity to manipulate their own shadow are called ‘Gloamists’, and the way this power is used, we are shown, ranges from the aesthetic, to the mundane, the manipulative, to the criminal. While learning about the different kinds of shadow magic and the way this revelation impacted society, the reader is shown how shadow magic also resulted in an increase in criminality, corruption and abuse of power. Those with money, as always, are those who benefit the most, while a new underground market flourishes for those who desire to use this magic for personal gain. Meanwhile, shadier beings, both human and less so, commit more and more atrocious crimes in order to further their own agenda, and Charlie realizes that not all is as it seems.
Fans of Black who read this novel expecting the usual ‘sizzling hot push and pull’ romance present in many YA books will be disappointed, as the focus on the flirty heady tension and long drawn angsty scenes is totally absent. Instead, we get a love story which has already begun, but where both parties are still trying to come to terms with the traumas of their past and have not yet shown their respective partner their true self. It is a journey of discovery and trust. Charlie’s relationship with her boyfriend Vince is very intriguing. Vince does not have a shadow. In a world where shadows are so important, he is treated as a pariah, a misfit, a person with something ‘lacking’ or ‘wrong’. He is strong, dependable, kind, and he cares for Charlie, yet we realize that the two don’t really know each other, even though they have already been living together for months. After all, how can you expect someone to trust you with the truth, when you yourself have been lying to him from the start?
The novel explores not only the multiple ways (and extenuating reasons) we find to lie to each other, but, perhaps more importantly, the ways humans cannot help but lie to themselves. The magic-system can be said to serve as a metaphor for the shadows which hide in all of us. Those dark, twisted, unacknowledged emotions and feelings we all feel, yet must at times suppress or ignore, to be able to move on and face life.
As Charlie and those around her get sucked into schemes larger than they could imagine, she’s got to find a way to protect the people she cares about from the dark forces at work. Both new villains and ghosts from the past are looking to utilize Charlie for their own ends, and she has to dig every skeleton out of every closet in order to unravel why.
We are faced with a number of gritty issues, such as substance abuse, child neglect, and poverty, not to mention dysfunctional relationships. Most readers have lamented that the book ends with a cliff-hanger, and indeed Black has hinted on her Instagram account that this book may be the first of a duology, even though this has not been officially announced yet. Personally, I think the open-ended conclusion is just perfect since it leaves room for lots more, and yet also wraps up the plot magnificently. I personally do hope there is more where that came from!
‘Book of Night’ is compulsively readable, and the characters, despite their significant flaws and failings - or perhaps because of them - are easy to empathize with.’