The Book of Night by Holly Black (book review)
GENRE: Adult Fantasy
LENGTH: 304 pages
Charlie lives in a world where some people possess the ability to control their shadows. The novel follows her tracking down the titular Book of Night which her nemesis, Lionel Salt, also wants.
Charlie is a reformed thief and con-artist who is trying to do her best to live a simple life with her sister, Posey, and her boyfriend, Vince. She's what I refer to as a morally grey character. I'd say she's a mix of Nora from The Girl's I've Been by Tess Sharpe and Alex Stern from Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.
Vince at first appears to be a quiet, almost boring character. As the story progresses we learn more and more about Vince that makes him a lot more intriguing. He's full of secrets that connect him to the plot of the story. It's ironic how the one I first thought was the least interesting character became the most gripping one.
The other character worthy of note is Lionel Salt. He's a billionaire who murders people and experiments with their shadows. He wronged Charlie years ago which is why she wants revenge against him. I didn't like Salt because he wasn't a well fleshed out antagonist. He's plenty intimidating, but he is the stereotypical evil rich guy.
The novel is told in the third person. It follows both Charlie and Vince in their present day and their past/childhoods. A common criticism I saw in other reviews was how flat the characters are. I disagree when it comes to Charlie and Vince. The past chapters help the reader better understand the psyche of both characters and how they came to be where they are.
Black can do amazing world building. I hailed her Folk of Air trilogy (and in particular the second book, The Wicked King) as something YA fantasy writers should take note of for the world building. That's why it's disappointing that here it is somewhat lacking. The concept of shadow magic, and even some of the execution, is awesome and a real step outside of Black's comfort zone of writing fae stories. I just wish the magic system was elaborated on more. At times it seemed like Black was coming up with new tricks to gloaming (shadow magic) on the fly.
The story does have a tad of a slow start but hang in there because once the plot picks up it gets really good. There is a twist pretty late in the novel that had my jaw on the floor. I had to put the book down for a while to just process it fully.
I imagine the ending will be quite divisive because it's very bittersweet. I personally liked it because a) it was foreshadowed and b) it fit with what we know of the characters. Given there is going to be a sequel the ending makes even more sense.
There is no denying that this novel is a step down from Black's YA works, but I think a lot of reviews have been overly harsh towards the book. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the plot and (certain epic shadow battle scenes) really had me hooked. If Black had put just a little bit more effort into making the rules of gloaming more concrete then this would have been an easy 5 star. I will for sure be picking up the sequel as I need to know where things go after that explosive ending.
FINAL RATING: 4⭐️