“You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.”
When I picked up the first book in V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series at the start of the year, little did I know that this would be the start of my journey into one of the most captivating and immersive series I’ve ever read. I fell completely in love with the Shades of Magic series, with its final book, A Conjuring of Light, breaking my heart a hundred times over within its pages, and mesmerising me from start to finish. It was a series I never wanted to end, and as I put it down, I knew I had to find myself some more V. E. Schwab.
This meant I had some high expectations for her Monsters of Verity series which I began reading last month, and finished a couple of weeks ago with the recently released conclusion, Our Dark Duet. Having now finished this series, I can say that it did not disappoint, though I’m a little sad to admit that it didn’t amaze me quite as much as Shades of Magic. Here’s what I thought of my second V. E. Schwab series (spoiler-free).
Monsters of Verity is a dark urban fantasy series that takes place in Verity, a city in which violent crimes spawn monsters. There are Corsai, shadowy, primitive creatures that hide in the shadows and feed on flesh and bone, Malchai, the cruel and cunning humanoid monsters that feed on blood, and Sunai, born from the most monstruous of crimes, and who can steal a person’s soul with their music.
Control of the city has fallen to two warring factions: the ruthless Callum Harker and his monsters rule the North, where the elite pay for his protection, whilst the kind-hearted Henry Flynn strives to protect the inhabitants of the South. The story is told from two viewpoints from different sides of the city – Kate Harker, and August Flynn. Kate is determined to prove that she is truly her father’s daughter, and can be equally, if not more, ruthless, whilst August is a Sunai, and only wishes he could be human.
“We are the darkest acts made light.”
The setting of this series captured my imagination immediately. I loved the idea of a city where violence creates physical monsters, and V. E. Schwab does a great job of giving Verity a dark, dangerous and bloodthirsty atmosphere. She also does a good job of contrasting the opposing sides of the city, giving the sides a unique feel and giving an idea of the characters’ contrasting backgrounds.
The characters themselves are a major highlight of this series. In Kate, V. E. Schwab creates yet a brave, sharp, and driven character, who is motivated by the desire to prove herself. Similarly to Lila Bard in Shades of Magic, Kate is a character who at the start of the book acts largely out of self-interest, and whose actions are sometimes morally grey. However, here the comparisons to Lila end, since Kate has entirely different motivations, a different way of interacting with other characters, and faces different challenges.
August meanwhile is a kind-hearted and likeable character who struggles with his identity. August hates being a monster, hates the idea of what he is capable of achieving with a few simple notes of music. Out of the main characters, I found Kate to be the most dynamic, though I often felt sympathetic to August’s struggles with self-loathing. Both characters feel like they have distinct voices, and their contrasting motivations and viewpoints make their unlikely alliance an interesting one. Both characters undergo some big changes over the course of two books, and this character development was something I found satisfying, though admittedly it doesn’t come close to Lila Bard’s development in Shades of Magic.
“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”
The plot itself is filled with action and fight-scenes. A lot of these are fast-paced, bloody, and nerve-wracking. Whilst the first book in the series involves more mystery, the second has a more identifiable villain, and the fact that the plots are almost completely different mean the story never feels repetitive or stale. I was also happy with how the series progressed, and without giving too much away, I liked the ending.
I know that in the US this series is marketed as young adult, whilst in the UK it’s categorised as adult fantasy. For me, this series works as either. The characters are young adults, but the writing and plot feel mature and dark enough to fit an adult audience. I wouldn’t say there’s anything in this book that limits it to any one of these audiences. The writing isn’t tedious or dense, like fantasy can sometimes feel, and instead is easy-to-read and fast-paced, making these the kind of books that a seasoned fantasy reader can finish off in a couple of days.
I don’t have any major complaints about this series. Technically, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I felt very invested in the characters, the plot kept me hooked, and I loved the setting. But I did find that it didn’t quite have the same “wow” factor as I felt from Shades of Magic. While I know a lot of people who have found Monsters of Verity just as absorbing (or even more so) and who found the story very emotional, I didn’t feel like this pulled on my heartstrings quite as much. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of dark, emotional and heartbreaking moments in this series, but for some reason they just didn’t have that great an impact on me. I certainly felt them, but my heart didn’t take the same kind of beating it did as when I read A Conjuring of Light.
All these comparisons to Shades of Magic are probably a little unfair. Shades of Magic is one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, and it’s going to be very hard for anything to beat it. In its own right, Monsters of Verity really is a fantastic series with interesting and dynamic characters, a dark and intriguing setting, and an exciting plot. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an accessible fantasy with dark themes and strong characters.
“There were two kinds of monsters, the kind that hunted the streets and the kind that lived in your head. She could fight the first, but the second was more dangerous. It was always, always, always a step ahead.”
Series Rating: 4/5
In other news, I’m heading to YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention in London) this weekend! Let me know if you’re planning on being there too!