Book Review: Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab

It’s a funny cycle and it goes like this: I write a book. When marketing said book for potential agents, having comparison titles can be very helpful. I go looking for comp titles from comp title extraordinaire, Megan Manzano. She does it for me for free because she’s my husband’s little sister, and I spent hours when she was a kid playing pet shop with her stuffed animals, so she owes me. She does charge for the service as well, so you should check it out. The next step in the cycle is to read the books she recommends and make sure I agree and know what I’m talking about when an agent says, “what in particular did you think was similar to the book?” That would be a really bad moment to gape like a fish. Anyway, I read, I love, I gush to her in annoying ways via FB Messenger, and then I write one of these. The Monsters of Verity series by Victoria Schwab was recommended to me mostly based on tone, family politics, and monster battles, but I stayed for so much more.

This-Savage-Song-Victoria-Schwab

Book Summary: Below is the jacket copy for the first book of the duology, This Savage Song. I will not include a summary for Our Dark Duet, because that would be spoilery as all get out.


Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.

What I enjoyed: I have to really stop and think about this, because on a knee jerk, I want to think I enjoyed everything, but I want to be more specific. This was definitely a novel that swept me up and through me through the dryer in the best possible way, so I’m still a little dizzy over it. Okay, deep breaths.

For starters, the characters–generally my favorite part of the book, I loved these characters. Kate was difficult to love, and at first you kind of loved to hate her, but by the end of her arc, I was blown away by her. She was a complex and truly wonderful character. August was a character I loved from the beginning, but his journey was a gripping ride, as he came to terms with who he was, what his role could be and what it should be. The villains ran the gamut between disturbing (the monsters) and oddly understandable and still disturbing (the human villains).

The mythology of this world was surprising and inventive. The monsters here are born of violent acts, meaning each act of brutal violence creates a monster. Dealing with your own demons is a big theme in this book. I was intrigued by the breakdown of differences between the monsters, and the creation of the war-divided city of Verity. I applauded her use of music as a way to draw forth a soul for devouring in the Sunai. This was a completely unique monster concept to me, and I loved the way this played out, especially in the end. The writing in itself is downright poetic. Like the music from August’s violin, it drags you in and holds you in its comforting lull or pulls you into pieces, depending on the moment.

The tone of the story was another lovely point. It was gritty and real and lived in. No punches pulled.

What I’d avoid:

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the story, although they definitely weren’t as prevalent as the things I did. Schwab delivered a new and inventive world, and I understood that she wanted to leave some room for speculation, but there were a couple of threads I felt were left hanging. Things like “what happened to the US to create a city like Verity?” or “What happened to certain characters Kate and August weren’t able to maintain contact with?” just kind of never get answered, even though they felt like they would be. They aren’t integral to the plot, but it nagged me a little bit. Bigger questions, like “why are the Sunai SO DIFFERENT from other monsters, and from each other?” could have been purposely left open as something for the reader to suss out and theorize about, but I felt a few more clues would have been very much appreciated.

Would I recommend it:

I actually just did. I hope my husband is enjoying his audiobook of it right now! And I will continue to. I really enjoyed this story.

What can I learn from it:

I’ve been struggling with the bittersweet ending of one of my novels, wondering if I’d gone the right way with it. The Monsters of Verity series, along with its popularity, made me feel much better about this choice in my work. It also helped me trudge forward without fear in my latest work, which does have a gritty backdrop and a slightly selfish heroine. This story is a class in “Write what the story wants, the rest will fall in place” and I love that.

Despite my few tiny gripes, this series had me from the very first line and held me. And, it helpfully works as an addition to my list of comp titles. One of my favorite things about looking for comp titles is discovering new authors and new stories. Have any of you ready This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet? Any recommendations of similar books?

 

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#p2p16 Editing Journal – Wave 2 

Please enjoy the continuation of my editing journal for #p2p16. To learn more about it and see how wave 1 did, check out my previous post here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016:

Today, I received my second wave of edits from Kaitlyn! I am very excited to dive into them. The main bulk of them are line edits, because apparently, she thinks I did a great job listening to notes in her previous edits and making the corresponding scenes and changes to scenes to make it work. However, there were a couple of things that needed to be discussed and punched up in certain places. A main issue was diversity, and the reason is embarrassing. 

In my mind, I envisioned a very diverse group of people for my Keys and Guardians. This was a group that should look like a cross section of this great planet we live on. There are Anglo, Irish, Hispanic, Black and Asian characters (there is a big cast), a gay character, and in book 2, which I have already started writing, there is also a bisexual character and a disabled character. So, I am not actually short on diversity. It’s been there in my sketch of the characters the entire time. 

The problem is, I chickened out. I became frightened of writing descriptions, because I worried they would offend someone. I wasn’t sure I knew how to do justice to characters of color coming from the position of a woman who is pretty much every kind of white there is. So, obviously, I had done something very wrong, because now, my reader had no idea there was any diversity. She thought I had written a stark white cast.

A big issue, upon researching this, was that my characters can’t have a culture of their own. They are born and raised together as Keys and Guardians, so they are pretty much all homogeneous when it comes to culture, although there were enough of them before The Great War that they aren’t exactly homogeneous when it comes to appearance. So, I struggled to give descriptions that weren’t heavy handed or worded in a way that would offend people, because descriptive words can be unwieldy things and people do not like to be described as food flavors for very good reasons. I wasn’t sure if there were other rules that needed to be followed just like that.

Diversity is important to me. Having representative characters means something. I mean, my skin color was thoroughly represented as a child, but I still went and bought the Barbie with the brown hair and any doll with glasses, because that was the closest look to my own. I still loved Belle because she loved to read and looked the most like me. Why shouldn’t other people have that representation, and why shouldn’t a teenager discover someone who looks like them when they read my book? 

Still, as a Social Justice Warrior (I love when people say that as an insult, when it really makes you sound like a badass superhero), I wanted to make sure I did that correctly. In my research, I found the most amazing and helpful page, Writing With Color to help me avoid any pitfalls and allow my readers to feel represented without inadvertently insulting them with something I probably should have known already, but I will be the first to admit that I have some ignorance and privilege and welcome whenever I have the opportunity to learn more.

And so, I strike out on my 2nd wave of edits, looking to describe all of my characters in stronger ways as well as clean up some other smaller issues along the way. 

Kaitlyn has also informed me that she will be touching base with me about my query and my synopsis by the end of this week, and all of the edits will be due back to her by December 2, 2016. Thusly, here begins another two week whirlwind of edits. 

Monday, November 21, 2016:

Today I worked through Chapter 1 and 2 line edits on breaks at work. I also started the process of reintegrating my descriptions back into the piece as well as solving a couple of other issues through clarification. 

For Chapter 3, I worked to clarify the timing of events that happened before the start of the story. It was difficult to fit in without it being an info dump, but I tried, and found a place without being too ham fisted. 

I’ve worked all the way  through to part of Chapter 6, but I’m not feeling too well. I’m going to turn in for the night and wake up early. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016: 

I woke up at 4AM this morning (after going to sleep at 8:30 last night) and got to work. I made it through the rest of Chapter 6 and the beginning of 7 before it was time to take my little nugget to school. Not bad. 

Was very proud today to find a note saying something bothered Kaitlyn about my character that I put there on purpose. It may not be noticeable on the first read, but it was on the second, and that’s good, because it’s a lead in to where Book 2 is going. 

I changed a chalkboard to a whiteboard in an attempt to make the classroom setting in the story a little more modern, and I only changed it in one place. Every other instance still said chalkboard. ARGH!

That moment you realize you’ve been formatting ellipses wrong for all time…whoops.

I’m turning in early again tonight, but on Chapter 13. This round is moving along much quicker!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016:

I woke up early today to get some editing in, yay! Today is an odd day, with a shortened work schedule, and the opportunity to go see my boy in his Judo class, plus I need to bake something for Thanksgiving tonight, so I’m not sure how much I’ll get done, but I’m going to do my best to make a dent! 

Today, reading Kaitlyn’s notes, I realized I had telegraphed something for Book 2, but in the wrong direction, so I’m working through my edits to make sure I redirect that in the right way, so people aren’t confused and don’t expect something different. That’s not to say that something unexpected can’t happen, but for this, I need the progression to make sense, and if the reader expects what Kaitlyn did, they may be disappointed. So, a few line corrections to make, for clarification.

Thursday, November 24, 2016: 

A lovely day at my father-in-law’s house, with lots of Turkey and sides and desserts and no editing. Ah, well.

Friday, November 25, 2016: 

Nasty migraine all day, but still managed to shuffle my way through two chapters. I’m almost done though.

Saturday, November 26, 2016:

Though my morning was spent at the mall, I made a huge dent in the manuscript. I also received an edited synopsis and query letter from Kaitlyn. 

I have learned I ellipsis too much. I must ellipsis less, even if my characters are speaking in a halting manner. It doesn’t seem to read well. 

Reviewed Kaitlyn’s edit to my query letter. Wow, her blurb describing the book was so much better and more compelling than mine. I just hadn’t thought some of the stuff she mentioned was important, but now that I’m looking at it, I guess it would help along the lines of marketing. She’s sort of a genius. Okay, she’s not SORT OF a genius, she IS a genius. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016:

I’ve completed my edits! I can’t believe we finished with more than enough time. I don’t describe people much past the first introduction to them, focusing instead on facial expressions and mannerisms than physical appearance, so the corrections I hoped to make to make the diversity of my cast more apparent weren’t huge, but they are there. I’ve never been big on describing characters so much, as that’s one of the major things I enjoy leaving up to reader’s imaginations. However, I remain open to criticism if it is at all necessary, and hopefully that makes me a good enough ally. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016: 

I have officially handed in my finalized materials for the agent round! Keep your fingers crossed for me! I’ll post about how it goes.