REVIEW: ‘Book of Night’ by Holly Black offers an urban fantasy with a shadowy underworld

 

Holly Black’s adult fantasy debut was interesting but needed an extra layer to truly round it out.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This urban fantasy sees Holly Black make her first foray into adult fantasy, but I’m not sure how successful it was.

From the Blurb:

She’s spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate their 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.

Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but going straight 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 her shadowless and possibly soulless boyfriend has been keeping secrets from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends back 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 allow them control of the shadow world and more.

If I can give one piece of advice when first reading Book of Night, it would be to ignore the blurb entirely. This novel is more of a murder-mystery with fantasy elements thrown in, than it is a fantasy with a mystery element. And that is definitely not a bad thing, but it could be disappointing to some readers who are expecting a thoroughly defined magic system and world.

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The main focus of Book of Night is its flawed characters, and Holly Black creates these very well. Charlie is untrusting and believes the worst of herself, so much so that she cannot help but descend back into the underworld of gloamists and thievery. Her presentation was done very well, and despite her flaws she became a likeable character who I was desperately rooting for. Similarly, Vince and Posey have their own flaws, but I loved them too.

Vince in particular was a favourite character. In fact, I think he was the person I cared about most — and Book of Night did seem to end up being about him overall. He was mysterious and intriguing right from the start, with his shadowless body but kind-hearted nature.

My main issue with this book was that it was lacking in a richness to round it out and properly bring it to life. The magical element remained mysterious throughout. Charlie didn’t completely understand how it worked and as a result, neither did we. There were lots of things that Charlie was in the dark about — understandable, to create this sense of mystery — but really it just ended up frustrating. Particularly when I’d already guessed where the book was going.

It felt like there had been a lot thrown at this book: a lot of named characters that we only saw once; a lot of little details that didn’t resurface. Consequently it reads a little like a draft, something that is almost there…but not quite. I was a little disappointed, having read and loved Holly Black’s Folk of the Air series and, a long time ago, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

Nevertheless the theme of the novel is one that gripped my interest, and towards the end I started to get that feeling of not wanting to put it down. It is definitely a book worth reading, especially for those who enjoy urban fantasy with a mystery twist.

Book of Night puts forward an interesting premise, and there is a lot of potential with the novel and the world Holly Black has created. It is unclear just yet whether this book is the first in a series, and I think knowing this will affect a lot of people’s opinions. If Book of Night ends up being the start of something new, then my rating would be a little higher as it introduces a new world well enough to be interesting, and with enough scope to offer more detail in future novels.

All in all, I think Book of Night is worth the read for urban fantasy fans, and for fans of Holly Black that are looking to take their first steps into adult fantasy.

An interesting start

3
Plot
Characters
Writing
Theme/Message

Plot: fun and engaging if a little predictable.

Characters: too many named characters to keep track of, but main characters were perfectly flawed and unique.

Writing: Book of Night is a good start but it was missing an extra layer of consideration that left it feeling a little like a draft.

Theme/Message: a really interesting topic that I would enjoy reading more of, should this be the first in a series.

 

Eleanor is an English graduate and Medieval Studies student looking to use her skills to help save the planet. She adores reading and knows books will always be at the heart of her life, no matter where her career takes her.

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