Books: Our Dark Duet

32075662Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
Published June 13, 2017
star-3-half
Set roughly six months after the events of This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab returns to the world of Verity, a place where violent acts breed actual monsters, with Our Dark Duet. In order to step up and take on a leadership role in the FTF, an organisation that aims to keeps the city safe from monsters, August Flynn has repressed the humanity he yearns for and embraced his nature as a sunai monster who can steal ‘bad’ souls with a song. But when Kate Harker, a gifted monster hunter now living in nearby Prosperity, is threatened by a new and terrifying monster that can turn its victims against one another, she realizes she can’t outrun her past. Will her return to Verity be enough to fight back the monsters, including one of her own making? And will August let her back in? Our Dark Duet is a bittersweet ending to an interesting duology about humanity, monsters, and the gray area in-between them.

Schwab seems to delight in subverting gender expectations in her work, a choice that I wholeheartedly applaud. As in her Shades of Magic series, the Monsters of Verity duology gives us an impulsive and independent female protagonist (Kate) who feels most at home with a weapon in her hand, and a more brooding and careful male counterpart (August).

Both of the main characters held my focus, and I enjoyed reading about the changes they had undergone since This Savage Song, but I also really missed the interaction between Kate and August, which doesn’t occur until mid-way through Our Dark Duet. Oddly enough, when the same author places Lila Bard and Kell Maresh on separate journeys for a good chunk of A Gathering of Shadows, she pulls it off brilliantly! So why doesn’t it work as well here? I think part of the reason is the supporting cast.

The Shades of Magic series features minor and side characters, both in Red London and on the pirate ship Lila joins the crew of, who were all fully fleshed out and interesting in their own right. To be honest, I found Kate’s crew of allies in Prosperity all a little one-dimensional. August fares better in Verity, with his family and an engaging villain to support his arc, but even still, few of the supporting players match the heights of Rhy, Holland, or Alucard. The exception continues to be August’s sister Isla, who is a delight! Although voiceless, she gets across more with a touch, a glance, or an action than many characters do with the full range of motion and ability to speak. I also really enjoyed the introduction of the genderless, down-to-business, sunai Soro and vicious Malchai Alice.

Admittedly I tend to like characters more when they agonize over their feelings, even when they don’t show this on the outside, than when they shove them down and repress emotions in the course of duty, so it took me a bit to warm up to August this time around. It’s the presence of characters like Isla, who in her quiet and gentle way disapproves of August’s choice to embrace his monster duty, Kate who straight out asks August what he’s playing at, and feline companion Allegro, who abandons August’s company as he reaps souls, who humanize August again. Once the cracks in her armor begin to show and he wonders if he’s doing the right thing, he becomes (at least to me) a much more engaging character.

Victoria Schwab has a gift for maintaining tension throughout her books, and this is no exception. Several subplots are deftly balanced, from August’s struggle with his own nature and role to Kate’s battle of wills with the chaos eater invading her mind. Full disclosure, I didn’t think to re-read before embarking on Our Dark Duet and it definitely made the beginning harder to follow as I tried to remember where This Savage Song left off! Although the first-half is slow going, once the novel kicks into gear in the second half it’s an engaging and fast-paced ride.

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