Title: Book of Night
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: May 3, 2022
Print length: 320 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.
Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.
Holly Black makes her adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of shadowy thieves and secret societies.
I’m going to keep this brief and to the point: Holly Black’s YA faerie-world trilogy The Folk of the Air is one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. I love the characters, the setting, the writing, the plot. So as you can imagine, I was thrilled to hear that this author would be releasing her first adult book this year.
Sadly, it didn’t quite work out for me — although some elements are very good.
In the world of Book of Night, shadow magic has become a fashion trend and a sought-after talent, but there’s a much darker side too. Yes, it’s fun to have your shadow altered to reflect your real self — but shadows have a tendency to get out of control or to become dangerous, especially when fed blood and strengthened with a person’s life force. And then there’s the whole seedy world of stolen shadows, as well as the black market in books of magic — each gloamist (people who work with shadows) wants the best secrets, and they’re fiercely competitive and protective when it comes to books that might reveal even more essential secrets of shadow manipulation.
Main character Charlie Hall is a highly skilled con-woman and thief who left behind her life of crime after a particularly nasty incident endangered not only her own life but that of her sister as well. Still, she can’t ever seem to completely walk away. There are those who know of her skills and want her on their side, and Charlie can’t avoid her old life forever.
The world of Book of Night is dark and grim. Everything is seedy and run-down, with dark bars and pawnshops and danger lurking down every alley. Shadow magic itself seems terrifying, with skilled gloamists being able to “puppet” people via shadows or even choke them to death by sending their shadows down their throats.
There’s a lot that’s fascinating about this world, but at the same time, I found myself utterly confused at times. There are some key people and positions whose roles aren’t fully explained. An entire ruling body is introduced in about a paragraph, and how they work and who they are remains murky at best. The magical system isn’t well enough explained — I found myself confused by the rules, the power structure, and the purpose of some of the magical items introduced throughout the story.
Charlie as a character is fun to ride along with. She’s absolutely a criminal and a bad-ass, but we get chapters from her past that show us how she became what she is. Criminal with a heart of gold, I guess — she’s fiercely loyal to those she loves and wants to keep them safe, but just can’t get away from her past life or find a way to stay on the straight and narrow.
I won’t go too far into further details. For some reason, this book took me a lot longer to read than I expected — maybe because of other factors in my life, but also because I never got to a place where I absolutely couldn’t put the book down. As a result, I never felt truly immersed.
I will say that the ending has some pretty unexpected and cool twists, which raised my overall impression of the book by a lot. Again, no details — you definitely don’t want spoilers! But the final chapters offer a great payoff and some really good surprises (although the pieces of the world that seemed unclear to me remain unclear all the way to the end — there are some things that I just don’t get).
The ending of the book leaves a lot of questions hanging about what’s next for Charlie, so it certainly seems like there will be a sequel. And despite my issues with the world-building, I’m intrigued enough by how the story ended that I’ll want to read that sequel, whenever it shows up!