The Book of Night by Holly Black
Review by Madeleine McManus
Having missed The Cruel Prince hype train, this was my first time reading a book by author Holly Black and it proved to be a thrilling debut into the adult fiction world. I was enamoured with the base concept in this book that people’s shadows can have their own identities and be influenced by magical forces, in both positive and negative ways. These shadows can be manipulated by “gloamists.” They are the magicians of the world who can give shadows cosmetics like wings or horns; or make them perform dark crimes such as slipping through windows and doors to steal valued treasures or even allowing them to murder people if the shadow proves strong enough.
Charlie Hall is no gloamist and she instead manipulates people to get what she wants through her fiery personality and her taught criminal behaviours. Bartending and running from her past of being a con-artist, she finds the consequences of her previous criminal actions continue to chase her. Readers get to know the depths of Charlie’s background in crime through the chapters dedicated to her backstory and those who used to be closest to her.
Due to past betrayals, her social circle is now small. But this doesn’t stop the suspicions around her sister and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, Vince, is someone who has had their shadow stolen, making Charlie question whether he has a soul – a common superstition about those without a shadow. Then there’s her sister Posey, who is desperate to become a gloamist and we see her beginnings in the magical world through the arts of tarot and palm reading.
The Book of Night is a dark fantasy with many intriguing and unexpected twists, with the conclusion of the story making the anticipation of the next book in the series even stronger.
What the Dead Know by Nghi Vo
Review by Lauren Fardoe
What the Dead Know is a gripping short story depicting the false livelihoods of two protagonists, Vansyl and Maryse. Vo provides remarkable depth to her characters, bringing a tangible undercurrent of suspense in a small time frame.
Set in a magical alternate version of historical America, Vo establishes the presence of an enchanted supernatural with ease. Vasyl ("Doctor Janiv") plays the professor and Maryse plays the exotic medium initiated into an ancient religion that allows her to hover on the threshold of death, where she can hear the dead.
The palpable misogyny and colonial-era racism surrounding the people of colour throughout the novella provide a break back to reality away from the spiritual world. Refreshingly, the main characters utilise this to their advantage, helping to sell their seance through capitalising off this existing prejudice.
The setting of the novella sets a tone of unease: an isolated girls’ finishing school in rural America, in the midst of a biblically proportioned storm. What begins as their routine deception soon turns real and the medium, Maryse, discovers her life is endangered.