This Savage Song (2016), Schwab’s first book in her MONSTERS OF VERITY duology, introduced this world and its sharply drawn main characters Kate and August via a well and smoothly told story that ended with a great closing scene that whetted the reader’s desire for more of this story. In Our Dark Duet (2017), Schwab happily delivers with an equally-good sequel that resolves the narrative fully, though I for one wouldn’t mind if the author were to show us a few more nooks and crannies of this fascinating world. Fair warning — there will be unavoidable spoilers for book one.
I’ll let you turn to my review of book one for the detailed world description, but suffice to say that in this version of the geographic United States, monstrously violent acts birth literal monsters, ones that manifest from the residue of the violence. This Savage Song introduced the city of Verity and the three known types of monsters that preyed on the humans there: the animalistic and quite basic tooth-and-claw-live-in-the-dark Corsai (most numerous), the much more intelligent vampire-like Malchai, and the Sunai — rarest of them all (only three are known of in book one), as they are born from major multi-victim acts of violence.
In This Savage Song, Verity was a city split into North and South, two regions once at war that were in the seventh year of a very tenuous truce. By the end of that book, the truce was finished and the North was taken over by the monsters, led by a particularly dangerous and intelligent Malchai named Sloan, who overthrew the former human ruler, Collum Harker. Harker’s daughter Kate, and one of the Sunai from the south, August, were the young enemies-then-friends at the center of that story, and at its close August returned to do what he could for those in the south of the city while Kate left for another city.
Our Dark Duet picks up a few months later, with Kate in Prosperity City, juggling her daytime barista job and her nighttime job hunting monsters, aided by a small group of hacktivists whom she’s trying to avoid becoming close to (because close = pain). Meanwhile, back in Verity, August is working overtime to stop the monsters that have taken over the north from sweeping into the south as well. The problem is that it appears to do his best job of saving humans he has to become less human himself (yes, he’s not human, but in book one he wanted to be). What precipitates the two coming back together is the rise of brand new type of monster in Prosperity, one that can influence/mind-control humans into random acts of violence. When she learns that the monster has headed to Verity, Kate follows in an attempt to destroy it (she also has a personal reason for going after it, but I’ll avoid the spoiler).
Readers of course will anticipate the inevitable love story (it’s a YA fantasy after all), but as she did in book one, Schwab eschews the clichéd easy path of “insta-love.” Yes, the two kiss, but not for some length of time, and then things are put on hold for a while afterward. I won’t say what happens, but will say that it was one of the best portrayals of a young relationship that I’ve seen in some time: realistic, respectful, believable, mature (well, given that they are young).
This Savage Song had both Kate and August trying to find their place in the world, trying to learn just who they are (or who they should become). Our Dark Duet focuses more on August’s development in that regard, on how his aching need to protect people seems to inevitably clash with his aching desire to be more human. In the first book his foil on this was his brother Leo; here it’s another new Sunai named Soro, who doesn’t understand what August wants to be human for.
Characterization is a strong point in the book with regard to Kate and August, who are as fully realized and complex as they were in the first novel. A few side characters also stand out, though Soro and August’s “father” both felt a bit perfunctory, more narrative or thematic requirements than characters (it didn’t help that the introduction of Soro as non-gendered was more than a little clumsy). The two main villains also were a bit thin and a little too stock “villain-y,” particularly Alice, who seemed to have a lot more potential than she’s mined for.
The central conceit of violence breeding violence remains as powerful as it did when it was originally introduced, as does the exploration of themes of sins and judgment. Schwab is working in some thoughtful territory here, and I’m glad she didn’t sacrifice consideration of such weighty (and timely) concepts on the altar of teen romance. The ending, meanwhile, is powerful and poignant and more than makes up for the few issues noted. And as always with Schwab, here and in her other books that I’ve read, the prose style is smoothly polished, effortlessly pulling the reader along page to page.
Our Dark Duet brings the story of Kate and August to a nice resolution, but there are other cities/territories out in this world that we haven’t seen, and perhaps other monsters as well. I don’t need Schwab to write a direct sequel to continue this particular tale, but I’d be very happy to meet some new characters in another of those cities.