My bank account and library waitlists being what they are, it took me much longer than I had hoped to read this novel. I have loved everything I’ve ever read by Schwab, from Vicious/Vengeful to the Shades of Magic series (which I read even before starting this blog, so I can’t even link to reviews) to even one of my very few forays into MG lit with City of Ghosts. I have life goals of reading her entire catalog, for sure. But I knew from the second I heard of this novel that I would love it. So here we are, having finally read/listened to it, and I am happy in the knowledge that I still know myself and my readings preferences because wow.
“But ideas are so much wilder than memories, so much faster to take root.”
In a small village in early 18th century France, Addie LaRue chooses to make a deal with a god of the darkness, trading her soul for a life of freedom, escaping her small life and impending (unwanted marriage). But deals with darkness always come at a cost, have hidden catches, and so Addie finds herself completely free, but also completely forgettable and alone. She spends centuries learning the boundaries of her curse, of learning to live within and around those rules; a life free of confines and aging and illness but also of real connection and love, because everyone she meets forgets her as soon as she is out of sight. Until, three centuries in, she meets Henry Strauss in NYC and he doesn’t forget, he can remember her. And everything she knows changes once again…
Well, let me say again, wow. And, let me also say, I had to be convinced. I mean, I knew in concept, in theory, I loved this story. And I also know from experience that I love Schwab’s writing, her story-telling. And yet….and yet. The first third or so of this novel I wasn’t sure. And it was killing me. I wanted to badly to just love it. And even as I fell into Addie’s story (which was truly recognizable/genuine), and into Schwab’s writing (which was, as always, incredible), there was something that wasn’t clicking with me. I have to be honest. I can’t even say what it was. I am guessing it’s at least in part the back and forth in time POV device, which is one that for some reason I am iffy on sometimes (I think it gets overused/overdone). But around the halfway mark, the magic of the story and of Schwab’s words truly started to sweep me away into Addie’s world, her life, her experiences, and I fell headfirst and headlong. And I think it comes down to that, to the magic in this story-telling, that won me over hard by the end. This was a much slower burn, slow-build plot, compared to Schwab’s others works. And maybe that’s all it was, that it was a different pacing than what I was used to or expecting. But let me tell you how worth it that wait was. Because when it began to hit, it hit that much harder. I fell in love with this story. And to be clear, I refer to the story on purpose. I think that Addie herself, considering the length of the book and the time we spend with her, never felt as developed as she could have. Or rather, I felt like I didn’t know her as much as I should have. But I also feel like that’s the point. She spent centuries being no one, so when we finally meet her, get her story, she is a compilation of years and experiences in the margins, as a shadow, as an idea, so of course she has nothing of herself that she carried with her, because why would she? It’s actually quite smart, real, when I think about it. So yes, my connection with this novel was, very specifically, with the unspooling of the story. And that, that was perfection. A story of the power in interpersonal connection, the nuances of Faustian deals, the daily moments that make a life, the little details, that all come together to create a web of gorgeous, understated magic.
Let me just note a few of those little details that really got me, as I read. Honestly, I loved the way Addie’s curse played out. It was the just right mix of getting her wish and realizing the potential downsides of what she wanted in the way that only deals with the devil can show. Similarly, I loved those aspects as we learn about Henry’s own deal/curse. And one of my absolute favorite things was the way they played together with each other, the exact ways they filled each other’s gaps to allow them to be singular exceptions for each other. It’s so wonderfully clever I almost can’t stand it. I also was fascinated by the way Schwab wove the power of ideas and art together and into the story, allowing Addie the barest hint of a loophole. And I have a soft spot for when authors and artists talk about the power in the words and art they create because its just so powerful, for me. The meditation on the way ideas and art can endure and grow beyond memory and confines and original scope, and work to connect people across time and space, is lovely. Plus, it was fun to catch the nods to and easter eggs for various real-life artists that had also made deals with the darkness. There is also some speculation about the concepts of possession versus passion versus contentment, as well as selfishness/selflessness, and the various ways that love plays out within them, and the ways they each show up as a part of love, and I enjoyed all of that as well.
And last, I have to just speak about the darkness himself. Honestly, I loved his character. I would read an entire spin-off series about him. For real. He and his games were just so great to read. And the way his relationship with Addie changed and developed over the years, the way she become the only person to ever learn anything about him, to battle him and have the literal time to forever study him and remain toe to toe with him, and the way he reacted to something like that…it was just freaking awesome. And again, it was a slow burn and a subtle thing, but it was spot on. I enjoyed Henry and what he and Addie did and were for each other, but honestly, Addie and the darkness made this story for me. They were this story for me.
And so, with that interplay between Addie and the god of darkness as the central point of this spell-binding story (at least for me), I have to say I was FOR the ending. Like, it was literally perfect. It left me with just enough ache and a few tears (yes, I was emotionally involved in Addie and Henry, no question), but I was left damn satisfied by the way we leave Addie and her darkness. Like, deeply content, the kind that left a slow (almost wicked) grin spreading over my face as I read the last pages. And so, I finish this novel just as in love, if not more so, with Schwab. She is firmly cemented as a favorite author and I absolutely recommend this book for anyone looking to lose themselves in a story of the most time-honored, extraordinary fashion.
With Schwab’s gorgeous writing, you know I highlighted so many passages while I was reading:
“What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?”
“…everyone speaks of her as if she is a summer bloom, something to be plucked, and propped within a vase, intended only to flower and then to rot. […] …she would rather be a tree […]. If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else’s hearth.”
“I am not some genie, bound to your whim. […] Nor am I some petty forest spirit, content with granting favors for mortal trinkets. I am stronger than your god and older than your devil. I am the darkness between stars, and the roots beneath the earth. I am promise, and potential, and when it comes to playing games, I divine the rules, I set the pieces, and I choose when to play.”
“Lying is easy, so long as you choose the right words.”
“It is so much easier to share a secret than to keep one…”
“There are a hundred kinds of silence. There’s the thick silene of places long sealed shut, and the muffled silence of ears stoppered up. The empty silence of the dead, and the heavy silence of the dying. There is the hollow silence of a man who has stopped praying, the airy silence of an empty synagogue, and the held-breath silence of someone hiding from themselves. There is the awkward silence that fills the space between people who don’t know what to say. And the taut silence tat falls over those who do, but don’t know where or how to start.”
“There is a freedom, after all, in being forgotten.”
“You see only flaws and faults, weaknesses to be exploited. But humans are messy, […]. That is the wonder of them. They live and love and make mistakes, and they feel so much.”
“Nothing is all good or all bad. […] Life is so much messier than that.”
“Belief is a bit like gravity. Enough people believe a thing, and it becomes as solid and real as the ground beneath your feet.”
“A story is an idea, wild as a weed, springing up wherever it is planted.”