Book of Night Book Review
Welcome to the first review of November! This month, our theme is Dark Academia, and what better book to kick off this theme than Holly Black's debut adult novel, Book of Night, a story about dark magic and a black market of grimoires?
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Dark Academia
Category: Spooky Read
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RATING: 3.75/5 Stars
Plot: 3.75/5 stars
Characters: 3.75/5 stars
World: 3.75/5 stars
The phrase “shadow magic” takes on a new meaning in Book of Night: gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows, use their power to alter shadows for aesthetic and entertainment, grant the wearers small abilities, or commit crime without getting their physical hands dirty. But while they can use shadows to sneak into locked spaces or dispose of their rivals, they need someone to track down and steal the grimoires of other gloamists.
Enter Charlie "Charlatan" Hall, a former con artist trying to make an honest living for herself and her little sister, Posey. But going straight and narrow is hard when Charlie knows she is the best in town (and how good the money is), and it doesn't help that Posey is obsessed with magic, her shadowless boyfriend Vince might also be missing a soul, and her bartending job keeps her in close proximity to the world she's trying to distance herself from.
So when a mystery piques her curiosity and she realizes that solving it would come with the added benefit of getting revenge on someone from her past, Charlie obviously can't say no—even if it puts her and the people near her at risk.
If she couldn't be responsible or careful or good or loved, if she was doomed to be a lit match, then Charlie might as well go back to finding stuff to burn.
But as she searches for the Liber Noctem and finds herself going up against gloamists, other con artists, power-hungry billionaires, and even the people she loves, Charlie starts to wonder if she's in over her head.
Some may find the beginning a bit slow with all the flashbacks to Charlie's past, but I enjoyed seeing Charlie's story unfold and following her as she worked to find the Liber Noctem. It was also fun to live vicariously through her, as part of me has always wanted to be a bartender (especially at one of those cool nerd bars!). Things picked up in the second half, and I hope Black is planning a sequel, because I'd like to see how the characters are doing in the aftermath. In some ways, things were just getting exciting as the story came to a close.
The book also follows a boy with a special shadow as he grows, but I won't go into detail on this aspect so as not to ruin anything for you. I will say I liked how the story jumped between perspectives, the past, and the present—telling two stories that eventually converge. But some readers may be put off that we get a quick glimpse in the beginning, then go along with Charlie for a while before jumping back to this perspective.
Charlie is a unique character in that she is a curvy, tatted woman who doesn't waste time trying to be palatable for others. She's street smart, ballsy, able to manipulate people, solve problems, and fight like hell. She's well aware of her attraction to things that are bad for her, and she really is trying to get better at making smart decisions and providing for herself and Posey. Her struggles to not fall back into old patterns, put her sister through school, and heal from past traumas make her a relatable character.
I felt sad for Posey having to watch others obtain what she wanted and worked tirelessly for with relative ease. I loved her use and view of tarot, and the way she would call people out on their BS. She is also not a fan of Charlie's boyfriend, convinced he is not all that he seems.
And she's right: Vince definitely has secrets, which made it hard for me to decide whether he's a genuinely good person who just wants to escape a rough past, or a master manipulator with dangerous intentions. The mystery surrounding him helps make up for the slow-paced start to the story.
Lionel Salt, a billionaire highly involved in the shadow realm, reminds me of Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones, and by extension Roderick Burgess from The Sandman. If there were ever an adaptation of this book, Charles Dance would be perfect for the role. Salt is a confident, capable man who will do anything to get what he wants, which makes him scary.
The minor characters were diverse, from elite princesses to dominatrixes to low level con-artists. They all had their own issues that reflected real life problems, from addictions to toxic relationships.
I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters, but they all felt believable.
Book of Night takes place in a modern city that reflects our own world, aside from the living shadows and magic. The magic system was interesting, but the gloamist community and their hierarchy could have used a little more elaboration. The worldbuilding could have been better, but I am hoping that this will be resolved if Black continues this story with later installments, which is very likely.
Book of Night was one of my most anticipated reads of 2022. As a big fan of Black's Folk of the Air series, I wasn’t sure what to expect from her debut adult novel, but I enjoyed it. It's not on my list of all-time favorites, but it has its strengths. It’s dark, smart, and relatable on many levels.
This story highlights societal issues like privilege, poverty, the sexualization of women, corruption in government entities, and other systemic problems. It also deals with psychology, particularly the idea of the shadow self. Charlie’s journey shows us that you don’t have to have tons of money or be someone big in order to be a badass and do great things.
Charlie and her story remind me of Kaz Brekker in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology—a morally gray MC with a traumatic past grows up learning how to read and con people and gets a high-stakes job going after an important object that has the added perk of revenge on someone they hold a grudge against.
I’d recommend this to fans of books like Six of Crows. If you like dark academia, dark magic, morally gray characters, and/or criminals doing bad things to worse people, then this book is for you.