“What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?”
This is the main question explored in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, a story about a girl who wants to see more of the world than her provincial French village, to experience more than what her family has planned for her.
Sound familiar? This plot had a "Beauty and the Beast" vibe, and I was all for it.
This book was my introduction to Schwab's work, and I am certainly going to be diving deeper. Her writing is beautiful, and the premise of Addie's story felt unique.
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Category: Emotional Read
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RATING: 3.5/5 Stars
Plot: 3.5/5 stars
Characters: 3.5/5 stars
World: 3/5 stars
“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”
Addie does her best to heed this warning, yet desperate times call for desperate measures. On the eve of her arranged marriage, Addie runs away, praying with all her might. By the time she realizes the sun has slipped below the horizon, it's too late. Something sinister has already come to answer.
“I do not want to belong to someone else. I do not want to belong to anyone but myself. I want to be free. Free to live, and to find my own way, to love, or to be alone, but at least it is my choice, and I am so tired of not having choices, so scared of the years rushing past beneath my feet. I do not want to die as I’ve lived, which is no life at all.”
The old god (named Luc by Addie) offers her freedom . . . at a price. Addie accepts, bargaining away her soul. She soon learns what she got wasn't exactly what she wanted. She will be free, immortal even, but cannot leave a mark on the world and will be forgotten by everyone she meets. Except, of course, by Luc, her savior and tormentor.
Addie exists for three hundred years, free yet painfully lonely. Luc visits periodically over the years to ask if she is ready to give up her life and soul. Despite the hardships, she always says no.
Addie is defiant, unwilling to give in to Luc simply for spite. Yet she is also determined to make the most of things. She finds ways to work around her deal––or curse, as she has come to see it. If this art lover cannot create, she is determined to inspire others during their brief encounters. She becomes a muse, planting seeds of ideas into minds which will last longer than their memory of her.
That is, until Henry recognizes her in a bookshop.
“Three words, large enough to tip the world. I remember you.”
It wasn't until this part that I felt truly engaged. I knew it was coming and was curious to see where Addie's story would go, especially as the first part of the book felt aimless.
But I guess that's kind of the point––without being able to leave a mark or be remembered, what could she do besides roam the earth, taking what small pleasures she could?
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is definitely driven by characters and emotion more than plot. If you’re not a fan of these kinds of stories, this novel can feel repetitive, even boring.
Addie's relationships with Luc and Henry (as well as a few temporary lovers over the centuries) are the heart of the book. I like how Schwab told stories of the past and present in alternating chapters; I became more invested as the timelines unraveled and eventually met.
By the end, I was crying, despite predicting parts of it. I liked how Addie's thumbprints of inspiration over the years came together, adored Henry's final gift to Addie, and was happy she found some measure of victory. Schwab certainly knows how to play with readers' emotions, and I was satisfied with how she created an ending that was equal parts triumph and tragedy.
“I am not some genie, bound to your whim." He pushes off the tree. "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. And tonight, I say no.”
Watching Addie and Luc dance around each other was one of the more entertaining aspects of the story. The restrictions of her curse were interesting. Each time Addie found a way to sidestep the bargain, or strike at Luc, I felt excited and proud; my heart sunk and I felt her anger each time her curse caused her to suffer.
Luc is a villain you hate to love. He's a hottie who seems to have a soft spot for the protagonist. Like Addie, I kept wanting to take the bait when he extended kindness or exposed a vulnerability. Yet no amount of good looks can make up for how manipulative and downright cold he constantly proves himself to be.
Henry, though bearing a striking resemblance to Luc, is the polar opposite. He is sensitive, lost, and only wants to be seen and loved for who he is. That, along with his mental health struggles and substance abuse, are what made him the most relatable and lovable character to me.
“He wants to feel lighter, to feel brighter, but the room darkens, and he can feel a storm creeping in.
He was twelve when the first one rolled through. He didn't see it coming. One day the skies were blue and the next the clouds were low and dense, and the next, the wind was up and it was pouring rain.
It would be years before Henry learned to think of those dark times as storms, to believe that they would pass, if he could simply hold on long enough.”
While he wasn’t a particularly interesting character, I liked Henry best. I resonated with and felt for him. His deal with Luc (or curse) was arguably worse than Addie’s— her anonymity was useful at times, providing a certain degree of freedom, but poor Henry had to live with the knowledge that the love he received from others was false, forced.
His relationship with Addie is cute and sweet, but part of me felt like he was more a plot element than anything else––a means for Addie to finally be remembered and gain freedom. I was saddened when she would reflect on their relationship and question whether or not she loved him, though on some level I understood since she hadn't had much opportunity to get to know others enough to fall in love.
“And then he whispers three words into her hair. “I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing. If it is meant to be this soft, this kind. The difference between heat, and warmth. Passion, and contentment. “I love you too,” she says. She wants it to be true.”
Aside from the protagonists being queer people who sold their souls, I didn't feel either were particularly complex or grew much, especially Addie.
I will say that she learned how to read people and handle words thanks to her interactions with Luc. Yet despite traveling across Europe and America, witnessing movements like prohibition, and participating as a spy ferrying intel during war, it felt as though she only cared about herself and being remembered.
But perhaps she isn’t given THAT much of a chance to grow, as her curse prevents her from getting too close to anyone, from being able to establish the kinds of connections that touch and mold us. Which is why this is definitely more of a YA book; there’s so much about Addie that feels young despite her three-hundred-plus year existence.
As Addie's story unfolds, we see her in many parts of the world during various periods of history, which certainly lends a level of magic to the story. Yet aside from New York and France, her stay in each location feels brief, making it hard to be totally immersed in most of the settings.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a beautifully-written story filled with gorgeous prose that reflect Addie's artist heart and deep questions that will follow you after you've finished reading. It deals with topics like female oppression, mental health, and the meaning of life.
While it isn't perfect, this book has value and is an enjoyable read, especially if you like emotional or character-driven stories or the enemies-to-lovers trope. It's more of a YA book than an adult novel, but adults can enjoy it for the themes, quotability, and ways it makes you think about life. Honestly, my biggest complaints are the constant use of the word "palimpsest," mention of "black curls," and Addie's so-called constellation (freckles). If you can overlook that, I recommend giving Addie's story a shot.