26 September 2023

Book of Night

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Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Holly Black, Penguin, $32.99.

Holly Night is best known for a long back catalogue of Young Adult speculative fiction including The Spiderwick Chronicles. Like other YA authors before her, including Leigh Bardugo (Ninth House) and Veronica Roth (Chosen Ones), Black has moved into the more mature end of the fantasy spectrum with her latest – Book of Night.

Charlie ‘Charlatan’ Hall was ‘crooked from the day she was born’ but is trying to go straight. She has a job at a bar and has sworn off her previous thieving ways. But things are not always that simple, particularly in the world Hall lives in. Hall lives in a modern world of shadowmancy. The most powerful are those who can control their shadows (a power known as gloaming) and shadows that have ‘quickened’ themselves can develop their own power. But after witnessing the aftermath of a murder and being given an offer of some easy money Charlie is dragged back in to her old life. And she starts to wonder whether she can find and make some money from a missing book that everyone, including the staggeringly wealthy Lionel Salt, is after.

In Book of Night, Black has created a rich and dark world of shadows and magic for her first foray into fantasy for more mature readers. And through Charlie she has created the perfect guide – living just on the edge of the law, with a particularly chequered history, hard drinking, hard living but whip smart and quick thinking in a crisis. Charlie’s upbringing and her ‘training’ are told in flashback chapters which both serve to make more sense of Charlie herself, the current events and to develop Black’s world further.

In the end, Book of Night is a crime novel in fantasy clothes. It has a series of murders, the hunt for a lost book and a heist of sorts towards the end. And it is an effective one at that – with great twists that emerge from the reader’s developing understanding of the world that the action is taking place in. Some of the best reverses are saved until the final pages, all carefully and satisfiyingly built on hints that have been dropped along the way.

With a back catalogue of over thirty books for younger readers and teens there was no doubt in Holly Black’s ability to spin a great tale. In Book of Night she takes those skills and delivers a darker, more mature fantasy novel which will not only appeal to those who might have grown up with her YA fiction but anyone looking for some engaging modern fantasy. And while this can be read and could easily remain as a stand alone, there is plenty of scope for this world to be further explored and a stinger that will make readers hope that it will be.

Over 750 more reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

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