Genre: fantasy, dark academia (debatable)
This book pissed me off; I wanted to like it, but its faults are so enormous. I DNF’ed it 60% in, should’ve been much earlier, but I had hopes considering the author.
Rating out of five: one star
I love dark academia, I love books with “darker” or morally gray protagonists, I’m even a fan of messy and disorganized plots. This book is too shallow to be able to drown someone in it, though a drowning was certainly in the plot. You cannot just give your characters all this past and current, very explicit, trauma and then not play out the consequences in any shape or form. It is not the shortcut to “darker” or more “mature” content that this book was so heavily marketed as, it only brings up questions of what is for shock factor.
Here’s an actual list of all the trigger warnings for this book, but just a few; sexual assault, rape (including of a child), racism, discussed suicide.
It’s a girlboss-gatekeep-gaslight type of book, even if it starts pretty catchy and held my interest for a while. Bardugo has gone to Yale, where it takes place, and brings a lot of realistic components. Among all the upper-class students (future world-leaders) and their secret-society magic, the characters sometimes briefly dips their toes into the societal discussions it seems this book wants to have as its themes.
Meaning you get characters around the MC Alex superficially talking/having one-liners about feminism, poverty, privilege, homelessness, sexism and drug-use. And Alex herself is supposed to come from a very poor background, but only carries that with her when convenient plot-line-wise. Otherwise she seems pretty middle-class, as it’s the only group Bardugo explicitly highlights to be hard-workers. There is actually nothing good connected to any poor characters, although Alex has her moments of «even the drug dealer didn’t deserve to be murdered». The poor people are sell-outs, they’re drug-dealers, murderers, something to leave behind. That could’ve been parts of her trauma, but it’s never brought-up or discussed as such.
Now. I’m going to write this as quickly as possible, because I do not want to think about it anymore. Here’s where I stopped reading; the MC’s Alex’s friend is sexual assaulted while on magical drugs (in which she seems to give consent on camera, but is drugged in an non-noticeable way bc magic) and the pay-back is Alex getting the confession with magic and then making the guy responsible eat shit, literally. Up ’til that point there was some uncomfortable casual racist comments and thoughts from the other MC towards Alex, which is never brought up in any other shape. Of course you can have racist characters, it’s just a bit (very) weird when it’s never pointed out by anyone. Alex herself is also sexually assaulted as a kid by some magical creature (ghost? demon?), making her act out in all kinds of ways – but this also was written very out of the blue and explicitly. Also it’s very heavily emphasised that she was a kid, same day as she got her first period. It felt very wrong in how it was written. I don’t even want to quote it.
Obviously, it’s difficult criticizing how authors writes (or not writes) anything to do with sexual assault. This is personal feelings only. But I can definitely say there’s lack of depth all over this novel. All together it gives the book a big fucking no from me.
Bardugo tried to go in many directions in this book. It’s a murder mystery, it’s magical societies, it’s supposedly dark academia even though it hits so few of the characteristics other than being placed at Yale with next-to-none of the school part of it. I’ve wondered where it went wrong, because the author managed the balance of depth and action in Six of Crows, but honestly it’s too un-redeemable for me to care. There’s so much better secret-society dark academia, even with magic, out there to find. For the most part, I can’t understand why so many people love this book except for it drawing in a YA crowd that has never read anything “darker” and finds it exciting, ignoring anything bad or horrible. Like it genuinely confuses me. I wanted to like it too, but there was too many warning flags showing up throughout the 60% I read.