I have a thing about human monsters, and people as monsters. It’s one of the themes that attracts me to vampire fiction. I’m all for unknowable alien horror, but sometimes, a more knowable monster, a more human one, can hit much closer to home. We don’t get off the hook so easily when the Other looks just like us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about different ways that a person could become monstrous, what choices they could make, whether the paths they choose will put them beyond redemption. The vampire sequel I’m editing at the moment sits pretty evenly between themes of monstrousness and identity. It’s a lucky coincidence that I picked up V.E. Schwab’s This Savage Song, which is all about monsters.
In This Savage Song, the sins of humans become embodied in the form of different kinds of monster, and these monsters roam the streets of V-City, terrorising its human inhabitants. The city is split between the Flynns on one side, who fight the monsters, and the Harkers on the other, who deal with the monsters, and extract protection money from the human inhabitants to keep the peace. But it’s not as simple as that. Some of the Flynns are monsters themselves, including one of the protagonists, August Flynn. The other main character is Kate Harker, the daughter of the ruthless racketeer. You can already see how the line between human and monster blurs.
The three Flynn children are all a particular rare kind of monster, Sunai, who are born out of great tragedy. They feed on souls, but only of those who have sinned. But they’re all very different. I found August’s older brother, Leo, the most interesting character—he’s wilfully given up his humanity to better fight the monsters of the city, though he still appears to be human. He pushes August to embrace his dark nature, but August resists Leo’s brutal lessons.
The setting is one of near lawlessness, and both Kate and August are forced to make decisions that may put them over the edge into monstrousness. It’s the way that the whole story is constantly teetering on that edge that works so well. Every action has a moral weight to it, and leaves its mark on the world and the character. I found this inflexible notion of consequences one of the most interesting things about the book.