Colleen Mondor Reviews Book of Night by Holly Black
Book of Night, Holly Black (Tor 978-1-250-81219-3, $27.99, hc, 320pp) May 2022.
Bestselling YA author Holly Black makes her long-awaited adult debut with the dark fantasy Book of Night. Set in ‘‘the Silicon Valley of shadow magic’’ (aka Western Massachusetts), with reformed thief and conwoman Charlie Hall at its center, Book of Night introduces a world where shadows can be removed, enhanced, or manipulated. This is unpredictable magic with unclear objectives and yet hugely popular among those who can afford it. Charlie is suspicious of shadow tampering and far more interested in putting her bad habits, which often brought her close to magic’s seamier side, behind her. She is now tending bar, putting her dollars toward her sister Posey’s college, and living with her very good looking, good-guy boyfriend Vince, who definitely has some secrets. So does Charlie, so that’s okay. Then, a sort-of friend comes into the bar and asks her to use her special ‘‘talents’’ to find her overdue boyfriend, and that same night Charlie sees a particularly nasty dead body in the same space as a creature composed of some particularly nasty shadow magic. Clearly all is not well in her bustling town, and before you know it, she is drawn back into everything she wanted to leave behind, only this time, no surprise, the stakes are a heck of a lot higher.
Black made some interesting choices in the plot construction of Book of Night. She shifts back and forth in time, showing Charlie facing down her present demons, then breaking away to her childhood to reveal how she came to be a habitual lawbreaker. The chapters based on her past are far less interesting than the contemporary storyline, however, and stall the plot’s momentum. They are also somewhat predictable: single mother, bad choices in men, the kids pay the price. Charlie’s backstory brushes up against magic, but it’s nothing that we haven’t read before (cagey thief steals magical books) and while Charlie, Posey, and Vince all have their moments, they sometimes get lost in a sea of supporting and minor characters. This is unfortunate because it prevents the three of them from moving beyond cliché (i.e., sister is wary of boyfriend, heroine doubts guy is as good as he seems, main characters have sex to avoid intimate conversations.)
Overall, Book of Night is a diverting read that takes Charlie into multiple confrontations with scary individuals, introduces a magical world that governs via the tarot deck, proves that shadows are always mysterious, and offers up a surprise or two. For her fans the much discussed ending will make perfect sense as it brings with it echoes of similar twists from her earlier titles. Even though these characters are in their late twenties, Book of Night will easily appeal to Black’s older teen readers, who will likely see much here that is comfortingly familiar.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.
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