Updated: Jan 23
Book of Night
by Holly Black
Published by Tor Books
Book 1 in the Book of Night duology
In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence.
You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.
Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.
Book of Night is Holly Black's debut adult novel, and centers around Charlie Hall, a young woman who is doing her best to keep on the straight and narrow after years of being a professional thief and con-artist. It's not easy. In a world where a select few are able to alter their shadows for cosmetic purposes, or power, the world is full of opportunity for those with Charlie's talents. When a dangerous man from Charlie's past comes back into her life, Charlie has a choice: ignore the opportunity to get revenge for a past trauma, and put herself on a dangerous path, or continue living the reformed life she has built for herself.
I wasn't sure what to think going into this book, due to how much I loathed her much beloved Cruel Prince trilogy. But I remembered that I had no issues with her writing style in those books, just her incredibly annoying characters, so when this book came in my Bookish Box monthly subscription, I decided to give it a go. And I actually really enjoyed it. It wasn't the romance that drew me in. There is actually not a whole lot of romance in this book, as the romantic interest is an established relationship, and is an important aspect of the mystery in this book. It's not the steam, because there is barely any. Any sex scenes are non-descriptive or fade to black. Actually, what I liked about the book was the story.
First of all, what makes this book "adult", is the dark plot. The world feels very menacing, and unnerving. Not only do you have to worry about people, but their shadows as well. This brings me to another thing I really enjoyed - the uniqueness of this world. I mean, it's not the first time I have heard of shadow magic before, but it's the first time I've read about shadow magic like this. It felt very unpredictable and was interesting. And Holly Black did a good job describing Charlie's home. It reflected her financial struggle, which I appreciated. It was incredibly realistic, which was grounding in a book filled with magic. Secondly, I enjoyed the characters. Everything, and everyone, is definitely at best morally grey, or outright evil. I never thought I would enjoy reading about a protagonist who is morally grey, but I did. She felt a little more real than most of the characters I read. I'm sure it helps we learn about her childhood through flashbacks, and how she got into the criminal scene, but I appreciated that she owns her wrongs. She doesn't excuse it. She does what she has to survive. The best part of this book, was I didn't predict a damn thing in it. So that reveal at the end - I didn't catch on to it at all.
Book of Night was a surprise for me. If I came across it at the bookstore, I probably would have bypassed it due to its lack of romance, and by past impressions of Holly Black's work, but I'm glad I got the chance to read this. While not usually the type of book I am drawn to, I really enjoyed it. And I think you will to.
Charlie: "You wouldn't know the truth if it stuck its tongue up your ass."
If she couldn't be responsible or careful or good or love, if she was doomed to be a lit match, then Charlie might as well go back to finding stuff to burn.
Charlie: "Have a drink with me."
Charlie said, raising her plastic cup.
Charlie: "To suffering."
Doreen: "I've got to get back to work."
Doreen said, disgusted.
Doreen: "I have responsibilities. And I guess you do too, so don't suck down so much whiskey that you forget yours. Oh, and if you knock over a pawnshop, don't implicate me when the police come after you."
Charlie: "If I'm lucky, I'll suck down so much whiskey I forget we had this conversation."
Charlie: "Sit the fuck down, Liam Clovin, or I am going to make such a scene that everyone in this room is going to believe that when you treated my dying father, I smelled alcohol on your breath. I am going to be loud, and I am going to be convincing. Or you can tell me what I want to know, and I will act like you're a sympathetic doctor comforting a patient through a tragedy. You can even pick the tragedy, if you like."
That was the other advantage women con artist had, the flip side of not being taken seriously. To the public, they looked like marks.
Liam: "Who are you?"
He was obviously furious, but he sat in the chair across from her.
Liam: "What do you want?"
Charlie: "This won't take long. I just have a few questions about Edmund Carver."
His frown deepened.
Liam: "You were at my door the other day."
She probably had only a few minutes before he managed to shake her.
Charlie: "Where is he?"
Charlie: "Try again."
He started to stand.
Liam: "I don't need to tell you anything."
Charlie: "Maybe you also got me pregnant."
Liam: "This isn't a soap opera!"
Charlie: "Not yet, it isn't."
Vince: "Looking to make a change."
Charlie: "We've got asparagus."
She laughed at his puzzlement.
Charlie: "So much that they call it Hadley grass. There's even a festival. And three different asparagus ice creams. That the kind of excitement you're into?"
Vince: "Sounds about the level I can handle."
Charlie: "I've been sitting here watching you short pour the guests, give people the wrong change, use sour mix instead of lime juice, and wipe down the counters straight into the ice bin. You're going to burn in bartender hell."
Bartender: "You're drunk."
Charlie: "If I am, it's despite you."
Salt: "That brings us to one other thing. Do you think there's a reason he insinuated himself into your life, something about you he might have wanted?"
Charlie folded her arms over her chest, looking Salt in the face.
Charlie: "I don't know. My tits? Maybe my ass?"
Salt: "I should have killed you when I had the chance."
Charlie: "Oh, absolutely."
Malik: 'You have my word. We won't hurt Red. We owe you both a debt."
Charlie raised her eyebrows, not feeling particularly trusting.
Charlie: "Wow. Your word. That and a dollar won't even buy me a decent cup of coffee."
Vince: "Look, I'm kind of tense. So could you just break it to me? I know you've got some feelings about me being a shadow."
Charlie: "I've been trying not to think about it too much."
He looked at her incredulously.
Vince: "How's that working?"
Charlie: "I figured we could think about it when we got out of here. And maybe,"
Charlie said hopefully
Charlie: "we could even have a big fight about it. With screaming. And throwing things. And I could tell you how stupid you were for thinking I was having an affair with Adam."
Vince: "After you described his murder, I figured that out for myself. You seemed pretty upset about the couch."
He laughed before he could stop himself, his hand going to cover his mouth.
Vince: "I'm so sorry. That's not funny."
Charlie: "It's a little bit funny."
Vince: "I like you, Char. I always liked you. I should have said something, but I'm not a good person. I'm not even sure I'm a person at all."
Surprised, Charlie took his hand and folded her fingers through his. They were surprisingly solid.
Charlie: "You're a person. You're my person."
Vince: "Charlie Hall,"
he whispered into her hair
Vince: "There will never be anyone like you."
Charlie: "For which we can all be grateful."