Book of Night by Holly Black

The shadowless can't be controlled.
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Book of Night Book Cover Book of Night
Holly Black
Fantasy
Tor Books
May 3rd, 2022
Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
320

#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black makes her stunning adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of betrayals, cabals, and a dissolute thief of shadows, in the vein of Neil Gaiman and Erin Morgenstern. Charlie Hall has never found a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She's spent half her life working for gloamists, magicians who manipulate shadows to peer into locked rooms, strangle people in their beds, or worse. Gloamists guard their secrets greedily, creating an underground economy of grimoires. And to rob their fellow magicians, they need Charlie Hall. Now, she’s trying to distance herself from past mistakes, but getting out isn’t easy. Bartending at a dive, she’s still entirely too close to the corrupt underbelly of the Berkshires. Not to mention that her sister Posey is desperate for magic, and that Charlie's shadowless, and possibly soulless, boyfriend has been hiding things from her. When a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie descends into a maelstrom of murder and lies. Determined to survive, she’s up against a cast of doppelgangers, mercurial billionaires, gloamists, and the people she loves best in the world―all trying to steal a secret that will give them vast and terrible power

“There’d always been something wrong with Charlie Hall. Crooked, from the day she was born. Never met a bad decision she wasn’t willing to double down on. Had fingers made for picking pockets, a tongue for lying and a shriveled cherry pit for a heart.”

“Book of Night” by Holly Black is an adult fantasy that will make you want to flip back to the first page immediately upon completion to reread and piece together all the clues and details discreetly and expertly layered into the plot. You know the kind of story I’m talking about – the small and unassuming details hidden in plain sight, laughing at you and mocking you for overlooking them from the start, and when you finally notice them they cause an “a-ha” moment. Holly Black proves chapter by chapter why she’s an expert at her craft.

Characters

If you’ve read any of Holly Black’s other stories you’ll know that her characters are complex creatures, and those in Book of Night are no different. Charlie Hall is our protagonist, but she’s definitely not a hero. While the narrator’s descriptions of Charlie lean more toward the sinister and dark, she is actually a likable character. Practically destined for trouble since childhood, we meet Charlie as an adult trying to turn over a new leaf and follow the straight and narrow.

“She had a job – with a timesheet, even – and a stolid brick of a boyfriend who paid his share of the rent. Her gunshot wound was healing nicely. Little successes, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t proud of them.”

Charlie lives with her sister and her boyfriend Vince. They live a simple life trying to scrape together a somewhat honest living. Charlie bartends. Posey does tarot card readings and psychic services via Zoom. Vince cleans hotel rooms after a crime had been committed or something too gruesome for other housekeeping companies. Think of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt in Sunshine Cleaning.

Plot – Shadow Magic

Manipulating something mundane into something creepy is one of the most successful ways to get me to wig out. If any of my readers are Doctor Who fans, you’ll know that the scariest villains were those born from normal and harmless ideas: the weeping angels and the double-shadowed Vashta Nerada from “Silence in the Library”. The ideas behind the villains are tame in real life but give your imagination permission to stretch slightly and the results become fear incarnate. It’s no surprise that Holly Black’s work follows the same pattern and creeps me out just as successfully. 

“Book of Night’ embraces the idea that, for some people, your shadow could be a sentient counterpart. For some in Charlie’s world in Massachusetts, after something significant or traumatic happens in their lives, a person’s shadow could essentially wake up and start acting independently of the person it’s shaped by. Of course, there are some innocuous shadows and disciplines, like cosmetically altering a shadow.

However, there are also darker alterations: using them to “trigger emotions so strong they could be addictive”, remove pieces of a person’s subconscious. There were also those who could send their shadow out to do their bidding. Along with shadow magic comes an entire underworld of crime, power struggles, and greed. 

“The shadow finger reached toward her and Charlie braced. When it brushed her skin, she had the sensation of something cold and a little electric, as though she was being touched by a storm. She stiffened, stumbling back as a wave of fear crested over her – too great and too paralyzing to be her own.”

Ultimately, Charlie is pushed back into her old criminal ways. She takes on a job for someone who has her between a rock and a hard place, tasked with finding a book that has been stolen. The missing book supposedly has dark and dangerous secrets regarding Shadow Magic experiments that go further than others have gone before. Having that information in the wrong hands could be detrimental to society. 

Final Thoughts

“Book of Night” would be especially great for anyone who enjoys world building, dark academia, and other authors like V. E. Schwab, whose prose builds slowly at first and then sets the table for an epic meal and climax at the end of the story. Holly Black is a chess master when it comes to plot. She takes the time to set up her pieces inconspicuously, and then strikes while you’re unprepared.

Holly Black’s “Book of Night” will make you think twice about casting glances at your own shadow.  Sit down and make yourself comfortable. You’re in for chilling ride.

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