Preview: Book of Night

Book cover: Book of Night - Holly BlackCharlie Hall never met a lock she couldn’t pick, a book she couldn’t steal, or a bad decision she wouldn’t make. She’s trying to distance herself from her past, but going straight isn’t easy. Now everyone wants to lay hands on a secret that will grant them control of the shadow world – and who better to steal it than Charlie?

I requested Holly Black’s adult debut Book of Night on NetGalley. Imagine my delight when it was granted (I still don’t make assumptions about big name releases from major publishers) – and then my surprise that the review copy contained only the first three chapters. A teaser, if you will. Which, sure, goes a long way towards explaining why it was granted, but leaves me feeling a little taken advantage of given that NetGalley obliges me to write a review. To be clear: I don’t object to teasers in principle, but do me the courtesy of making it clear that is what is being offered. However, it’s not Holly Black’s fault what her UK publishers get up to on NetGalley, so I’ll do my best to provide an unbiased review.

I’ve never (wanted to) read Holly Black before, so I approached Book of Night more out of curiosity than anticipation. The promise of world almost but not quite like our own, where shadow magic can enhance – or remove – your emotions, shadows can steal your secrets (or your belongings), and where someone is willing to kill to get their hands on a very particular grimoire all sounds extremely promising.

So too does protagonist Charlie Hall, former con artist and thief, now a bartender determined to put her (mis)adventures in the shadow world behind her. But Charlie has never made a bad decision she wasn’t willing to double down on, and she was extremely good at stealing from shadow magic practitioners.

Within two chapters, Charlie has been asked to track down an acquaintance’s lover and stumbled over the dead body of a punter she overhead foolishly trying to sell back an item belonging to a powerful gloamist. Combined with the dynamite prologue (in which a young boy catches his own shadow and feeds it blood to win its friendship), the opening chapters efficiently convey how this world is and is not our own, set up the shadowy underworld Charlie lives on the fringes of, and strikes exactly the right balance in telling me who Charlie is whilst failing to reassure me that she’s really going to (be allowed to) stay on the straight and narrow.

I admit I’m intrigued. This feels like magical noir, with a messed up family and a boyfriend who could feel wholesome if I hadn’t read the blurb; a bubbling pot of personalities and desperation just waiting to boil over.

On the other hand, three chapters really isn’t enough to judge a book; and these three chapters taken together don’t quite do enough to convince me to run out and buy the book (published in the UK today). Another couple of chapters might have done the job – it is off to a solid start – but not an irresistible one. Still, it’s well written and looks set to deliver an entertaining, easy read of dark magic and desperation. I’ll keep an eye out for it at the library when I’m next in need of a diversion.