3.5 out of 5 stars
In the world of Verity, evil has a consequence: it spawns monsters. Non-lethal violence births hive-minded wraiths called Corsai, and killing spawns a higher order of monster, the Malchi. They both want to kill and eat every human being. Then there are Sunai, the rarest and most powerful of monsters. Born from mass casualty events, Sunai don’t look or feel like monsters. Instead, the only three known Sunai pass as human, and fight alongside humans to stop the other monsters from taking over the world.
August is a Sunai, adopted by Henry Flynn, leader of the military group that controls Verity’s South City. With separation won in a war, South City humans live a mostly monster-free life behind a protective barrier.
Kate Harker is the estranged daughter of North City leader Callum Harker. His side is overrun with monsters – but they work for him. And North City citizens pay Callum to keep his monsters away from them. A delicate, dangerous equilibrium keeps the two sides from another war.
Until Harker’s monsters start to rise up. August and Kate find themselves on both sides of the fight: torn by loyalty to their families and what kind of people they have always been. And, of course, they’re also the only hope of saving the world.
I liked these books. Mostly because Schwab’s writing is magical, and from the first page I felt the transporting cadence of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I cared about August, a monster among humans, and Kate, a human among monsters. I liked their mirrored personal journeys.
But I don’t actually care about “monsters” as a type of villain. Instead, I wanted more about why and how these monsters came to be. There’s mention of the monsters just starting, but no explanation – or even question – of how. Of why, one day, did violence simply started dropping monsters? Nothing about what changed or how it might be reversed. It seems like a big missed opportunity for complex world-building, something Schwab does so well in other works.
There’s a deep and philosophical topic there: Monsters created by people’s own monstrosity. Humanity as its own downfall. The series even touches on the question of intent: In Verity, anyone who kills for any reason has an evil aura that only Sunai can see. These people are eradicated without question, a black-and-white interpretation of right and wrong. Schwab briefly touches on self-defense, but in this world it’s not seen as a mitigating circumstance. She skims across this without really diving in, and that’s a shame. It would have been the most interesting part of the story.
As a morality play, the Monsters of Verity duology could be brilliant. Since it doesn’t go that way, it’s instead a very solid YA series that left me a little worn out and bored by overwhelming darkness and shallow villains. It’s hard to image this being written at the same time as the Shades of Magic series, which is much more mature. Worth a read, but it’s the things Monsters of Verity left out that will stay with me.