Monsters and Mankind at War in Victoria Schwab’s Vivid Imagination

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A New York Times-bestselling author, Nashville native, and world traveler who roams the globe to research, write, and promote her books, Victoria Schwab is currently in a phase of her career one might describe as “on fire.” With 11 books under her belt — a mix of adult fantasy, YA, and middle-grade fiction — she seems to have an endless imaginative well from which to draw inspiration. Dark themes abound in her work, perhaps more so than ever in her new novel, This Savage Song.

The main characters are teens named Kate and August, introduced here by BookPage:

[The] Gotham-esque world of Verity [is] a future metropolis divided by war. . . And there’s another problem plaguing the crime-ridden city: monsters born of violence and hungry for flesh, blood, and souls. Kate, an only child whose mother died when she was young, has gotten herself kicked out of six boarding schools in five years. August has a different perspective on things, not least because he happens to be a monster (as are his two siblings), and it’s getting harder and harder for him to deny his real nature. Attempting to suppress our true selves to gain approval is an age-old struggle, one that Schwab clearly delights in exploring, as Kate and August engage in verbal sparring, scary physical combat and mental and emotional gymnastics as the city threatens to fall into ruin around them.

(Read more about the book in this review from Chapter 16.)

Schwab will read from and sign books at the launch party for This Savage Song at Parnassus Books on Tuesday, July 5, at 6:30 p.m. Meanwhile, our manager of books for young readers, Stephanie Appell, had a few questions for her about this new YA release. Here’s their conversation:

This Savage Song begins with Kate Harker burning down the chapel at her high school. Any acts of teenage vandalism you’d like to cop to? Did teenage Victoria share any personality traits or experiences with the characters in this book?

SMCMsa1RVS: Ha, well, child Victoria got into a fair share of trouble (from tying up a babysitter to executing teddy bears) before teen V ever tried. By the time I got to high school, that played out more in the dark poetry and recklessness common to teens. I went to an all-girls private school, and the thought of setting fire to parts of my life might have crossed my mind, but I had the sense not to act them out. I had a lot more to lose than Kate Harker. But I’ve always felt like an outsider, and I think that sensation has become a theme in all of my books.

What’s the origin of This Savage Song? Is there a moment or story behind how it came to you?

VS: I wish I could say no, but the grim truth is, I first starting thinking about it after the shootings at Aurora and Sandy Hook, then Ferguson. I became fascinated by the idea of aftermath, that there was more being left behind by these tragedies than spent shells and hashtags. That was the seed of the monsters in Verity — they’re all the product of acts of violence. Every monster in my book was made by a human.

What sort of research did you do in writing this story?

VS: World-building, regardless of the kind of novel you write, is about establishing rule, reason, and emotion truth. As someone who writes fantasy, my world-building and research tap a different vein, but I like to think they’re just as thorough. When creating the alternate history of This Savage Song — a world in which the United States dissolved in the wake of the Vietnam war — I examined the ideas that have separated our country over time, the things which bond certain areas, and condensed the US into ten territories based on both geographic and value leanings.

When designing Verity, the territory in which this book is set, and the monstrous phenomenon that begins there, I looked to the violence ravaging our city-centers, the escalation of fear and anger, the kinds of tragedies which form, unify, and divide us as a community. When it came to August and Kate, I looked for emotional cores; while actions might differ, the reactions, the impacts, these things are more universal. I’ve never been a monster wishing to be human in a city besieged by violence or a girl trying to transform herself into something monstrous, but I’ve felt like an outsider all my life. I’ve known the discomfort of not belonging, the lengths I would go to in order to fit in.

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Schwab publishes books for adults — such as the popular “A Darker Shade of Magic” and “A Gathering of Shadows” — under the name V.E. Schwab. 

Your career is flourishing, with several successful series now under your belt. What have you learned about writing and storytelling as you’ve written more?

VS: That’s kind of you to say. There’s the education that comes with writing — the more you write, the more you learn how to write, how to listen to that gut feeling that tells you when things are working and when they aren’t. And there’s really no other way to learn those things than to write. It’s an education that cannot be gained in theory, only in practice. But I think I’ve also learned to embrace my style, my attraction to the strange and the dark, to concern myself less with whether my books have a readership, and more with telling the best story possible.

What role do indie bookstores play in your life?

VS: Honestly, indie bookstores are the reason I still get to do what I love. They’ve been my buoy in the storm, my shade in the sun. I shop at Parnassus at least once a week, and the feeling I get when seeing my books on the shelves of an indie is indescribable. I know they have the freedom to choose but often a lack of space that means they have to be incredibly discerning, stocking things they can hand-sell, and I’m just so incredibly grateful.

What’s the last book you loved and/or what are you most looking forward to reading?

VS: The last book I loved? The Devil in the White City, about the Chicago World Fair and the serial killer on the loose in the city at the time. As for what I’m most excited about this year, it’s a tie between Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom and Scott Lynch’s upcoming Thorn of Emberlain.

What’s the question you never get asked but wish you did?

VS: Oh, that’s a hard one. Probably what I would be if I weren’t a writer. (The answer is an interrogator.)

Thank you!

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Book launch at Parnassus Books
Tuesday, July 5, 6:30 p.m.
This event is free and open to the public.

BONUS: Parnassus Books is thrilled to offer readers everywhere the opportunity to pre-order signed copies of This Savage Song. All pre-orders can be signed or personalized by the author at no additional cost. If you would like your book personalized, please include exactly how you would like the author to personalize your book in the comments section of your order. The deadline for pre-orders is Monday, July 4, at 5 p.m. CST (6 p.m. EST).

All pre-orders will include a special exclusive gift from author Victoria Schwab: a set of temporary tattoos inspired by the book! 

(Local customers who pre-order the book may choose to pick it up at the event, to pick it up in the store at another time, or to have it shipped to their homes. Customers outside Nashville may select their shipping option.)