I really wanted to like this novel, as I have liked most of V E Schwab’s novels, but alas, it just didn’t move me. I think if you love hearing the inner monologue of characters, you’ll be totally fine, but if you like more plot driven narratives, you’re going to struggle, like I did. It wasn’t so much the journey is the destination type novel, but the journey is a series of pitstops of a motorway across time.
So what’s it about. At its heart is a Faustian bargain: Addie gives her soul to an old god in exchange for time and freedom. She’s in 18th century France and about to be shipped off to marry the town widower and it’s not what she wants for her life. But of course, bargains with the devil aren’t always what they seem: Addie is immortal but no one remembers her once they’ve lost sight of her. She also can’t make marks upon the world – write down her story for example. But she can make impressions, which I the thing that very loosely ties the book together, as well as Addie’s reason to keep on living. On anniversaries (or thereabout) Luc (what she names the old god), makes an appearance to taunt her and ask her if she’s ready to give up yet.
Then in the 21st century she meets Henry, who can remember her, but Henry has also made his own bargain.
And that’s pretty much it. 500 pages of fleeting moments in time, with some longer term romance with Henry. But even then, it’s just snapshots of their time together. To me, it just felt like others have observed, there was no plot. There was just a lot of internal dialogue and these disconnected moments in time. The continuity is only through the punctuation marks of Addie and Luc meeting and Addie learning a tiny bit more about how to outwit Luc or at least upset him.
I also thought the end was entirely predicable. It just felt more obvious as the book rolled on and so I never had any *gasp* moments. Therefore, I wasn’t really invested in any of the characters, just waited for the pages to roll on and the inevitable and obvious conclusion to finally arrive. Unlike many of other of Schwab’s novels, I had basically no emotional connection with the novel, so it’s more of a relief that I’ve finished it, rather than revelling in the wonderful world building and characters.
The characters are blandly fine, inoffensive if somewhat shallow. Again, I think this almost a consequence of the very episodic nature of Addie’s life. You don’t get attached to anyone or any particular moment in time. Aside from the village where she grew up, I don’t feel like the world building was that great. They just seemed like broad portraits of cities. Even Addie herself is just a series of emotions, which never really changes, in my view. She’s either stubborn, in love, sad at her situation, or angry with Luc. In 300 years you figure she’d have some emotional growth, but it didn’t really feel that way.
And finally, normally I love Schwab’s dialogue, but it felt like it needed an edit. It was just description after description, feelings, internal monologue. There was just too much description of a thing, impressions of a the the thing, wistful reminiscing about a thing. I just wanted something to happen that wasn’t just dialogue or description. I wanted plot that wasn’t just meeting another person, talking to that person, that person forgetting Addie. Repeat.
Anyway, mileage will vary. If you are more of a character person, this might work for you. But if you’re like me…well…good luck.