Review: The Book of Night by Holly BlackBook of Night by Holly Black
Published by Tom Doherty Associates on May 3, 2022
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 368

"A delicious, dark, adrenaline rush of a book. I'm already dying to see Charlie Hall's next con." - New York Times bestselling author, Alix E. Harrow

#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black makes her stunning adult debut with Book of Night, a modern dark fantasy of betrayals, secret societies, 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.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

The Book of Night is celebrated YA fantasy author Holly Black’s first foray into adult fantasy, and it was a pretty successful endeavour.

After a job gone horribly wrong, Charlie Hall is out of the game for good. A thief and con artist for hire, Charlie’s specialty is stealing magic texts for her gloamist clients, a broad category of magic users. Gloamists are a shadowy group of people whose magic is little understood, but the gist is that they use blood to ‘quicken’ their shadows and control the shadows of others. Most gloamist knowledge has been lost and they jealously guard their secrets from normal people and fellow gloamists alike. Stealing for gloamists is a cutthroat business, and Charlie’s finally been scared straight. Hasn’t she?

Working as a bartender may not bring the thrills – or the cash – that stealing does, but at least she hasn’t been shot this year. But when her sister’s tuition bills come due and the chance to make some easy money off a gloamist falls into her lap, Charlie can’t resist getting sucked back in. But the bodies are piling up and what was supposed to be a random, easy gig is shaping up to be eerily entangled with the job that started it all, back when she was just a kid. 

"Soon enough, Charlie will come to realize that the only shadows she can’t outrun are those of her past…"

Charlie’s experiences as a con artist child prodigy have made her cunning, reckless, and self-loathing. I expected to feel more drawn in by this unusual and compelling combination of characteristics, but there’s something quite flat about Charlie despite all this. Holly Black is a master at crafting complex characters, so I wonder if she intended it to signal to readers how traumatized Charlie is. Personally, I didn’t find this flatness off-putting at all, but I can see people being bothered by it.

For a story about magical thievery, the art of the con, and taking revenge, The Book of Night is awfully slow-moving. Each chapter is short and features at least one wild reveal (past or present), so I expected a high-octane feel. Instead, the pacing was somewhat awkward and lurching, only reaching a consistent level of intensity in the final act. I attribute these issues to the novel’s structure, which gets bogged down by the considerable time spent exploring Charlie’s childhood and adolescence. Don’t get me wrong: I loved these sections the best and I think they’re essential for Charlie’s character. But there’s no question that all the rumination on the past seriously slows the momentum of the present-day plot line. Maybe it’s the fantasy reader in me, but I think this would’ve been a more successful story if it had been two books – or a significantly longer single novel.

The Book of Night wasn’t all that I hoped it would be, but it wasn’t a huge disappointment either. The events of the final few chapters promise an exciting sequel, one that I’m looking forward to reading. Recommended. 

Some readers may want to check TWs (especially for self-harm).