There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from acclaimed author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books in the Monsters of Verity series, This Savage Song is available July 5 from HarperCollins.
Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
The first time August killed a man, it was entirely by accident.
He’d come to—been born, manifested—at the school, with the black body bags and the worried woman who tried to shield his eyes as she pulled her coat around his narrow shoulders and loaded him into a car. The car took him to a building where other children were being collected by their families. But he didn’t have a family, and he knew with a strange, bone-deep certainty that he shouldn’t be there, so he slipped out through a back door, and onto a side street.
And that’s when he heard the music—the first beautiful thing in an ugly world, as Ilsa would say. The song was thin, unsteady, but loud enough to follow, and soon August found its source: a weary-looking man on a packing crate, wrapped in a ratty blanket. He was tinkering with the instrument, and August made his way toward him, wondering at the man’s shadow, which stretched behind him on the wall, moving even when he didn’t.
It had too many hands, too many teeth.
And then the man beneath the shadow held the instrument up to the light.
“Who throws out a violin?” he murmured, shaking his head.
Back at the building, they’d given August a pack of cookies and a carton of juice. The food tasted like white noise on his tongue, so he’d shoved the rest in the pockets of the woman’s coat. Now he dug them out and offered them to the stranger. It must have tasted better to the man, because he devoured both, and then looked up at the sky. August looked, too. It was getting dark.
“You should go home,” said the man. “South City’s not safe at night.”
“I can’t go home,” he answered.
“Neither can I,” said the man, dropping the violin. It made a horrible sound when it landed, but didn’t break. “I did a bad thing,” he whispered as his shadow writhed against the wall. “I did such a bad thing.”
August knelt to retrieve the instrument. “It’ll be all right,” he said, fingers curling around the wooden neck.
He didn’t remember what happened next. Or rather, he did, but it was a set of photos, not a film, stills without the space between. He was holding the violin, running a thumb over the strings. There was light. There was darkness. There was music. There was peace. And then, there was a body. And sometime later, there was Leo, who found him sitting cross-legged on the packing crate, fiddling with the strings, while the corpse lay at his feet, mouth hanging open and eyes burned black. It took August a long time to understand the vital thing that had happened in the gaps.
“Mr. Osinger?” he called now, stepping into the cluttered apartment. His violin case caught on a teetering stack of papers, and sent them sprawling in his wake. Across the room, Albert Osinger was fighting his way up a narrow set of stairs so crammed with junk he almost couldn’t pass. August didn’t bother trying to follow. Instead he shrugged the case from his shoulder, and clicked it open. He withdrew the violin with practiced ease, and nestled it under his chin, his fingers finding their positions.
He exhaled, brought the bow to the strings, and drew the first note.
The moment August began to play, everything eased. The headache loosened and the fever calmed, the tension went out of his limbs and the sound of gunshots in his head—which had become a constant static— finally ceased as the melody slid out and twined through the room. The music wasn’t loud, but August knew it would reach its target. Beyond the chords he could hear Osinger’s footsteps overhead drag to a stop, and then reverse, no longer frantic but slow and even. August played on as Osinger descended the stairs in measured steps, the music reeling him in.
The song dipped and rose and spiraled away, and he could picture the people scattered through the building, their bodies dragging to a halt as they heard, their souls rising to the surface, most of them bright but untouchable. August’s eyes were still closed, but he could feel Osinger in the room with him now; he didn’t want to stop playing just yet, wanted to finish the song—he never got a chance to finish—but the sickness was still rolling through him, so he let the melody trail off, the sound dying on the bow as he raised his head. Albert Osinger stood in front of him. His shadow had gone still, and his soul shone like a light beneath his skin.
It was stained red.
August lowered the violin. He set it on a chair as Osinger looked at him, eyes wide and empty. And then the man spoke.
“The first time it happened, I was broke,” he confessed quietly. “I was high. I’d never held a gun before.” The words spilled out, unhindered, and August let them. “I just wanted the cash. I don’t even remember shooting them. Now the second time… ,” the man smiled grimly. “Well, I knew what I was doing, down to the number of bullets. I kept my eyes open when I pulled the trigger, but I still shook like a baby after.” The smile spread, sickening in the red light. “The third time—that was the charm. You know what they say: It gets easier. Living doesn’t, but killing does. I’d do it again. Maybe I will.”
When he was done, he fell silent. Waiting.
Leo probably made some speech, but August never said anything. He simply closed the gap between them, stepping over and around the clutter, and pressed his hand to Osinger’s collar, where his half-buttoned shirt split open, giving way to weathered flesh. The instant August’s fingers met the man’s bright skin, the red light flooded forward. Osinger’s mouth opened and August gasped, catching the man’s breath as the energy surged into him, cooling his body and feeding his starved veins. It was blood and air, water and life. August drank it in, and for a moment, all he felt was relief.
A glorious, enveloping sense of calm. Of balance.
And then the light was gone.
August’s arm fell back to his side, and Albert Osinger’s body crumpled, lifeless, to the floor. A shell. A husk with no light, no shadow, its eyes burned to black.
Excerpted from the book This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. Copyright © 2016 by Victoria Schwab. Reprinted with permission of Greenwillow Books / an imprint of HarperCollins.