When Addie LaRue first came out, I didn’t expect I’d wind up reading it anytime soon. It wasn’t that I thought I wouldn’t like it; if it was anything at all like the Darker Shades of Magic series, it would be amazing. It’s just that I already have so many books to read, even have them organized on my shelf in the order that I want to read them, and I don’t like letting new books cut the line.
But I’ve been hearing a lot of things, good things, about Addie LaRue. So I bit the bullet. I let it cut the line.
Before I dive into the review, I do want to let my followers know that there will be an important blog scheduling update at the end of the post, so be sure to take a look at that before clicking off the post.
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Historical Urban Fantasy
A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.
France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.
But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.
The Old Gods and the New
Let’s begin with something easy: the world-building. The magic is soft, barely present beyond the reaper god with whom she bargains her soul so she might have more time, more freedom. There’s nothing new in its presentation. The reader learns with Addie from the local spinster about the old gods, making offerings and asking for help. And it seems, too, that the minor gods are real, because small favors are often answered. There is just some undefinable limit to their power. Schwab does contrast the prevalence of Christianity to the very old gods, allowing Addie’s birthtime and birthplace to affect her belief in both God and the old gods.
The only other major divergence in the world-building has to do with specific pieces of art. The role that art plays in the story is beautiful and endearing, and the story will try to convince you that the artwork shown are real pieces. Forget that they’re not, and the story will feel that much more magical.
A few side notes on setting. Addie is born in a time where women were still expected to wrap their whole lives around getting married, having children, and running a household. Any dreams beyond that were considered immature or even crazy. That Addie dreams of more is likely neither surprising nor uncommon; what sets her apart is how vocal and stubborn she is about her dreams. What I would have liked to see is Addie being a little less derogatory and snobbish about the women in her life who settled down, not because I don’t think marriage was an oppressive institution, but rather because it’s a little unfair to expect everyone to be capable and willing to rage against the patriarchy.
Secondly, on corsets. Hollywood lies. They’re only uncomfortable if you wear one that is not tailored to fit your body, and if you don’t break them in. Now, Addie’s curse being what it is, it’s not surprising that the corsets she wears don’t fit. But, rather than have Addie prescribe to modern ways of thought on their “oppressive” nature, it would have been nice for her to acknowledge the issue of fit.
Short Lives Burn Hotter
Addie LaRue celebrates what can be accomplished in a single lifetime because the protagonist cannot leave a mark on the world and yet can influence the likes of those who can. So it is, perhaps, no surprise that Schwab kills it with the characters. There will certainly be a few minor characters that I will be thinking about in weeks and months to come because they were so visceral and real, even in the few fleeting scenes we get with them.
There are three major players in the book: Addie, and two others that she is able to come back to. But Addie takes on many lovers throughout the story, and you’ll be happy to learn that there are more than just hetero romances featured. Even as Addie dances through those three hundred years, there are several minor characters, lovers that she takes up for the span of a few chapters, and they have a presence. Not all, of course, but the ones that do hit hard.
Unfortunately, the book is not without its faults. Part of this has to do with pacing, and I’ll discuss that shortly, but where the book shines in romantic flings, it stumbles on anything remotely longer-lasting. Certain major characters were left with little description to give them an air of mysticism, and their development happens suddenly and inexplicably so that it feels more telling than showing. It’s not terrible; it’s just not as good as it should be, considering the role it plays in the overall narrative arc.
A Story Spanning Ages
Addie LaRue is three hundred years old. That’s no small amount of time to cover, especially it spans major historical events that entire books could be written about. Of course, Addie can’t be present for all of it, and this is one of the few times I’ve read a book about a centuries-old character who didn’t claim to know every single detail about the world wars or the exploration of the Americas or whatever as if they were always in the room where it happened. There wasn’t even a single mention of the American Revolutionary War, and only passing mention of rising tensions in France before one of their own revolutions, despite the fact that Addie is in France at the time.
Beyond those first few years coming to terms with her bargain, however, all of Addie’s past scenes revolve around the reaper god’s games with her as he tries to convince her that this invisible life is not worth living. As touching as Addie’s persistence is, it feels too heavily centered on that single concept, where I think the book could have benefited from some of Addie’s past shenanigans that went beyond the reaper god.
It’s a slow read. The young man mentioned in the synopsis arrives far later than one would expect, and it was difficult to stay invested. It never really picks up at any given point, but once he appears, it’s at least much easier to stay invested, especially in the present. That’s a major reason why I wished we had more diversity in the types of past scenes we get from Addie; for a character willing to bargain away her own soul for freedom and a long life, she does seem intrinsically bound to the whims of men.
You thought I did that post on soft narration just for the hell of it, didn’t you? Well, I got the idea for the post as I started Addie LaRue because, you guessed it, it has a very whimsical feel to the prose. And, as I said in that post, soft narration can do quite a lot for a story, but being too heavy-handed with it can make the story convoluted and difficult to read.
Addie LaRue is told beautifully. It is lyrical, soft, hopeful. I wish it was a little less so in certain areas, to help the reader ground themselves. But, overall, there’s no denying that it was a beautiful story.
Overall Rating: 4 Stars
I feel kind of bad giving it only four when it does feel like a whammy of a story. The ending was perfect for the kind of tale that Schwab was telling. But I cannot deny that there were many places in the book where I felt bored and had trouble keeping invested.
It’s not a majorly fantastical story. You don’t have to be an avid fantasy reader to like this book. But if you prefer fast-paced novels, this might not be enough to keep your attention. If you like lyrical prose, want to read a book about hope and determination, and/or have some interest in historical novels that don’t always hit major historical events, on the other hand, you may absolutely love The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.
Blog Update: I’m Cutting Back
These past few months, the blog has been slowly but surely growing in followers, in views. I’m no blogging behemoth, but it’s still been enough to make my heart swell with pride. And I know that it is, in part, because I’d increased the number of posts I put out per week. (The more blog posts you publish, the more active you look to analytics, and the more it recommends your posts to people. Regardless of the quality of content, really.)
However, I work in the retail business, and even with the pandemic, things are still drastically picking up. A lot of you are new (hello again!) but it is something of a tradition here for blog post schedules to get out of whack during November and December. This year, unfortunately, is no different. What is different is that, for right now at least, I intend to do one blog post every week. I should be able to set enough time aside for that, at least.
So, beginning next week, starting November 9th, I will be going to a weekly blog post, published on Friday at 12:30 EST (4:30 UTC, I believe). The kind of content I post should remain the same. It may get a little more book review heavy if my reading habits keep to the pace they’ve been, but I do want to continue doing writerly stuff, too, so we’ll see. Just bear with me 🙂