Hmmm. Where to begin.
This book reminds me of I Let You Go, in the sense that it's sort of three books in one. The beginning is very distinct from the middle is very distinct from the end. But we'll get into that later.
I picked up this book because of the concept, which has elements in common with my current work-in-progress. I always like to see how other writers approach similar ideas. I like to see if I'm bringing anything new to the table. (I'm pleased to say that yes, I am.) Anyway, the concept is this: a French peasant girl makes an accidental deal with a god of darkness, and though she gets to live forever, she is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. Until, of course, she finally meets someone (300 years later) who remembers her.
There was definitely good in this book. I've never read VE Schwab before, and her prose at the beginning of the book was spectacular. Emotive, lyrical, and told from just the right distance to make the writing as enjoyable as the story. We're getting to know the titular character in the beginning, both in 2014 and in the late 1600s/early 1700s, and the technique used worked really well for establishing the idea of Addie, and for handling the passage of time. The flashback scenes were very well done.
I also enjoyed Henry, who was the first and only person to remember Addie since she was cursed. I've seen his character criticized elsewhere for being bland and uninteresting, but that's kind of the point. He's just a regular guy, struggling with regular-guy things. I think we received more of his backstory than was strictly necessary, and there were some cringey moments where he would look at Addie and wonder how anyone could forget such an incredible girl, but overall I didn't have a problem with him. Quite frankly, I relate to him. So maybe that's why.
Onto the problems.
The prose. More specifically, the way the prose changed as we travelled through the book. We lost the wonderful lyrical quality found in the book's beginning as more dialogue crept in, and as the writing became less engaging, it became increasingly evident that the plot was lacking. That's probably the foundation of many of this book's problems: an unsubstantial plot.
Given that Addie is immortal, and given that her day-to-day life is quite monotonous, going from concept to story is a big ask. I think it was handled okay. Not great, but okay. The flashbacks to Addie's sprawling past and the narrative around her life in the present aren't really a story. They're just events. It's not until she meets Henry, and he remembers her, that the plot really kicks off. Which brings me to the next problem.
Where can the story go from there?
Where it does go is down the road of romance. Addie and Henry unite, if not in love, then in mutual need. Henry's cursed, too, and their curses mean that only the other can really know them for who they are. But, again, where can the story go? They live happily ever after? They decide they hate each other and break up? They're torn apart by that cruel god of darkness who owns both their souls? And then what? What are the stakes? Where is the story?
The plot suffered because the stakes were low, at least in my opinion. If Henry and Addie stay together, they're basically regular people and there's not much excitement in that. If they break up, or are torn apart, they're back to where they were before they met, which means the story goes back to being just a series of events. And if the darkness claims their souls as the price of their deals, well, then I guess that's the end.
Big personal pet peeve here: I don't feel bad for Addie. I think I was supposed to feel bad for Addie, but I don't. Sure, she got tricked by the darkness when she made her deal, but do you really think everything's on the up-and-up when you make a deal with the devil? I mean, really? That's just stupidity, and while I think stupidity is a perfectly fine trait in a character, I also think characters should take responsibility for their actions. Instead, Addie blames the darkness for everything that sucks about her life. I would have loved to see her do more to spite the darkness, or outsmart the darkness, or otherwise make him as miserable as he made her, but that never came about. We got little moments of it, but for a girl who's been alive 300 years, she didn't have much of a plan.
Also, a lot of what sucked about Addie's life wasn't unique to her circumstances of being immortal and immediately forgotten. Lots of people face poverty, or are homeless, or are just one-night stands. And as often as not, Addie's curse was also her salvation. I don't know what exactly could have been done differently here, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
Another big problem for me was Henry's ending to the book, largely because it wasn't clear what happened. Was he freed from his curse, or was it just his soul that was saved? Did he learn anything? Is he going to be better about sharing himself with the world? (Writing a book anonymously would suggest no, in which case, what's the point?) What does Henry get out of the whole affair? Who's to say he won't be back on a rooftop in another few months? There's precious little character development for anyone in this book, and I would have loved to see Henry grow at the end. Make it mean something for him, and not just for Addie.
Other personal nitpicks include how the descriptions became repetitive, and not in the way where it's meant to be repetitive, but in the way where you feel like the author's forgotten what descriptors she's already used; the whole "character writes a book that has the same title as the actual book" (when has this not been corny?); the fact that Luc, the darkness, an ancient, evil god, considers himself above the Nazis (a weak attempt at humanizing him); the fact that we hear about Addie going mad somewhere in her 300-year life but never actually see it; inconsistencies about what Addie can't and can do (she can plant a tree but can't leave a mark in the snow? She can make an omelet but can't draw a picture?); that I saw every single plot twist coming (Henry's suicide attempt, Henry running out of time, Luc revealing he put Addie and Henry in each other's paths, Addie's plan to sacrifice herself to save Luc, that Addie and Luc were lovers); and the fact that we see very little of history through Addie's eyes. Another missed opportunity.
I thought the ending to the book was good. I like how Addie (finally) decided to turn the tables on Luc, even if it's all going to happen off-page. I didn't like how the deals suddenly seemed to be flexible, or how Luc was portrayed as evil, then in love with Addie, then evil, then no actually, he really does love Addie. I think the story should have picked a lane, or if not, then handled the ambiguity with more finesse. It was a little too much last-season-of-Game-of-Thrones for me. If a character is going to suddenly be what he's not (and this goes for Luc as well as Addie), it better be justifiable. I don't think it was, and that really undermined the story's already fragile cohesiveness.
It was a good read. I certainly don't regret it. Reading it critically has definitely helped me with my own story, and that alone was worth it. I intend to read more from VE/Victoria Schwab. But this one didn't earn a place on my bookshelf.