The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Rating: 2 out of 5
Published: 3rd March 2022 (Tor)
What would you do if someone offered you knowledge? Power? The potential to be part of a secret society tasked with looking after the hidden (not lost) Library of Alexandria? I know what you’d say, because’s precisely the reason I picked up the book. Power, I could take or leave, but the books? Those I could never resist. And it is a good hook. Except… everything was promised and nothing delivered.
First up, the characters. Six people with incredible talents, all beautiful or powerful or both. Introduced to the reader via striking scenes of recruitment that showcased each character’s skills and personality, with magics that were intriguing and had the potential to be thrillingly deadly. I couldn’t wait to see how they would play out in competition with each other.
Yet, that never really happens. The novel’s supposed plot, the one somewhat spoiled in the blurb, is not what actually happens in the book. In fact, the major problem was that nothing really happens in this book. There’s lots of conversation, lots of internal monologuing, and endless chat about the faux science/magic/psychology that underpins their ‘academia’. I spent a significant proportion of the book asking myself what the point was. Pages and pages of this book do nothing to move the story forwards. NOTHING. As I said previously, it starts well enough, then there’s one fight scene and then nothing for most of the rest of the book. It’s dull and unnecessarily slow. What’s supposed to be happening is the creation of tension via A) competition B) sexual attraction C) rivalry predating the main plot D) personal dislike of the other characters. What’s actually happening is precisely none of those things. There are lots of reviews talking about the appeal of the various characters and their supposed relationships with each other. Frankly, I don’t see it. There’s not enough depth to any of them for that to occur. I could barely remember who was who. They were nothing more that pretentious dialogue or internal commentary. There’s no connection between them, despite how desperately that idea is shoehorned in later in the book, and they barely interact in any meaningful ways at all. They’re six individuals who happen to be in the same place and none of them are given enough time to make a real impact. Almost everything we learn about them, we’re not shown, we’re told. And not once. The big moral question of the book, ‘will five people murder the sixth to keep their place in this society’ is swerved and ultimately pointless. Nobody discusses why this is such a big part of the Society and then it’s simply ignored. Like so much else in the novel, only the bits in the scene have any kind of detail. Once the camera moves on, it’s forgotten. The setting is hazy at best. The house they live in, the magic system (which seems to change according to need), the reasons why anybody is doing anything or why they change, the things that happened in the past… all done with the lightest touch or not at all. On top of that, there’s a character thrown in at the end in a way that made me want to scream with frustration.
This book has been big on TikTok and got traditionally published as a result. I love that writers are getting deals like that, but this shows that sometimes the quality can be dubious. There’s potential here, but it needed some serious editorialising. You know that writing advice ‘kill your darlings’? That was needed and more. I can see the potential, but it’s not on show in the book. With some decent revision, this could have been compelling. As it is, I wouldn’t waste my time.
ARC via Netgalley