Are You the Weapon or the Target?: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Damn you, hype train, and your creation of excessively high expectations!

I was really, really hoping that this book would make all my fantasy-dark-academia dreams come true but, sadly, there were a few too many things missing for it to hit the high notes for me.

Who, What, Where?

Six of the most talented young magicians are chosen by The Alexandrian Society to be given the chance to join their ranks. It’s a secret society of advanced magical academics who act as caretakers for the prized knowledge of antiquity, and whose members usually rise to positions of wealth, power, and prestige. Candidates are to spend one year together with access to the believed lost Library of Alexandria, researching and experimenting in areas of arcane magic. The six include: Libby & Nico, rival cosmologists who control physical matter; Reina, a naturalist with a unique relationship with plants; Parisa, a telepath who relies on her looks and seduction skills to survive; Tristan, the son of a crime boss who can see past illusions; and Callum, an empath with terrifyingly powerful talents of persuasion. However, only five of them will be initiated.   

Playing Favourites

Although it’s called The Atlas Six, this book often feels like The Atlas Four and, even then, there’s an imbalance. While I understand that authors have their favourites, it’s important that other characters’ development doesn’t suffer because of it. Despite the rotating third-person POV, which I really liked, I feel as though I know very little about Callum and Reina and that both were underutilised considering their potential. In Callum’s case it’s problematic because of the villain-ish type role the story wants him to fill. Like, yes, his powers are terrifying, but I need more. With Reina, it’s almost as though she could have been deleted from the book and barely anything would have changed. It’s frustrating because from the small carrots that were dangled, there’s clearly so much more to explore.

Within “The Atlas Four”, I enjoyed Parisa, Nico and Libby (I’m torn on Tristan). They’re not exactly likeable characters – that’s dark academia for you – but there’s depth and intrigue there. The dynamics each of them has with the others are compelling, although often more about a power struggle than emotional connection – something the book could have done with more of. The level of conversation between the characters generally is also somewhat limited considering the story’s circumstances. Still, there’s something enthralling about a group of morally ambiguous magicians constantly alternating between the 3 states of – I want to f*** you, I want to kill you, and I need to remind you that I’m the hottest shit here. Make of that what you will.

Philosophical and Indulgent Prose

I genuinely believe I would have rated TAS a lot higher if I and the writing style had meshed better. There were times when I’d be really feeling it but then, suddenly, a switch would flip and the next thing I knew, everything sounded so overcomplicated, indulgent, and pretentious…The dialogue, especially, tended to quickly veer into this territory. For example:

“Every single one of us is missing something. We are all too powerful, too extraordinary, and don’t you see it’s because we’re riddled with vacancies? We are empty and trying to fill, lighting ourselves on fire just to prove that we are normal – that we are ordinary. That we, like anything, can burn.”

Perhaps I’m too simple-minded or impatient for this type of poetic and philosophising purple-prose. All I know is that if I were to describe dark academia as a writing style rather than just a genre, it’d be this book.

Plot-Lite

If you’re a reader who prefers plot-heavy novels, this won’t be for you. The opening chapters are great – not only as an intriguing hook but a fantastic introduction to the characters. After this, The Atlas Six rests largely on vibes and The Six themselves, at least until towards the end. It’s slowly paced, and most scenes are devoted to the characters reading/conducting research, having subtext-filled one-on-one conversations, and thinking A LOT. To an extent, I was okay with this because the characters were interesting and the tension was high. However, I’ll admit that I expected there to be much more structure to the initiation year – goals, more in-depth lessons, measures of success/failure, etc., but that wasn’t the case, and it felt somewhat odd and empty as a result.

The book does include a couple of plot twists. The first falls kind of flat, mainly because we’re aware of the gist of it from the blurb & prologue, but also because it bizarrely fizzles out by the end. The later twists, on the other hand, are much stronger and tease an exciting sequel.

Vaguely Scientific-Magic

I have no idea what was going on with the magic in this book. At a surface level, I can see that Blake was going for a scientific approach as we get mentions of things like gravity, matter, patterns of thought, and so on. The way these were utilised to explain aspects of magic in specific scenes was fine. However, the problem lies in that there’s no explanation for how magic works broadly. For instance – how are spells cast? Or, what governs the categories of magic magicians can do spells from? For example, others can perform aspects of Nico & Libby’s specialty but no one else seems capable of what Callum or Parisa can do. Honestly, I’m just lost.

Then, we have the world-building around magic, which is similarly vague. We’re made aware that magic users in this world are out in the open but not told much about what the world looks like. How do magic users fit into society? How has history deviated? Are magicians accepted? I feel like there’s so much potential, but I’ll have to wait until the sequel to see if it’s realised.


Overall, not a perfect read but enjoyable enough to convince me to continue with the series.

3 Stars

Let the Backstabbing Recommence: The Wicked King by Holly Black

Spends a year waiting for it, finishes it in less than 24 hours. I only have myself to blame here. Well, myself and Holly Black. Basically, if the book hangover from this one doesn’t kill me, it’ll be the wait for The Queen of Nothing cause, good lord. How do I even review this book? My brain is mush. MUSH I TELL YOU.

Who, What, Where?

The Wicked King takes up five months after the end of The Cruel Prince. Cardan is High King and Jude is running things behind the scenes as his second in command with the help of the rest of the Court of Shadows. However, just as before, everyone in faerie is playing their own game in their quest for power. Jude’s just got to worry about keeping it. But with the sea queen plotting against them, a vengeful prince keen on finding his way out of prison, a dangerous high general to watch, and Cardan himself to manage, it’s easier said than done.

More Momentum & Just as Many Twists

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.

When I first read The Cruel Prince, I found it took a little while for it to reach the main gist of the story (and hit peak political warfare and stabby-ness). TWK is a little similar in the fact that not a lot happens for the first part of the book but at the same time, because the base tension level is so much higher than in book one it never gets boring. Now that Jude holds so much power, and is desperate to keep it until she can safely pass it on to Oak, she has to be on her game constantly or risk losing everything. For this reason, she’s got a lot on her plate – controlling Cardan, Madoc’s future plans, the council, Balekin, the Sea Queen, handling Locke… Even though there isn’t major progress on a lot of these things for a while, because there’s so many of them it always feels like the story is chugging along and it’s entertaining enough to keep you engaged. You’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, of course, in spectacularly, twisty, Holly Black fashion, drop it does.

I don’t want to spoil any of the big moments, of which there are several (gotta love a good betrayal, or two, or three), but I will say, that ending. My god. You’d think that after the climax of The Cruel Prince anything else would fall short but noooooppe. This stands right up there with it. I did not see it coming and I have no idea where things are headed going into book three, but it’s NOT GOOD.

However, if there were two things that bugged me about TWK’s plot they would be: first, Locke’s role feels unnecessarily distracting and pointless (hopefully there’s a reason in book 3), and second, the drama queen within wishes there had been a more dramatic pay off to a misapprehension Balekin & the Sea Queen have about Jude late in the book.

A Better, Bigger Picture

Something I felt was lacking and difficult to visualise in book one was the world building. TWK improves on this a fair amount and having read it, I feel I have a much better idea of how many of the pieces of Faerieland fit together. I’m still lost on some of the geography and court hierarchies/relationships but as they aren’t necessary for the story, it’s not a big deal. The minor courts play a greater role this time around and we learn about how the world is generally governed. We’re also given more info about the King’s role and powers. What’s also very interesting is the addition of immensely powerful magical objects, aside from the crown, which will surely play a big role in The Queen of Nothing.

Jude x Cardan

“I hate you,” I breathed into his mouth. “I hate you so much that sometimes I can’t think of anything else.”

Why, hello there, enemies-to-lovers trope, and in the best possible way. I love and am crazy addicted to this twisted, tension-filled relationship. Cardan and Jude go through a lot in this book and do make some great progress, even though where they stand with each other is always a confusing mess. Still, whether they’re sniping at each other, working in sync, or being surprisingly tender, I enjoy every minute that they’re together because they’re honestly just so equally matched. I love that over the course of the novel both Cardan and Jude begin to understand and appreciate each other in a way that no one else does, to the point that they’re willing to give up tactical advantages to save the other. It’s not easy or linear, but it’s worth it. If these two were ever able to fully trust one another, and perhaps sort through their complicated romantic feelings, Faerie would tremble at their feet. It’s just going to take a while to get there.

The Shadow Queen

“His mouth curls into a smile. His eyes shine with wicked intent. “Look at them all, your subjects. A shame not a one knows who their true ruler is.”

On my first read of The Cruel Prince, I wasn’t a fan of Jude but on my recent re-read, I gained a new appreciation for her. Stick a sword in her hand and she kicks serious ass despite being physically inferior to her opponents. She’s smart, cunning, able to redirect her fear into productivity, and goes after what she wants. Sure, Jude isn’t a purely, good-hearted character – she’s power hungry and has no qualms about murdering or screwing people over if she has to, but I can’t help but appreciate just how well she’s able to play the game as someone with built-in disadvantages.

In TWK Jude doesn’t undergo much development. She shows her inexperience and has a habit of making silly decisions as well as letting her power go to her head in a way that produces a great deal of arrogance, particularly where it comes to Cardan (so stupid). She also spends a lot of the book scrambling around, trying to do things on her own when she shouldn’t, and this bites her in the ass multiple times. While her lack of foresight disappointed (and frustrated) me in this book, I’m expecting an epic comeback in book 3.

The Not So Wicked King

“Why was I cruel to Folk? Why was I awful to you? Because I could be. Because I liked it. Because, for a moment, when I was at my worst, I felt powerful, and most of the time, I felt powerless, despite being a prince and the son of the High King of Faerie.”

Comparatively, Cardan goes through a great deal more change than Jude. While he’s a cocky party-boy that does little more than lounge around during the first half, as the book goes on he displays some surprising moments of maturity, fairness, affection, and strategic thinking (what are you talking about Cardan, don’t you know that murder is always the answer?). TWK continues to build on the backstory to Cardan’s characterisation begun in TCP and it does make him a more sympathetic character. What also helps is the fact that no longer bound by the need to impress, disappoint, or shame his disdaining family members, he starts to shed the frivolous and “cruel” protective mask he’s crafted, and do some self-reflection. As a result, by the end, he becomes more of an actual player in the game as opposed to the pawn he’s been previously. This does lead him to some shattering actions but somehow I’m still all for it because PLOT DRAMA.

Other Characters

Taryn, Locke, and Nicasia can all just piss right off. That is all.


In summary, this series is addictive and I love it. Bring me more twists, drama and backstabbing. Now to start the countdown to The Queen of Nothing *cries*.

4.5 Stars