17-year-old Anouk is a Beastie—once an animal, now human, turned at the hands of a witch. Commanded by her mistress, Mada Vittora, Anouk is confined to their Parisian townhouse as a maid. Her other Beastie companions, Beau, Cricket, Luc, and Hunter Black, are forced into servitude so long as Mada Vittora holds their pelts.
But when Anouk discovers her mistress is dead, the Beasties have 3 days to find someone to re-cast their enchantment before they lose their humanity to the darkness of their animal selves.
Trapped between the desire to finally live outside of the townhouse, among the Pretties who are unknowingly influenced by the powerful Haute, and the rush to keep their humanity, the Beasties discover that there may be more to their creation than what anyone could have imagined.
Before we begin this review, I have to admit that I am still somewhat confused on what I actually want my rating of this book to be. At first, I thought my feelings were influenced by the fact that I was listening to this as an audiobook, and that since I wasn’t exactly used to that format, it could hinder my review.
However, when I started looking through reviews after finishing the duology, I came to realize that was only a small part of the case.
I will also be addressing some issues I saw that reviewers have, but that I didn’t necessarily have due to me reading the second book immediately following the first.
Anyway, on to the review!
Grim Lovelies is certainly an interesting concept with tons of potential for a 5 star fantasy.
- Animals turned human with the purpose of serving a twisted witch, only to discover they are so much more than anyone told them.
- A Parisian setting.
- The magical order of the Haute, royals with the abilities to do magic when they consume a life essence.
- A balance between the technology of the Pretty (human) world and the magic of the Haute.
- And consequences for magic, which is always an added conflict that I enjoy when there are groups of power hungry magical beings.
The problem here was execution in almost all of these areas.
I think something that was done well, was the concept of the Beasties. Anouk and her friends were told they were powerless creatures, when in reality they are actually incredibly powerful. The way Shepherd created rules in her magical world to allow that power was something I did enjoy. Especially since this was a “species” with abilities and not just one special person.
I also appreciate a world in which magic has consequences, especially physical ones that are great portrayals of those who do not respect the balance. In order for magic to be performed in this world, a life essence must be consumed. It could be blood, insects, or flower petals—all of which act as a source for spells. However, when a life is taken by spell work, the caster is subject to body parts turning to stone.
That’s about where I stop in terms of well executed.
The setting had so much potential. Anouk, being trapped in a townhouse and never stepping foot outside the door, was finally free in beautiful Paris. Even if it was a time crunch and a race to save themselves, Shepherd had the ability to show excitement and wonder and the pure beauty of Paris. Instead, Anouk acknowledged very little of the world besides that initial overwhelming rush of people and noises and the occasional mention of pretty lights.
She should have been savoring every bit of new wonder and things she’s never experienced before. I was ready for the real world to seem so alien to her. But for someone who wished so desperately for escape, her response was so freaking boring.
The balance of technology and magic is something I was on board with. It reminded me of the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, where the rise of technology became toxic to the fey realm.
It made sense that magic and technology would interfere with one another. However, it was incredibly inconsistent. For beings that couldn’t use technology, like literally couldn’t fire a gun because the mechanics were techy, they used a lot of cars and motorcycles. Vehicles are mentioned like crazzzyyy, but they shouldn’t be able to use them. How do you over look that when you’re the one creating these rules? This bothered the ever loving heck out of me.
Now characters…ah characters.
Anouk is an okay character. She’s just a typical girl-who-feels-incredibly-dull-but-is-actually-hella-powerful character. She is the only character with any development and thought-out personal conflict.
Cricket is an interesting character because she actually has a personality. She likes loud music and knives and stealing things and is sassy. Can’t really give you more than that though.
Beau is where my audiobook confusion first began. Beau is my least favorite man in a book ever. For the love interest, he is so dang boring.
I first was really confused because the narrator of the audiobook gave Beau this gravelly voice that made him sound like an old man. So when he began talking to Anouk about his feelings, I was so creeped out and confused. This lead me to looking up character sketches (this will come up again) and realizing he’s around her age and supposed to be kinda cute or something.
Either way, ehhhh. Anouk says like a chapter before his love confession that he was like a brother to her. But as soon as he says he wants more BAM! Insta-love. Yuck. Megan Shepherd can write a good kiss, I’ll give her that, but it’s literally the only time I felt chemistry.
Representation part 1
Representation was a point of contention for people from what I could tell in reading reviews. Rightfully so, but I think it was different for me because I didn’t read this how most did. So I wanna address that.
These also may contain slight spoilers, but in at least one instance it’s a possibly triggering trope so we’re going to talk about it.
Cricket and Luc are POC. I only know that because I looked up character sketches for Beau early on and saw that. The mention of them being POC is scarce, and I realize that now. I don’t know that I would have noticed that if it wasn’t just in my head before getting to their characters. So this is a logical area to be upset about. Representation for the sake of saying you have representation is honestly insulting to the intelligence of people seeking that representation. A sentence in an entire book is not enough.
Another problem that people had was that as a POC, Luc was barely in this book. It’s true. Luc is literally missing for a good chunk of this book. And although some of the representation things can be addressed in the sequel, he’s still not there much, to be honest.
In this first book, it is a big deal that he is gone. He’s missed, he’s important, and they want him back. But when they get him back, he doesn’t get much spotlight.
Spoiler and “bury your gays” trope warning
Hunter Black is gay. Hunter Black is hopelessly in love with a straight character. Hunter Black is sad and standoffish and brooding. Hunter Black “dies” to save straight people.
Let’s dissect that a bit. There is nothing wrong with Hunter Black being a gay character in this book. What isn’t cool is that Hunter Black (this is his name. I don’t know why he has a first and last name that is used as his name no matter what, but here we are) is this sad and isolated and aggressive character who only shows kindness to the straight male character he is in love with.
It’s not even revealed until a very long time into the book that Hunter Black is gay. Some people, like me, were able to infer based off scenes that could have been explained by his feelings or just his aggressive personality. But I think it was meant as a form of plot twist, which just shouldn’t happen. Don’t use sexuality to shock. Just don’t.
And then at the end he sacrifices (though it isn’t a full confirmed death) his life to save all the straight people.
Sequel Spoilers part 1
Hunter Black does not die. He is alive in the sequel and a straight life is willingly sacrificed for him. Does that change anything? Not sure, but it’s being noted. They could have faked someone else’s death. But it’s because I read these one after another that I didn’t initially pick up on this trope.
Representation part 2
Petra is transgender. And I will say I enjoyed that despite her being trans, she wasn’t treated differently by anyone in this book. However she is another diverse character who is barely there.
Sequel Spoilers part 2
Petra plays a much larger role in the second book. She definitely becomes a main character. So if that’s something that influences how you read this book, then that’s fine. Again, it’s not something I picked up on because I saw a lot more of her.
So yeah, the representation is lacking. Maybe not so much in the second book, but if you’re reading just Grim Lovelies, it is beyond disappointing.
Well, I think that’s all I’m going to say on this one. If I didn’t read these books consecutively, I think the rating would have been lower. I also did enjoy the plot and the ending was set up well for a sequel.
Anouk came out the other end a different person due to her experiences, and that’s something that influences my ratings. I love character development, it’s one of the most important aspects of a story for me.
Have you read Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd? What did you think?
If you want to read up on the sequel, Midnight Beauties, my review will be up on Thursday. Follow along to get updates!