The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

V.E. Schwab delivers another compulsively readable novel with ‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” the latest tour de force from fantasy master V.E. Schwab, begins in 1714, as Addie, a dreamer and artist, tries to finagle her way out of an impending marriage. To escape the wedding, she makes a deal with Luc, the god of darkness, to free herself forever from belonging to anyone. Luc grants Addie immortality and liberty in exchange for her soul.

Addie soon learns the consequences of dealing with darkness. She belongs to no one, true, but she didn’t anticipate that no one would remember her face or her name. Her parents and friends forget her. She wanders, penniless and desolate, unable to rent a room or hold a job or depend upon the kindness of strangers. Then, after three centuries with only the dubious company of the darkness, the impossible happens: Addie meets a man who remembers her.

She asks Henry out for coffee, and they gradually deepen a connection that Addie inhales like a narcotic. She tells Henry her story, how she poked holes in her curse by planting the seeds of ideas that artists would later commit to music, canvas or sculpted steel. “Ideas are so much wilder than memories,” she realizes. “They long and look for ways of taking root.” Addie and Henry’s lives intertwine, but each keeps a measure of secrets, and Luc stands over them both, “a storm, bottled into skin.” Is he waiting to exact the price of freedom or for something else entirely?

V.E. Schwab has had enough of the “classic female” role in fantasy

Over time, Addie has grown to depend on Luc, the only person who knows her. Their relationship sweetens through the centuries, but Addie’s suspicions about his motivation sour their attachment until the elastic tension between them stretches to a breaking point. Now the contrasts between Henry and Luc force Addie to choose between the hypnotic lure of mystery and the seductive comfort of familiarity. Both characters are electric in their own ways, leaving Addie in the middle to explore the concept of identity, whether we can ever be truly known and what we might give up for the privilege. Schwab also weaves in an incisive reflection on every artist’s consuming desire for inspiration, to both receive and transmit charges of insight. Under the terms of her deal, Addie’s creative impulses can never be realized under her own name, but she craves the bittersweet satisfaction of seeing her ideas at play in the work of the writers and painters and musicians who blossom in her brief company.

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Addie’s earliest days — friendless, sad and solitary — are the hardest to get through, but Schwab’s tantalizing flashes forward and back in time create questions that need answers. Addie learns more about her curse, about Henry, about Luc, and the pages turn with commanding momentum. As the plot roared toward a finish, far from knowing what was going to happen, I didn’t even know what I wanted to happen.

That ending will no doubt divide readers. Regardless of how emotionally satisfying they find the resolution, though, “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” remains one of the most propulsive, compulsive and captivating novels in recent memory.

Ellen Morton is a writer in Los Angeles.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

By V.E. Schwab

Tor. 448 pp. $26.99

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