Book Review: “The Atlas Six” by Olivie Blake

“The problem with knowledge is its inexhaustible craving. The more of it you have, the less you feel you know.”

The Alexandrian Society, caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity, are the foremost secret society of magical academicians in the world. Those who earn a place among the Alexandrians will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams, and each decade, only the six most uniquely talented magicians are selected to be considered for initiation.

Enter the latest round of six: Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona, unwilling halves of an unfathomable whole, who exert uncanny control over every element of physicality. Reina Mori, a naturalist, who can intuit the language of life itself. Parisa Kamali, a telepath who can traverse the depths of the subconscious, navigating worlds inside the human mind. Callum Nova, an empath easily mistaken for a manipulative illusionist, who can influence the intimate workings of a person’s inner self. Finally, there is Tristan Caine, who can see through illusions to a new structure of reality— an ability so rare that neither he nor his peers can fully grasp its implications.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have one year to qualify for initiation, during which time they will be permitted preliminary access to the Society’s archives and judged based on their contributions to various subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, life and death. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. The six potential initiates will fight to survive the next year of their lives, and if they can prove themselves to be the best among their rivals, most of them will.

Most of them.

I usually don’t write full reviews of books not published during the current year, but I have a lot to say about this darling of BookTok and Book Twitter. The Atlas Six is an indie-published book that has taken the book community by storm, so much so that it’s now being sold in bookstores like Barnes & Noble. But it wasn’t the hype that intrigued me— it was the premise.

I’m a huge fan of dark academia and stories involving magical education. The summary feels like it was catered to me specifically. The problem is… it’s not really dark academia and the magical education is pretty sparse. In fact, this book’s biggest crime is that it focuses on the wrong things.

Well, let me amend that. The shifting alliances between the six protagonists are important, but they come at the detriment to the rest of the plot. The most interesting scenes are the few times the reader actually gets to see the characters explore new theories and accomplish great feats of magic. I love a good character-driven story, but this one needs more balance with the subjects the summary promises.

Speaking of, I have some critiques regarding said characters. First off, why is everyone so mean to Libby? She’s done nothing wrong, and yet everyone seems to hate her. I’m not sure if I love her because I decided to support the underdog and spite the others or because I genuinely like her.

Callum, on the other hand, sucks and I hate him so much. Now, I think you’re supposed to hate him, but damn. I haven’t hated a character this much in a long time. Every time this judgmental, rude ass rich boy was on the page, I wanted to chuck the book across the room. He’s also Libby’s biggest hater, so that doesn’t help endear him to me on a personal level.

The only other character I have any criticism of is Reina. I feel like she’s the least developed out of all of them. I know the least about her and often forget she’s there. The other characters flit in and out of each other’s POV chapters so you get a good sense for who they are, but Reina mostly keeps to herself. It’s hard to feel invested in a character you hardly know.

Tangentially, I feel like all the character’s backstories could’ve been better developed. Several of them are dumped midway into the book or even toward the end. Understanding more about who these characters were before they joined the Society would’ve gone a long way toward understanding their motivations.

Honestly, a lot of the character motivations are clumsily handled. Trauma is apparently not something these characters experience, even in life of death situations. It really takes away from the moral dilemma the characters face later in the novel.

Perhaps my least consequential complaint is that the titular Atlas is hardly in the book at all. He’s clearly an important character, but I don’t have much of a sense for him at all. I wanted more from him.

Oh, and don’t be misled by people calling this an LGBT read. Parisa indicates she has slept with women, but not necessarily that she’s attracted to them (a distinction that makes sense for her character). Two of the women are involved in a fade-to-black threesome with one of the men, but it’s more of a heat-of-the-moment thing. There’s also an ambiguous relationship between two men, but nothing to suggest it could definitely be romantic. Most of the emphasis in this book is on M/F relationships.

That said, the book is well-written and kept me reading. It’s not a new favorite like I’d hoped, but it’s not bad by any means. The sequel is coming out next year and I think I’d like to read it. 

Would I recommend this book? Yes, with the caveat that you’re aware this is not dark academia by any stretch or you’ll probably be disappointed. I wish Blake had taken more time to develop her characters and magic system, but overall this was a fun read. On a scale of one to ten, I give it a six.

Iranian woman, Japanese woman, Cuban man, & same-sex attraction/ambiguous relationship (not explicitly LGBT)

Violence, cheating, death, mass-shooting, kidnapping; references to: degenerative disease, death of a family member, suicide; mentions of: suicidal thoughts, incest, sacrifice

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Have you read The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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