“The problem with seeing through things so readily was the development of a certain degree of natural cynicism.“
– The Atlas Six –
Have I developed a certain degree of natural cynicism? After reading this book, quite possibly.
As a massive fantasy and dark academia fan, I had been excitedly looking forward to reading The Atlas Six for ages, so when Line @ First Line Reader suggested a buddy read as an excuse to work around my 2022 book buying ban, I immediately jumped at the opportunity! After all, there was no way this couldn’t be good, right? Everyone in the book community had been gushing about it! The synopsis was full of things I absolutely love reading about! If there ever was a book predestined to become a favorite of mine, I was sure it had to be The Atlas Six.
Unfortunately, though, my predictions turned out to be very wrong indeed…
In my most humble opinion, The Atlas Six was an absolute mess of wanna-be greatness, with some of the most underdeveloped word-building, character arcs, and plot structure that I have ever seen 🙈 And in this review, I’m going to tell you why.
Title: The Atlas Six
Series: The Atlas, #1
Author: Olivie Blake
Genre: Adult Fantasy / Dark Academia
Page Count: 375
Publication Date: January 31st, 2020
Date Read: June 9th-12th, 2022
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
(Trust me, I seriously considered rating this lower 🙄 But if The Atlas Six has one thing going in its favor, it’s that I was genuinely intrigued while reading it – which is more than I can say about the majority of the other books I read in June… This month might well turn out to be solely responsible for about half of the books on my “Most Disappointing Reads of the Year” list, and considering how tedious some of them were to get through, The Atlas Six positively shines in comparison! At least the characters showed promise, and I guess there’s a possibility the sequel might deliver on all the world-building and character development that was missing here. I mean, I’m not hopeful – but I’m willing to give Olivie Blake the benefit of the doubt for now…)
SYNOPSIS (FROM GOODREADS)
When the world’s best magicians are offered an extraordinary opportunity, saying yes is easy. Each could join the secretive Alexandrian Society, whose custodians guard lost knowledge from ancient civilizations. Their members enjoy a lifetime of power and prestige. Yet each decade, only six practitioners are invited – to fill five places.
Contenders Libby Rhodes and Nico de Varona are inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds. Parisa Kamali is a telepath, who sees the mind’s deepest secrets. Reina Mori is a naturalist who can perceive and understand the flow of life itself. And Callum Nova is an empath, who can manipulate the desires of others. Finally, there’s Tristan Caine, whose powers mystify even himself.
Following recruitment by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they travel to the Society’s London headquarters. Here, each must study and innovate within esoteric subject areas. And if they can prove themselves, over the course of a year, they’ll survive. Most of them.
Before we get into major spoilers – Because, yes, of course there will be spoilers further down; how else am I supposed to rant about this book? 😁 – let’s have a look at some of the more general stuff. What was it, exactly, that made The Atlas Six fall so flat for me?
Part of it might’ve been my expectations. If you pitch me something within my favorite genres that everybody loves, I’m going to be ridiculously excited!
And I’ll admit, at first, things did look promising. We were introduced to a group of genuinely flawed young adults with mysterious pasts trying to be initiated into a secret magical society. There were hints at a budding enemies-to-lovers romance – a trope I am infallibly trash for 🥰 – and tons of references to Ancient Greek and Latin texts that I, having spent seven years of my life at a school with a heavy classical focus, instantly nerded out over. Even better, the entire magic system itself seemed to be linked to science and academia! Of course I was hooked!
I have to give it to Olivie Blake – she’s exceptionally good at setting the scene and building suspense. The only problem? She does this for the entirety of her book and never delivers on anything.
The world-building and explanations on what people actually do at this oh-so-secret magical society that is the central focus of this book are virtually non-existent. There is no character development whatsoever. Instead, we are simply told over and over again that these characters are “intriguing” and that there’s “more to them than meets the eye”. Similarly, despite them spending a significant amount of time together, our six protagonists’ relationships also remain very surface-level — well, surface-level apart from sex, that is. At some point through the book, Line and I seriously started wondering if maybe the real aim of this story was to have everyone sleep together at some point… Seriously, how can there be this much sex without the characters having had any in-depth conversations with one another at all?!?
Overall, reading The Atlas Six felt like talking to a person who thought they were incredibly smart, but really weren’t. It never made good on the huge promises set by the premise and characters. It was brimming with pretentious lines full of big vocabulary that were clearly meant to be “quotable” but had absolutely no substance once you really started thinking about them. It had a big pLoT tWiSt at the end that I, unfortunately, was not at all wow-ed by because there had been no real build-up to it. I honestly doubt you’d miss anything if you only read the first and last few chapters…
Which means that instead of being impressed by the ending, I was furious that things had been introduced clunkily and left unexplored, only to come back for a big reveal that ended the book on a huge cliffhanger and postponed any possible answers we might have gotten to a sequel!!!
But yeah… I think that’s about all I can say without spoiling things, so, for those of you who want all the tea, let’s get into the nitty gritty details!
WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE NEXT SECTION! IF YOU HAVEN’T READ The Atlas Six YET AND DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING NOW!
I. World-Building and Plot – Or Lack Thereof
Like I already said, one of my biggest gripes with The Atlas Six was that I didn’t feel like anything was properly fleshed out. The book drags on and on and on, spewing seemingly deep stuff like “knowledge is carnage” or “beauty is nothing” or “something, once planted, can never be forgotten” – BUT IT NEVER EXPLORES ANY OF THAT!
Like, this society that is apparently supposed to give everyone this much knowledge? What does it do, exactly??? How does it use its knowledge? What are its members up to and who even are they? What are the initiates learning in that house? How is being there giving them more knowledge than they could obtain on their own?
Sure, apparently, there are all these books and the Society is really useful for networking purposes, but we never get to see that! Unless it’s some sparse detail that is immediately relevant for some big twist that is about to follow, we aren’t shown details on what the initiates are learning. Or how they fit into the organization’s bigger picture. All of their magical breakthroughs (which are allegedly grounded in science) are so vaguely explained that it seems very much like this magic system simply makes anything possible that is convenient for the plot at a particular given moment. And nothing the characters are learning seems so phenomenally new compared to what they already know that I am convinced they’d unquestioningly murder one of their own for access to the Society. Like, why do they just accept that there is no alternative?? Considering the fact that no one actually dies at the end and there are no repercussions whatsoever, the whole “knowledge is carnage” idea frankly comes across as laughable.
Which is particularly frustrating in light of the fact that the Society’s flaws end up being so central to the plot. Not only do the characters never question the problems we do get to see – the initiates having to sacrifice one of their own and the Society hoarding the Library of Alexandria’s knowledge for themselves – and never look into alternatives even when the Forum all but shoves them in their faces, but we are also never shown what else is crumbling beneath the Society’s mysterious façade. Instead, we get an infodumpy backstory about seemingly-considerate-boyfriend-who-is-really-time-travelly-magical Ezra and oh-so-boring-caretaker-nobody-ever-thinks-to-look-into Atlas once having had grand plans to “set things right”. WHAT THINGS DID THEY WANT TO SET RIGHT?? AND WHY HASN’T THE SOCIETY ALREADY DONE THIS? WHAT ARE PEOPLE’S STANCES ON THESE PROBLEMS WITHIN THE SOCIETY? WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE JUST SUPPORT THE FORUM? YOU CAN’T BE TOTALLY VAGUE ON ISSUES LIKE THESE AND THEN HAVE THEM BE THE REASONING BEHIND YOUR BIG PLOT TWIST!!
This is a problem that also extends to the world. Despite having read the whole book, I can’t really tell you very much about it, except from the fact that it is, according to Ezra, “dying” and probably our own world in some sort of alternate reality.
(I originally thought we might be in the future, but since Ezra traveled ahead to the year 2005, I’m guessing that’s out. Unless there’s been a calendar change as well? 🤔)
I mean, have so many questions! Like, why do some people have magic and how does this magic work? What types of magic are there? What are its limits? And if people have magic, why can’t they use that to solve problems like climate change or social inequality?
I have no freaking clue. But maybe that’s just because all of those answers are part of Ezra’s grand secret plan that hasn’t been revealed yet. You have to save some suspense for the sequels, after all…
In this book, though? Nothing was explored in any great detail, and then the ending just went ahead and infodumped every plotline available, from Eilif’s evilness to Atlas’ backstory, into a quick-but-surface-level-explanation that didn’t really give us much of anything. Where were the nuance and the complex, interwoven connections that I love seeing in fiction? 😫
II. The Characters – Initially Intriguing, But Ultimately Kind of Bland
I could, however, have probably gotten past a lackluster plot if the characters had delivered. Character-driven stories nearly always end up topping plot-driven ones in my book, so when I started reading The Atlas Six, I was thrilled! All six protagonists seemed genuinely intriguing, there was loads of tension between them, and hints at darker backstories that were soon to be revealed!
Unfortunately, though, most of these hints didn’t really amount to much. Any potentially interesting information was either infodumped onto us all at once and then never brought up again (**cough Libby’s dead sister and Parisa’s tragic past cough**) or was apparently the ONLY thing worth mentioning about a character so that, once this information was revealed, the character became completely bland and boring (**cough Reina and her refusal to be defined by her magic cough**). And, even worse, none of the characters showed much agency or went through any sort of development whatsoever!
Reina, initially my favorite because she did her own thing and saw through everyone else’s nonsense, soon faded into the background. Her chapters were all “MotherMother soothe us with your voice it pleases us to hear you!” and let’s-read-unnamed-library-books-or-mention-that-this-whole-sparring-thing-with-Nico-is-still-going-on. After about the halfway point, they didn’t really add much.
Nico was basically only there to provide tension with Libby – a relationship I was initially rooting for but lost quite a bit of interest in when it became clear that they weren’t real enemies and that everyone was gonna sleep with everyone at some point anyway 🙄 – and to introduce Gideon and Eilif, so that that plotline could be infodumped in one sentence at the big reveal. I mean, he was nice enough, and I loved all of his trilingual banter with his roommates, but apart from that, did Nico really do anything?
Same for Libby. Initially, I found her incredibly relatable, what with the way she was constantly doubting her academic abilities and anxiously walking into socially awkward situations. The fact that she had never gotten over her sister’s death and stayed in a “safe” relationship with someone she clearly didn’t love made her interesting. Yet she never really progresses beyond the person we meet in that very first chapter. Yes, she has a few small moments, like when she dumps Ezra or gets into a full-on drunk threesome with Tristan and Parisa, but ultimately, she goes right back to being her anxious, over-achieving, and self-doubting self.
(Also, speaking of that threesome scene – reading it was a truly traumatizing moment, which I feel like I probably shouldn’t deprive you of my live reaction to:
Seriously guys, I was so uncomfortable that I switched books, only for the other book I was reading to segway right into an even more graphic sex scene in a lotus pond 🙈🙈🙈 At this point, I am seriously debating whether I ever want to read on public transport again! 😫)
Speaking of sex, though – PARISA ANNOYED THE FREAKING CRAP OUT OF ME!! Her sole purpose seemed to be to sleep with everything that crossed her path and then belittle everyone else for not having the same philosophy 🙄 Although at least her POV actually brought reveals that kept the plot moving, so I guess I appreciate her for that.
Tristan, on the other hand, I really liked! I thought he was a bit of a douche, true, but then I was so intrigued by his mysterious magical abilities and the fucked-up relationship he had with his father that he slowly reeled me in. Of course, like so many other characters, he did absolutely nothing once those things were revealed, but still…
My favorite character by far, however, was Callum – something that totally took me by surprise! At first, I thought he was a massive jerk, but once we got to see the true potential of is powers and the loneliness that being an empath entailed, I couldn’t help but find space for him in my heart. WHICH MADE IT ALL THE MORE FRUSTRATING THAT EVERYBODY WANTED TO SACRIFICE HIM WITH NO DISCUSSION WHATSOEVER!!! Like, why??? Callum is not the only one of you who killed someone! And the fact that he is capable of manipulating people to this extent and hasn’t done it to you – in contrast to a certain someone whose name begins with “P” and ends with “arisa” 😤 – should tell you more than enough about his trustworthiness!
Still – even though I had my favorites and generally thought the characters had a lot of potential, I just wish they had actually had character arcs. Or developed relationships with one another that went beyond banging each other…
III. The Writing Style – Verbose Pretentiousness Elucidating Entirely Ordinary Occurrences in Such a Manner That They Seemed Profoundly Deep Despite Being Fairly Devoid of Meaning
My final complaint, if a bit petty, concerns the writing. This didn’t really bother me a whole lot while I was reading – because at that point, I still thought that all of this stuff that was constantly being hinted at might actually lead somewhere – but in retrospect, a lot of it felt like it was trying incredibly hard to sound “smart”.
Like that “Knowledge is Carnage” tagline, a phrase that I think was initially uttered by Dalton? “Carnage”, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to “the killing of a large number of people”. Synonyms are “massacre” or “bloodbath”. BUT NONE OF THAT WAS EVER ON THE TABLE!! Even when the initiates still thought they would have to sacrifice one of their own to become full members of the society! “Carnage” requires brutal, bloody slaughter. Of MULTIPLE people. Which means that, in this context, it just doesn’t make sense!! That line only sounds quotable if you don’t think about it too much!
Which applies to a ton of the other “profound” quotes this book offers as well. Olivie Blake constantly uses exaggerated language to make statements about the price that comes with certain privileges, or, since this is what about 50% of the book focuses on, sex:
More than once, Callum had witnessed Dalton experiencing Parisa with every parapet of his being without touching her, with only the silhouette of the former senses to enjoy; muscle memory for lovers. At arbitrary times throughout the day, Callum could taste and feel and smell her anew, like the ghosts of someone else’s aching.The Atlas Six, p. 229
Like, we get it, okay? Parisa and Dalton are sleeping together! I don’t need to be reminded of that every five pages in some new, verbose way!!
(And don’t even get me started on all of the extra information in brackets that went on and on forever and talked about things like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle or Democritus’ texts on ancient atomism and totally did not interrupt my reading flow at all. If you want to wallop me over the head with ties the magic system has to real academia, then please go beyond all the name-dropping and actually explain those ties! But I guess mentioning a bunch of old texts and famous physicists is the first step 🙄)
So yeah – overall, I was not a fan and am at an absolute loss to understand why this book is so popular 😅 Sure, there are also worse books out there. Like I already said, my reading experience itself wasn’t horrible, and I did find the premise and the characters compelling. It’s just that, in my opinion, their potential was never realized…
But what do I know? Clearly, I am in the minority here, so if you have something to say in The Atlas Six‘s defense, don’t let grumpy old me stop you! I’d love to hear your opinion on this book, no matter whether you agree with me or not!