Book Review : The Atlas Six

Book Review : The Atlas SixThe Atlas Six: the Atlas Book 1 by Olivie Blake
Published by Pan Macmillan, Tor Books on September 28, 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Urban, Dark Fantasy
Pages: 384
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The much-acclaimed BookTok sensation, Olivie Blake's The Atlas Six--now newly revised and edited with additional content.

• The tag #theatlassix has millions of views on TikTok

• A dark academic debut fantasy with an established cult following that reads like THE SECRET HISTORY meets THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

• The first in an explosive trilogy

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.

The Atlas Six was both an enjoyable and difficult read for me. Though as a whole, I do really like the dark academia genre, I struggled with The Atlas Six. Though well-written and based on a subject that truly fascinates me, The Library of Alexandria, I found that I was always reluctant to pick the book back up because of how flawed and irredeemable the characters seemed. 


At times, I found myself feeling depressed by how these six initiates of the Alexandria Society used their powers and each other. And there wasn’t a single character among these main narrators (The Atlas Six), who was cut from a different cloth or had stronger morals. There was literally no break from characters manipulating each other’s darkest, most desperate feelings through the power of empathy or reading each other’s thoughts with telepathy, or attempting to gain footing in the competition to become a member of the society through other, more basic means, like seduction. 


“Beware the man who faces you unarmed. If in his eyes you are not the target, then you can be sure you are the weapon.”


Perhaps most telling was that arguably the most despicable character out of the six initiates is the empath, of all people. Surprisingly, this character who can feel everyone’s feelings and piggyback on them to read their desires and memories, seems to have no empathy whatsoever. Even more terrifying, his powers render it chillingly easy for him to make people do whatever he wants, including killing themselves. Nothing like watching an empath make another character relive all of their worst memories, while twisting those already awful memories into hopelessness, and stoking the character’s despair to the point that this poor victim was ready to jump off a building. 


If you hadn’t guessed already, The Atlas Six is quite honestly, a lot, and if you are easily triggered, this book is most likely not for you. The subject matter of this book deals with suicide, murder, incestual desires, conspiracy, cheating, emotional abuse and manipulation, sexual manipulation, and more. Please tread lightly.


Though I typically love morally gray characters, to me, these characters didn’t even really seem gray, and mostly just felt like angsting villains looking to justify their often despicable actions. The initiates were all willing to use one another, to kill, or do whatever else it took to become a full member of the Alexandria Society. Moving from an initiate to one of the five, not six, new members of the society would allow these characters to gain full access to its archives and the power and prestige such a membership would grant them. As time goes on, the characters dropped what little of their pretenses remain, less afraid to show their ugly inner colors and disturbing ambition, which readers were already unable to ignore or escape due to reading from each of these initiates’ perspectives.


“’Because the problem with knowledge, Miss Rhodes, is its inexhaustible craving. The more of it you have, the less you feel you know,’ said Atlas. /Thus, men often go mad in search of it.’”


To be honest, I found the angst and monologuing exhausting. I also didn’t care for the unabashed abuse these characters inflicted on each other, which felt unrelenting and draining to me. I did, however, find the banter between characters pretty compelling at times. My favorite by far out of this cast of unlikable initiates were Nico and Libby, rivals from their magic school who seemingly can’t stand one another, but begrudgingly rely on and respect each other. I was pretty disappointed when their fiery and contentious relationship did not turn into a romantic one in what would have been a delicious and classic display of the enemies-to-lovers trope. It felt like a total waste of excellent chemistry and I was even more dismayed when the two turned elsewhere for sexual gratification. 


As a whole, I found the writing of this book to be quite solid. There wasn’t rampant telling (which I feel is almost an epidemic in this day and age), or overzealous metaphors, and the characters, though despicable, were believable, as were their motivations. However, I literally fell asleep when reading The Atlas Six during the information dumps of magical explanations or theories. There were countless expositions of how magic works, theories of how it could work—this even delves into physics and the concept of time—and I found that I often simply could not keep my eyes open during these parts.  Like yes, it definitely made sense that there was a focus on magical theory and other concepts in a novel of dark academia, but did these segments have to be quite so long and dry? 


What’s worse was that there was very little payoff for any of these explanations. The most accomplished thing anyone does during their tenure in the Society House was to learn how to use a wormhole to teleport. This didn’t really have a lot of significance and was treated as a minor convenience rather than a revolutionary discovery, so I never got excited about it. And though we were told the initiates become more powerful the longer they remain in the Society house, I feel this was never really demonstrated, as the initiates were always hesitant to display the full extent of their magical capabilities in front of one another.  It felt like the entire cast was constantly trying to be edgy and mysterious.


“’I am not good,’ Dalton told her, rasping it into her mouth. ‘No one here is good. Knowledge is carnage. You can’t have it without sacrifice.'”


Despite being very interested in the premise of The Atlas Six, and finding the magical abilities of the characters unique and fascinating, I found I preferred other dark academia contemporaries, such as Naomi Novik’s Scholomance series and Babel by R.F. Kuang, to The Atlas Six’s take on the genre. At present, I still have not decided whether or not I want to read the next book in the trilogy. I wouldn’t mind learning what happened to the characters, but the thought of having to read more of everyone tormenting each other and being miserable doesn’t appeal to me. I was honestly relieved when this first book was over, so that I didn’t have to deal with more of the inescapably heavy content.


I’d recommend The Atlas Six to readers who love the dark academia genre as a whole and for those who are not bogged down by heavier content, and are not afraid of reading a novel with an entire cast of characters with very few redeemable qualities, if any.  


Book Review : The Atlas Six - Blogging with Dragons

Posted September 21, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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