It’s the book I’ve been waiting for. When I reviewed The Atlas Six in June 2021, I was obsessed. Not only is it the epitome of inward-looking dark academia, but its style, structure, and material was totally unique. Somehow, the sequel lived up to the unimaginable standard of its predecessor. Olivie Blake has managed to do it again, from the engrossing relationship intricacies to subtle mind-f**kery. Not only that, but Blake forces the characters to both deal with the fallout of the first book while evolving and confronting new challenges. Here’s why Blake’s newest release works so well.
This review only really spoils The Atlas Six, so you don’t need to have read The Atlas Paradox yet. Still, I encourage reading both before you continue, just so you can share in all my Very Strong Emotions.
The Atlas Paradox is the long-awaited sequel to dark academic sensation The Atlas Six—guaranteed to have even more yearning, backstabbing, betrayal, and chaos.
Six magicians. Two rivalries. One researcher. And a man who can walk through dreams. All must pick a side: do they wish to preserve the world—or destroy it? In this electric sequel to the viral sensation, The Atlas Six, the society of Alexandrians is revealed for what it is: a secret society with raw, world-changing power, headed by a man whose plans to change life as we know it are already under way. But the cost of knowledge is steep, and as the price of power demands each character choose a side, which alliances will hold and which will see their enmity deepen?”
FALLOUT AT THE LIBRARY
The book picks up where the previous one left off. We’ve still so much to learn about each of the characters and so much to uncover about the world Blake has built. Not only does the overarching plot have plenty of tread on its tires, but, more interestingly, so does each relationship. How will Tristan and Callum deal with what happened? What can Parisa discover about Dalton? What is up with Reina? (Still wondering that one, to be honest.)
He wasn’t the audience to the projection. He was the stage. That was the trick to everything, wasn’t it? That was what drove Parisa to madness now, the fact that they were performing for an audience they couldn’t see.
The characters split into new and novel pairings that are just as delightful, compelling, and fruitful as the pairings of the first novel. Callum and Reina is an interesting pairing, mostly because Callum is possibly the most interesting character in the whole book. Given what we knew, you wouldn’t think his chapters would be fun to read, but they were my favorite. (I’d say no contest, but…Libby.) How Blake executed that actual magic trick is beyond me.
Reina and her unfeeling, kind of unhinged god complex continue to confuse me. I can’t muster up many feelings her besides ambivalence because, despite being treated to Blake’s signature character studies and interrogations of personality, insecurities, and motivations, her internal struggle just isn’t clear. Is she resisting the desire to love? Is she resisting the temptation of power in an evil-adjacent way? Does she really want to belong and be told she’s special, as Callum and even Blake seem to believe? Is she finding herself? I don’t know! It makes me want to rip my hair out.
It wasn’t cruelty, and it was all the worse for that. It was honesty, prophetic and intrusive, and whether it was true or not, inside her something was burning. The humiliation of being seen.
I love Nico and would protect him with my entire soul, but I liked his chapters more for the way his character played off of others than for any personal development. After all, he’s missing half of himself (LIBBY CORRUPTION ARC) and, for various reasons, there isn’t much he can do except sit around and wait for his cohort to help find her.
My favorite part about Nico wasn’t Nico at all but Gideon. Gideon! Chapters from Gideon’s point of view! I’m giddy thinking about it. What fun—Blake really stretches her creativity here, getting mighty whimsical with Gideon’s powers. Gideon and Nico, sitting in a tree, K – I – S …
There was no ceiling to his power or his misery. His emptiness marked him in a way she must have had more than just the fluency to read.
We also get chapters from Ezra (a supremely crafted hateable character), Parisa (who I liked a lot more than I did in the first book), and Tristan (who I always LOVE reading). I’m being completely honest when I say there’s no weak link, except perhaps for Reina, and that might just be a me thing.
LIBBY CORRUPTION ARC, BABY
This book came out too recently for me to be sure if anyone else feels the same way I do. But if you weren’t on the Libby train in the first book—which, hopefully by the end you were, but it’s forgivable if not—you’re on the Libby train now. How did Blake know that Libby didn’t need all that interiority and angst of the Library, that she needed a deeply life-changing, transformative experience we readers like to call CORRUPTION ARCS. I will say no more. I love Libby, I am a Libby apologist, and I can hold that truth in my brain at the same time I say I love Belen to absolute bits.
There is a beautiful symmetry and depth to this particular storyline, and even a satisfying kind of symmetry between Libby in the first book and Libby in the second. This storyline expands Blake’s magical universe in a complex, thoughtful way. She grapples with the hypothetical of a world with magic much like she grappled with the concept of a person who can read minds in The Atlas Six.
This was not a normal house. The more she gleaned from the archives, the more she was sure of it. There were ghosts here, operations of a larger mind at work. Atlas was beholden to them, to some agenda he either did not know or had not shared with her.
There are two parts to the paradox which, in my opinion, Blake dances around but never really states. The first is godhood. Weakness and invincibility. Power and helplessness. Blake’s characters are so powerful they might fit the definitions of gods—but they are deeply human, well-documented-ly so. It’s very Greek, in an everybody’s-really-jealous-and-insecure-and-messed-up kind of way.
The second part of the paradox of fate. The cover of the novel says destiny is a choice, but that’s only Libby’s part of it, that’s just the corruption arc, we’re past that now. [do imagine me late at night trying to string a theme together here; Blake does not make it easy.]
There’s something bigger going on here that is so amorphous by the end of the book I’m not sure we’re supposed to get it. Either that or I’m stupid. But the word fate is brought up again and again, and with it, Blake recycles one of the oldest themes literature knows. I’m familiar enough with the fate/free will debate in general, but I’m not sure what the point of it in this series is. Is it just a vehicle for the characters to figure out what they want to do after their stints at the Library? She seems a little too preoccupied with the subject for that. A few too many digressions into concepts of multiple universes and time travel.
It's a matter of choosing between feeling power and staying alive.
On this particular stage, Callum plays the cynic; Gideon, the optimist (despite what he’d tell you); Reina the theist; Atlas and Dalton the disciples; Parisa the analyst; Ezra the rebel; Tristan the skeptic—but oh, what a powerful one at that. (Nico just misses Libby. Libby is busy having a very exciting corruption arc and choosing her own destiny. Free will: 1)
These roles and this theme don’t really leave us anywhere real, though. In the real plot…well, I won’t spoil that far. There is a real plot, it’s just as halfhearted as the plot in the first book and still not really worth mentioning. But I’m okay with that, because now it is crystal clear to me that in order to be complete, this story needs (at least) one more book.
...that things would unravel given half a chance was part of an intricate infrastructure.