I gave in. The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake took the online bookish world by storm in 2021 and it’s been on my radar ever since. All I knew about the book was that it was described as adult dark academia, but even with such little information, I was still extremely intrigued by the hold that this book had on so many readers. I was a little hesitant since viral books had burned me in the past (read: The Love Hypothesis), but in the end my interest outweighed my reservations. So, inevitably, I gave in. And I am so glad that I did.
About the Book
Before I paste the synopsis here, it’s important that I mention that there are multiple for this book. The Atlas Six was first self-published in 2020, and then acquired by Tor (a traditional publisher), and republished in March 2022. I read the Tor edition of the book, so the synopsis I have on the dusk jacket flap is quite short and doesn’t reveal much. You can read that one here. On the opposing end, Goodreads and Amazon, respectively, have longer synopses that provide short profiles on each of the six characters. Before buying my hard copy of the book I read the Amazon synopsis, so that’s the one I’ll have pasted below.
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.
Before starting The Atlas Six I was a little worried that it was basically going to be like The Secret History—except with fantasy elements. However, after finishing it, I am so happy to say that I was proven wrong. This book was extremely unique in its own right, and I really enjoyed it!
It’s important to note that the overall story in The Atlas Six is very character driven. We’re left in the dark about the true point behind the Society and the purpose behind the philosophizing and theorizing that the chosen six–Libby, Nico, Reina, Tristan, Parisa, and Callum–are doing for the majority of the book. Also, a lot of their academic work and magical experiments (so to speak) are done off-page and mentioned in passing. For me, this meant that some parts toward the middle kind of dragged until I really adjusted to the book’s slower approach, and accepted that this wasn’t going to be a story driven by traditional plot devices. Luckily, I really enjoyed Olivie Blake’s heavy-handed (and sometimes pretentious) writing style (à la Maggie Stiefvater in the Raven Cycle, a series I love to pieces), so I was very tuned in.
Blake has a true way with words which made me never want to put this book down. The absence of an overt end goal for the story meant that the thought processes of each of the characters in their respective chapters were extremely innovative. Olivie Blake loves to use parenthesis to load her scenes with tons of detail, and she also uses retrospect a lot to present the reader with information on what’s happening in the present and how we got to said point. Like I said: very heavy-handed! But it kept my attention and I liked the execution. I’m sure this approach won’t work for everyone, but it really worked for me.
“You want to believe your hesitation makes you good, makes you better? It doesn’t. Every single one of us is missing something. We are all too powerful, too extraordinary, and don’t you see it’s because we’re riddled with vacancies? We are empty and trying to fill, lighting ourselves on fire just to prove that we are normal–that we are ordinary. That we, like anything, can burn.”— Olivie Blake, The Atlas Six
Despite the fact that this is a character driven book, I didn’t fall head over heels for this group like I wanted to. The chosen six are all unlikely allies and at odds with one another for the entirety of this first book (meaning the entire first year of their initiation), so while I found each of the six interesting in their own way, I was left longing for way more collective interaction from them. Though the ending suggests that we may see that more in the sequel, and Blake herself has confirmed this in an interview which sounds promising. If I had to choose favorites based off of this first book alone, it would have to be Nico and Libby.
Overall, I thought The Atlas Six was a solid series starter! It’s hard to write reviews for books that end up defying all of the odds and leave me so surprised by the end as this book did. The best way to describe The Atlas Six is enigmatic and complex, because even when I didn’t understand what was going on I was still enjoying my time reading it. I think if any of that sounds interesting to you, then you should definitely give this book a try. I can’t wait to see what Olivie Blake brings in the sequel that releases later this year. And I think I understand now just why this book has become so popular.
Star scale: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 stars)
Grade Scale: A-