Pretentious and Overrated: Olivie Blake – The Atlas Six

I try not to jump on the hype trains, as they mostly lead to disappointment. But sometimes – okay, especially when the publisher Tor is involved – I just can’t help but sate my curiosity. Olivie Blake is apparently a TikTok sensation and everbody’s darling and her book sounded so very appealing that I couldn’t keep my hands off it anymore. I even got myself the audio version because if there’s one thing I can resist even less than multiple POV dark academia with lots of sexual tension, it’s multiple POV dark academia with sexual tension read by six different voice actors. Sadly, even their considerable talent couldn’t hide that this book is, essentially, about nothing. But at least it fits today’s Wyrd and Wonder prompt, so there’s that.

by Olivie Blake

Published: Tor, 2021
Hardback: 375 pages
Audiobook: 16 hours
Series: The Atlas #1
My rating: 5/10

Opening line: Perhaps it was a tired thing, all the references the world had already made to the Ptolemaic Royal Library of Alexandria.

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.

Oh, how can a book start out so well and have such a great premise only to sputter to a slow and boring plot-death? Well, if you want one such book, this is it! Blake seduces you with six characters, each with a Dark BackstoryTM and their own goals, a school of magic, the promise of academic rivalry and sexual tension and, at the end of it all, a mysterious secret, a twist, a super cool solution to it all. While all of those elements are technically present in The Atlas Six (and the follow-up The Atlas Paradox, which I DNF’d in order to keep my sanity), there is sadly no story to tell.

Our six protagonists are introduced to us one after the other, or in the case of the ones that knew each other prior to being recruited by Atlas Blake, meaning Libby and Nico, first through one POV, and then again through the other. There was a lot of promise there, but I learned early on that either I’m reading this book wrong or Olivie Blake isn’t as good of a writer as BookTok is trying to make us believe. Because I liked Libby from the start! I don’t see why her having bangs or being a bit insecure makes her into a character we should all despise, yet that is how she is painted in all the other POV chapters. Like a stupid little girl (one at the top of her class, though) who can’t be taken seriously because her haircut doesn’t suit her? Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but okay fine, I was willing to let it go. I still liked Libby, bangs and all.
I was also quite taken with her rivalry in regular academia with Nico. The two of them had this nice banter going, it felt like they were frenemies who kept each other on their toes, spurned each other on to ever greater achievements, and that’s what I was there for. Give me the all-night study sessions (magical subject or otherwise) and the result of those sessions, give me the facing off in class, one being slighty ahead of the other, only to be caught up with in the next class. Alas, none of that. Nico and Libby are set up as bickering rivals, but not very much is done with that set up.

Because enter the other academic geniuses of the Atlas Six. I won’t go into detail about who they are, because that is literally the only appeal of this book when I look back. So for those of you willing to try, I don’t want to take that bit of fun away from you. It’s enough to say that they are all very different and each is expert in one very specific magical field, such as mind reading, manipulating plant life, doing weird shit with time (?), and some other secret abilities that only come to light during the course of the novel

Ostensibly, this book is about these six competing for five spots at the highly regarded Alexandrian Society. Yet we sadly don’t learn a lot about this Society (apart from vague, fancy-worded crap about it being super secret and super prestigious), and we also don’t get any academia. What we do get is chapter after chapter after chapter of exactly two of these characters – the pairings vary – talking about something as if they came from Dawson’s Creek, only to disappear from stage for the next random pairing to happen. Now, some of these pairings have more chemistry than others, some actually bang, others just bucker, yet others just talk mysteriously. Many of the characters are so full of themselves it hurts. And it shows.

If you are hoping for actual tasks to come up, you know to narrow down the six to a five, I must disappoint you. There is some silly side chapter that was badly set up (read: not at all) and feels like a last-minute addition, just so there would be some action in this book. There is one actually good scene that stuck in my mind and that has to do with Libby (no spoilers), but the “big reveal” at the end felt incredibly cheap and left us pretty much where we were at the beginning of the book. Plus, if there were to be one more “and this person is also more important than you previously thought” moment, I would have gagged.

All things considered, this book reads like it wants to be SERIOUS and MEANINGFUL so badly but, without a story to tell, didn’t know how to achieve that. So what you get are six character studies, some good, some bad banter, no world building, no plot, no tension beyond the sexual/romantic one between certain characters, and then the book is over. Which is why I picked up the second one but that got so far beyond anything I could take seriously that I put it away after, what, a third? I’m done with this non-story. I’ll gladly read some spoiler reviews (did, in fact, for the second book, judging I haven’t missed anything) and see if Olivie Blake has actual stories to tell in her upcoming novels. If it’s more of the same pretentious language saying absolutely nothing, at least I can tick this author off my list.

Because the characters were actually interesting and the audiobook readers made it as much of a treat as they could, I’m rating this a 5/10. But for seriously good Dark Academia, just pick up Babel by R.F. Kuang.

MY RATING: 5/10 – Meh

Magic portal artwork by Tithi Luadthong

8 thoughts on “Pretentious and Overrated: Olivie Blake – The Atlas Six

  1. Celeste | A Literary Escape says:

    I’m so sad you didn’t really enjoy this book! I went into it hesitant because I’d seen some middling reviews, but actually ended up really liking it. It’s more of a character study book with metaphysics and sexual tension. I haven’t read THE ATLAS PARADOX yet, but what I got out of THE ATLAS SIX is that it’s gearing up to be a discussion on how to handle knowledge: should it be coveted among the few to be able to control the masses or should it be available to everyone? This book made me realize I have a niche part of me that surprisingly enjoyed something moderately philosophical…and I usually stay away from that subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina says:

      What you say is true, and having read (the first third of) The Atlas Paradox, I can tell you that all that promise built up in the first book goes nowhere. Or at least nowhere resembling a plot. When I read a novel, I want the most basic version of a story. Just random combinations of hot kids having sex is not enough for me, at least.


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