Dystopian vs. Broken Society

I’ve been reading a lot lately and originally this post was going to be a book review, but I’ve been going through our blog and I figured it would be a nice change of pace to go without a book review for today.


Since ‘This Savage Song’ by V.E. Schwab came out on Tuesday, I’ve seen a lot of book reviews refer to it as a dystopian and Schwab promptly pointed out that ‘This Savage Song’ is not in fact a dystopian, but a broken society.

With that, I thought I would break down the difference to help clear up some of the confusion.

First things first. To call a book a dystopian is to refer to a sub-genre. No book is only a dystopian because it has to fall into a larger over-arching genre.

When most people think of a dystopian novel they think of something like ‘The Hunger Games’, which is correct. But many assume that its a dystopian society because its just awful and that’s actually not the case. A dystopian is actually the collapse of a utopia.

So, we’ll keep using ‘The Hunger Games’ as the example here. The country of Panem was created after a massive war, and broken up into different sectors that ideally would serve a purpose as separate but equal parts. Over time the utopia turns into dystopia as it crumbles under a totalitarian or oppressive government.

That is a dystopia.

With ‘This Savage Song’ the world was never a utopia — something Schwab has been quick to point out. The best way to describe the warring monsters in ‘This Savage Song’ would be as a a broken society.

Note: A broken society doesn’t necessarily mean a post apocalyptic society either. Societies can be broken from corrupt governments or whatever plot devices an author chooses.

With that, I leave you with the most important question of this post. Do you plan to read ‘This Savage Song’? Because I know I’m pretty excited for it.


17 thoughts on “Dystopian vs. Broken Society

  1. Very interesting post! It’s intriguing to see how the meanings of words evolve to suit the book market’s need (and the needs of us book readers and fans) for categories, sub-categories and genre distinctions. Indulge a etymology nut: what’s the source for the definition of dystopian fiction you use here? Even though the word dystopia was literally created as an antonym for utopia, the definitions I could find (admittedly through a cursory search) don’t mention anything about a dystopia having to result from the destruction or corruption of a utopia.

    This Savage Song looks really good, I agree. Are you big fan(s) of the Darker Shade of Magic books?

    (Thanks so much for stopping by my infant blog, by the way! Much appreciated.)


    1. I was basing my definition off of Aldous Huxley’s idea of a dystopia. He saw A Brave New World as a negative utopia and based off of V.E. Schwabs statements about dystopia vs. broken societies, she too seems to go by Huxley’s definition. I love A Darker Shade of Magic. I actually just started the series over the last week. But I’ve been a huge fan of Schwab for a few years now.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for humouring me with that clarification; I was a tiny bit afraid my question would be pff-putting. The perils of communicating in a second language, I guess.

        So, let me see if I’ve got this right, then: the difference lies in the state of the world or society being described? For there to be dystopia, there has to be civilisation. If civilisation has broken down, either from apocalypse or gradually, you have a broken society.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting distinction. I looked up the dictionary definition of dystopia, and while it said any society characterized by squalor, human misery, and oppression, the beautiful thing about language is that it is characterized by the users. I watched a TED talk recently talking about how we think of dictionaries as being these rules set in stone, when really they only attempt to compile the different ways we use words. I like your definition of dystopia, especially since you have logical reasoning behind it. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about how words change no matter the dictionary definition. But you’re definitely right. I think in literature a dystopian has a much different definition than what is generally found in the dictionary.

      Thanks for the comment! It got me thinking!



  3. I had never considered it before, but I really like the distinction between a dystopia and broken society! The idea of a fall from perfection and never perfect. Now that I think about it, I wonder what other books out there can be divided between dystopia and broken society that have always been lumped into dystopia?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, that was something I really considered after writing this post. There was a period of time where any time a society was terrible in a novel I would just refer to it as a dystopian, but over the years I began to distinguish a major difference between a “true” dystopian and a book surrounding a broken society.

      Liked by 1 person

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