Off the Shelf: A Review of A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

This is one of those times where you might say, “That series has been popular forever! Why are you just now reviewing it?”

To be honest, I don’t have a good excuse, and I deserve a swift kick in the rear for not getting around to it sooner.

I loved Victoria Schwab’s The Archived and The Unbound, and it has always been in the back of my mind that I need to read more of her work (I keep seeing rave reviews for Vicious, so that needs to move further up my to-read pile). When I say she’s ridiculously talented, it’s an understatement. I think it’s even safe to say that she was destined to write. Her workload is impressive, and it seems like she always has a new project (or two…or three…) in progress, but the fandom that has been built around the Shades of Magic series is a force to be reckoned with. I knew one day, sooner or later, I’d need to find out what all of the hype was about. It just so happened that now was that time.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Summary (via Goodreads)

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

 

Things I Liked:

I’m not sure why, but I struggled to get started with this book. It’s not that it was boring – not at all – but I found myself only reading a few pages before bed and quickly falling asleep. I wanted to savor the language and the author’s beautiful descriptions, but I felt like I kept losing focus. You might be wondering why this is listed under “Things I Liked” – well, that’s because it actually turned me on to something that I thought I severely disliked: audiobooks. As much as I love podcasts, I have always struggled to listen to an audiobook all the way through. It hardly ever happens. But, when I found myself struggling to stay focused in the first few pages of ADSOM, I decided that maybe I would give the audio version a try. Instantly, I was hooked. If I dislike a narrator’s voice, it often dooms the audiobook for me, but Steven Crossley was magnificent in most regards. I could easily sit back with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and just listen to him weave the story for hours (and that’s exactly what I did). I listened to the book over the span of two days, and I just couldn’t get enough. Schwab’s writing style is so cinematic that every glance, slight movement, and atmospheric difference to the different Londons was completely visible and real in my mind. I plan on enjoying the rest of the series on audiobook as well (something I never thought I would say).

Kell is one of the most intriguing characters that I’ve read in a long time. I love his demeanor, his Antari magic and language, and his devotion to his brother – Rhy (who I’m really looking forward to learning more about in the rest of the series because what little we did see of him is ADSOM was fun and fabulous). Lila wasn’t my favorite at the beginning, but (and this is my one complaint with the audiobook) I want to partially blame that on the narrator making her sound a little too over the top, and maybe she is, but I would have likely read her differently if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook. As the story goes on, and softer sides of Lila are shown just slightly, she started to grow on me.  Her insatiable desire for adventure redeemed her casual thievery and near constant snark to me, and by the end of the story, I couldn’t wait to see what next great adventure was in store for Lila. Also, I fully expect to see more of Holland, the only other Antari, in the rest of the series. I wanted to dislike him, but I just couldn’t, and instead I want to know more about this mysterious, haunting villain (but is he really?).

Huzzah! This deserves a mention – I love a book that can stand on its own without a romantic element being a driving force! I love that, although there are moments that will make you ship certain pairings, there’s really zero romance here. Lila and Kell are present together throughout most of the book, but instead of sticking them in romantic situations, they’re too busy using their ingenuity to save the many Londons. But hey, if that happens to come later in the series, I’d welcome it.

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

There is one thing I will say about the audiobook version…I wish there was a second narrator. Female characters start sounding a bit Monty Python-esque, and I think that factored in to why I disliked Lila at first.

There are parts that may seem a bit draggy and slow, but I’m torn in saying that, because there’s not a single line that I would cut. The world and the characters were so expertly crafted that you end up craving all of the little details and exposition.

Overall Rating:

5/5 It’s an easy five stars from me. I was hooked on everything about the world that Schwab created, and I can’t wait to delve further into its story. ADSOM is strange and beautiful, and it is everything a good fantasy should be. My only regret is not reading it sooner.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Add A Darker Shade of Magic to your To Be Read List on Goodreads.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-by-jessica-cluess
RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

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