Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab

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

Kell was raised in ArnesRed Londonand 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.

I’ve been following V.E. Schwab on Twitter for some time now. Her life revolves around writing and being an author, and I enjoy the peeks she gives us into that world. I also, if you haven’t guessed by now, really enjoy fantasy. 

Picking this book up, I was first intrigued by the idea of multiple Londons. I have seen multiple worlds done before (this isn’t quite a multiverse) but something about this particular iteration caught my attention. There is a finite number of worlds, each with its own level of magic. 

One world has none. One world is teaming with it. One world is tearing itself apart to find more of it. And a fourth that fell to a fate that no one wants to talk about, but you know it had to do with magic. 

I also don’t think I have ever had a book start off talking about the main character’s interesting jacket. Yet the whole thing is the perfect introduction for the main character, Kell. You quickly realize how and why he is different as he takes the reader on a literal journey through the three Londons. A great example of showing versus telling. It also does a great job of establishing the main cast of characters.

I found everything about these worlds intriguing and enthralling. When we finally got the story of the fall of Black London, I was in awe. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to read that story as well. A lot of time in fantasy worlds, authors don’t take the time to explain how their magic system works. This means in a lot of fantasy worlds, the magic system doesn’t really make sense. I am looking at you, J.K. Rowling.

Before you start yelling at me I would like to state, for the record, that I basically grew up on Harry Potter. I will always love the series. That said, my point is still valid. 

I will save my magic system rant for another day. Because it is going to be a doozy. 

I really like this one though. It feels natural and makes sense in all of the worlds. It is what is called ‘soft magic’, where magic has an organic feel to it. There are some spells and some rules to the magic, but most of it flows naturally. 

Everything about these worlds and these characters has me hungry for more. I want to see more of Lila and Kell, to learn more about their mysterious past and see their friendship grow. They are so engaging and dynamic. They are complex. They evolve. 

I had a coworker refer to this series as a poor man’s Mistborn. Honestly, I don’t see it. This story is great in its own right. I mean, there is a reason that V.E. Schwab is a best selling author. She knows how to weave a fantastic tale in a world unlike any I have encountered before. 

I am curious to see what happens in the future between the three Londons. I want to see more of Kell and Delilah as they find themselves and their place in this wonderfully strange world. I’m also curious to learn more about Black London. I feel like there is much more to the story than meets the eye. 

I guess we will have to wait and see in A Gathering of Shadows.

Review: The Witcher (pt 1)

For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.

Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world - for good, or for evil.

As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt's responsibility to protect them all - and the Witcher never accepts defeat.

Following The Last Wish, Blood of Elves is the new novel starring Geralt of Rivia, the inspiration for the critically acclaimed videogame The Witcher.

I was first introduced to the world of The Witcher through the videogames. I spent some time on YouTube familiarizing myself with the events of the first two games because upon starting up the third I had no idea who anyone was or why I should care. Thankfully I was able to rectify that without spoiling anything.

That was when I first started falling in love with the world. The richness coupled with the hint of death and decay creeping around the edges. The interplay between an old world of magic and a new world of technology.

Needless to say, I was very excited to hear there was going to be a Netflix show. So excited that I decided to have the first book read before season one drops, so I can be caught up. 

I started with The Last Wish, a series of short stories that come before the first book. It took me a minute to figure out it was a frame story that jumped back and forth between then and now.  It was a great way to introduce the characters and how they all fill together.

It wasn’t until I started Blood of Elves that I really got into the story though. Andrzej Sapowski’s writing style varies differently between when he is writing long-form fiction and when he is writing short stories. I personally very much preferred the long-form style. I found it much easier to engage with and was quickly absorbed into the story.

There were a few interactions between Triss and Geralt that I was not particularly pleased with, but overall I do like their dynamic. A woman wantonly throwing herself at a man is never going to be something I like. Thankfully, these moments were few and the rest of the time Triss was incredibly competent and fiercely independent. So I can look past the few lines that made me cringe.

The Last Wish gives you a good taste of what Geralt’s life is like before the events of Blood of Elves. It establishes the world and the characters in a way that manages to not give away any of the twists to come. I know there is another collection of short stories, The Sword of Destiny, which came out recently. I found this out after I had started Blood of Elves, so I decided I would come back to that one.

There are so many moving pieces and so many questions littered throughout the story that I could not put it down. There are references to a prophecy that is connected to one of the main characters, but no one ever fully explains what it is. War lurks around the edges of the map, stirring up trouble within the kingdom and causing revolts. Alliances shift as each side is concerned solely with its own, eyeing to see which allies will most help them in the coming conflict. Agents seemingly tied with no cause flit in and out, leaving you to wonder whose side they are on.

There were many times where I had a hard time putting the book down. I became so invested in the conflict and in the characters that I had to know what happened next. The ending filled me with an intense curiosity and then, with a single sentence, left me with a vague sense of unease. 

Once I clear out more of my reading backlog I am definitely going to continue with this series. Until then, I am going to wait with bated breath for the release of season 1 on Netflix. 

I have been following Lauren Hissrich, the lead writer, since not long after I first heard about the show. Every bit of news she drops leaves me more excited than before. 

The Rating

The Last Wish – It may feel a little slow getting into this one, but once you get used to the style and pacing it is much more enjoyable. If you plan to get into the series, this is definitely the best place to start. The frame narrative helps provide context for the impact past events have had on Geralt, as well as how things have changed since then.

Blood of Elves – If you love fantasy, you will love this book. It will hook you from the very first page and it will not let you go until the very end. There is this sense of decay as the old world and all of its magic is being usurped by the new world of technology. Yet there is something ancient and powerful that is refusing to let go, creeping along the edges of the story to be addressed later. A solid start to a promising series.