Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Book Review:  A Darker Shade of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)
four-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Also in this series: A Conjuring of Light
Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

My Review:

What an entertaining read! Thanks so much to Stephanie at Chasm of Books for hosting the giveaway in which I won this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in since I had never read anything by V.E. Schwab, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic. It contains all of the perfect ingredients for a fabulous fantasy read – immensely likeable protagonists, completely detestable antagonists, epic world building, magic that apparently has a life of its own, dangerous adventures and action-packed fight scenes, and just to make sure there’s something for everyone, even a little love story thrown in for good measure.

What I Loved about A Darker Shade of Magic:

The Many Sided Coat – It might sound silly, but that coat is seriously an effective attention grabber! Schwab captivated me immediately when she opens her novel by describing Kell and his mysterious coat of seemingly endless sides. Watching Kell manipulate the fabric and transform it into basically an entire new garment, my brain immediately kicked into high gear and I had questions that I wanted answers to. How can one coat be folded and refolded like origami into whatever style Kell requires at the moment? Why would Kell need such a coat? So, yes, silly as it may sound, the coat is what initially hooked me on this story. Bravo to the coat!

Kell – Kell is pretty much impossible not to like. He is charming and quirky and because he is also one of the last of his kind, the Antari, I immediately felt protective of him. He is also one of the most intriguing characters in the novel because of his unique ability to use his blood to create doors between worlds and travel through them. I also have no idea why, but every time I read about Kell, in my mind, he looks like Peter Pan, haha.

Lila – Lila is my spirit animal! Seriously, she is, without a doubt, my favorite character in ADSOM. How can you not love a young lady who is currently a thief but aspires to be a pirate? Lila is fiercely independent, brave, savvy, headstrong, dying for some adventure in her life, and just an all-around fabulous character.

The 4 Londons – I loved how Schwab takes a familiar setting like London, with all of its iconic landmarks, and uses it to build such a unique fantasy world. Instead of just one London, there are four of them, all existing simultaneously but on separate planes and each with different rulers and a different way of life. Red London is Kell’s world, a world where magic is respected, while Gray London is Lila’s world, a world where magic has been forgotten. White London is a dangerous world where monarchs murder their way to the top and where people fight to control magic. And finally, there is Black London, a world that is now forbidden because of something that went tragically wrong with magic there. Schwab lays them out geographically so that one travels from Gray to Red to White and then lies the forbidden Black.

Even though the Londons exist independently of one another now, they were once much more connected and even now, there is still communication between the Red, White, and Gray Londons, with the Antari serving as messengers since they can still move between the worlds. What we learn as we watch Kell travel from one to the other is that there is bad blood between Red and White Londons that stems from the trouble in Black London. When the trouble in Black London started to spread, rather than banding together with White London to fight it, Red chose to close itself off, leaving White to fend for itself. White London therefore maintains hostility towards Red, and so this bad blood is a contributing factor in the overall conflict of the novel.

I think Schwab does a fantastic job of weaving together these four separate Londons into a complex and intricate fantasy world. I haven’t been reading fantasy novels for long, but this is definitely one of the most interesting worlds I’ve encountered thus far in my reading adventures.

Living Magic – The dark magic, a black stone that has somehow been removed from Black London and brought to the other Londons, is seriously one of the coolest parts of the story. It creeps and slithers around, and behaves like a parasite looking for a host. It literally seeks out bodies to take over and then uses them up until they are nothing but ash. Just thinking about it made my skin crawl. It was so creepy, and yet, so fascinating to watch! I also liked that the stone acted like a siren, trying to seduce everyone who came into contact with it. Even Kell, as powerful as he is in his own right, has a difficult time fighting against the stone’s allure.

Themes – Loyalty and Sacrifice: These are two themes that really appealed to me as I read this story. I loved how Kell was willing to sacrifice himself, if necessary, to get the stone back to Black London where it could do no harm. I also thought it said a lot about Kell that he was willing to do whatever it took to save Rhy, who he loves like a brother. Lila also comes to embody loyalty and sacrifice as well when she repeatedly puts herself in harm’s way trying to help Kell.

Relationship between Kell and Lila – I got the distinct vibe that Kell and Lila could be moving in a romantic direction as we continue through the series, but I really liked that it was subtly presented in this first book and not at all a distraction from all of the epic action and adventures that were the story’s central focus. Romantically involved or not, Kell and Lila make a pretty amazing team and I’m looking forward to reading more of their adventures together.

Anything I Didn’t Love?

Pacing? – I can’t even really call it a dislike, but the pace of the early chapters was a bit slow for me. It makes sense in that Schwab is explaining the concept of the 4 Londons and how they relate to each, as well as introduce all of the story’s major players, but I still struggled a few times because I really wanted to get to the action. I will say though to anyone who starts reading and feels the same way – stick with it! The payoff is so worth it! Think of it like a roller coaster where you’re slowing climbing that first huge hill and then you go over the top and WHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It’s like that 

Would I recommend this book?

Without hesitation! I think people new to fantasy would love it, as well as anyone who is already a fantasy fan. It’s just a hugely entertaining read!

Rating: A strong 4 stars!

four-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.

All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to her PR rep, Kristin Dwyer, at: kdwyer@leoprny.com

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise Kova

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise KovaAir Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova
four-half-stars
Published by Silver Wing Press on August 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 377
Source: Goodreads
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Goodreads. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

My Review:

I went into Air Awakens not at all sure of what to expect. I had never heard of the series or the author Elise Kova before and had only purchased the book because it was the topic of an upcoming Books Are My Fandom chat. Sadly, my schedule did not allow me to finish the book in time to participate in the chat, but since then, I have finished reading Air Awakens. So what did I think of it? What a wonderful read this turned out to be! I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. I may not have heard of her before, but Elise Kova is on my radar now and I really cannot wait to read more of her books!

What I Loved:

Fascinating Main Characters:

Vhalla: What’s not to love about a socially awkward bookworm protagonist who learns she has magical powers? As soon as I read the line “Vhalla wasn’t exactly good at relationships as she preferred to spend more time with books than people,” that instantly made her a character I could relate to and I always prefer books where I make that kind of connection with the protagonist.

I also found her overall struggle very compelling. The search for identity and trying to figure out one’s place in the world is one of those universal themes that we can all relate to. In Vhalla’s case, the search for identity is compounded further by the fact that she has been told all of her life that magic is bad, something to be avoided and shunned. To embrace her magic abilities is to fly in the face of everything that she and her family and friends have ever known. How will those she loves react if she becomes a sorceress? As Vhalla says, “she would be eighteen and had never made a decision for herself that mattered.” And now she has to make a decision that could change the course of her entire life!

Aldrik – Aldrik is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the book. Even though he is the Crown Prince, he is still basically the black sheep of the royal family because of the stigma associated with magic. He’s dark and brooding and can also be condescending and a bit obnoxious. To further cloak him in mystery, throughout the kingdom, there are many rumors swirling around about terrible things he has supposedly done with his magic. Part of the fun of Air Awakens is actually trying to unravel the mystery of who Aldrik really is.

What you realize, especially once he meets and starts to interact with Vhalla, is that there is a lot more to Aldrik than meets the eye. As a sorcerer himself, Aldrik of course has his own motives for wanting Vhalla to embrace her magical abilities and at first, he forges full speed ahead with his agenda. The trouble Aldrik encounters, however, is that when he’s with Vhalla, he always seems to say and do the wrong thing, even endangering her life at one point because he acts recklessly in pursuit of his goal. Aldrik is horrified by his own actions and when he goes to Vhalla to apologize, he starts to let his guard down and we see a whole different side of him – a side that makes him much more endearing both to Vhalla and to the reader.

Baldair – Baldair, or the Heartbreaker Prince, is basically the polar opposite of his brother, Aldrik. Where Aldrik is dark and brooding, Baldair is golden and a huge flirt. Where dark rumors about magic surround Aldrik, gossip about romantic conquests surround the royal family’s golden boy. On the surface Baldair appears to be all fluff and little substance, but yet something about his relationship with his brother really intrigues me. I can’t tell exactly where they stand with one another and that adds a layer of complexity to everything Baldair does, especially when it comes to Vhalla, whom he really has no reason to interact with at all, yet goes out of his way to do so. Does he like Vhalla? Is he being nice to her to get under his brother’s skin? Is there more to it than that? I’m hesitant to boil it down to just being a love triangle, because it seems like something more is going there. I’m hoping future books in the series will unfold the exact nature of the relationship.
Read more

four-half-stars

About Elise Kova

Elise Kova has always had a profound love of fantastical worlds. Somehow, she managed to focus on the real world long enough to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration before crawling back under her favorite writing blanket to conceptualize her next magic system. She currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and when she s not writing can be found playing video games, watching anime, or talking with readers on social media. She is the author of the Air Awakens Series as well as the upcoming Loom Saga (Keymaster, 2017).

Book Review: Glass Sword

Book Review:  Glass SwordGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Also by this author: Red Queen
three-stars
Series: Red Queen #2
Published by HarperTeen on February 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different. Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.


My Review of Glass Sword:

For those familiar with the Red Queen series, the second book Glass Sword picks up right where the first book leaves off. The “little lightning girl” Mare Barrow and fallen Prince Cal have escaped from King Maven and his silver minions, and along with members of the Scarlet Guard, they’re on the run. Aveyard sets a fast and exhilarating pace from the first page as the band of rebels flee to safety and then regroup to devise their own plan of attack against Maven. The action-packed conclusion of Red Queen was my favorite part of that novel, so I was very excited to see there was no gap in the action between the two books.

The first mission at hand for the band of rebels is the list that Mare’s mentor, Julian, had given her before Maven had him killed – a list of what they have now dubbed ‘New Bloods’. These ‘New Bloods’ are others who are just like Mare – red blooded but with Silver abilities. Mare and the others know that since Maven is determined to prove that she is nothing more than a fraud with no special abilities, then he will try to find and eliminate everyone on that list to hide the fact that ‘New Bloods’ actually exist.

The story then becomes a race against time for Mare and the Scarlet Guard to find each New Blood first and to hopefully recruit them to their cause. With an army of New Bloods on their side, the odds of stopping Maven become much greater. This sounds exciting, and at first it is, as each ‘New Blood’ is found and we learn what their special powers are. However, and maybe it’s just me and my impatience, but after a few journeys to find, save, and recruit, I got bored and just wanted to fast-forward to when all of the ‘New Bloods’ had been located so that I could just move along with the rest of the plot.


Okay, so what did I really like about Glass Sword?

Backstory on Farley – Farley is still my favorite character so I love that I got to learn a lot more about her in this book.

Cal – I didn’t really think Cal was all that in the first book, but he’s really starting to grow on me in this one. He’s a bit of an enigma now that he has lost everyone and everything he held dear and we get to see a side of him that we haven’t seen before as he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. Will he help Mare and the Scarlet Guard or will he ultimately side with his Silver brethren if they will take him back? Only time will tell, but I like the developments in this character and want to see more of him.

New Blood super powers – I know I said I got bored with the actual tracking down of the New Bloods, but that said, the powers they possess are awesome! Aveyard seems to come up with an endless supply of super cool abilities for our rebels. Among others, there’s a chameleon, one who can manipulate gravity, and another that can create optical illusions. The powers are very different from the brute force, X Men like powers we saw in ‘Red Queen’ and seem sure to come in handy in a death match versus King Maven and his army of Silvers.

The ending! – I don’t want to give it away, but the ending is cliffhanger of epic proportions. In spite of my disappointment with certain aspects of ‘Glass Sword’, the ending alone makes me want to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible.


And what didn’t I like about Glass Sword?:

Aside from the repetitive nature of the recruiting missions I already mentioned, there was one other problem area for me and I hate to say it, but it’s Mare. I don’t know why, but I’m just not feeling the connection to her that I think I should be feeling, especially since she’s the protagonist. I don’t want to say that I don’t care what happens to her because that’s not true, but there is still something about her that frustrates me to no end. I understand that she’s in turmoil because of what has already happened to her and because of her fears about what she could become in her quest to defeat Maven – the fact that she would be responsible for not only taking lives herself, but also for potentially sacrificing the lives of those around her. I get it; I really do.

However, her constant running internal dialogue about it drove me crazy after a while, especially her repetitive bemoaning of the fact that she misses her Maven – the boy she thought Maven was before he turned out to be such a complete and utter monster. I really just wanted to scream at her Cher-style: “Snap out of it!” So, yeah, even though I truly do love Mare’s badass side and want her to rise up and defeat Maven, I really need her to hurry up and move past the whole ‘missing Maven’ thing and get focused on the task at hand.


Would I recommend Glass Sword?:

Well, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Even with my disappointments though, the overall story still has potential to be pretty amazing if I could just find a way to better connect with Mare. I’m still hopeful this will happen as she grows more into her role. Even if that doesn’t happen though, I’m still committed enough to the story to want to see how it ends and, for that reason, would definitely still recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book.

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”