Wednesday, 25 October 2017

REVIEW: Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (#1)

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)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.

"Masquerade balls, and pirates, and feminism, and multi-sided coats, and Londons in the plural. THIS is my kind of book. V.E. Schwab, where have you been all my life?" - This was my initial response to A Darker Shade of Magic, a book that I had been so wary about entering. My love for fantasy has increased hugely in recent years and this, from the offset, appeared to be my kind of book, but with such a hyped book, it was hard to know for certain if I would love it as much as my friends had. Much to my surprise, I did. 

Upon first closing the book firmly shut in February after reading this, I went into a serious internal debate about what rating it deserved. A Darker Shade of Magic inevitably, like any book, had its faults and criticisms: personally, the last hundred pages fell a little flat in comparison to the rest of the novel. However, to me, that was more of a reflection of my mentality at the time of reading (where I had no time because of A Levels but also desperately desired to make time for this novel) rather than the quality of the book, because so much happened in the final quarter. All in all, the plot of this first instalment in a trilogy was amazing and constantly kept me wanting to crawl back into bed and read a little further, despite its occasional confusing ways. Though the final 100 pages wilted in comparison to the pages prior, that was more a reflection of myself at the time rather than the content, because regardless of this, so much happened, and it was glorious. 

A Gathering of Shadows (#2)

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port. But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

Following the rollercoaster that A Darker Shade of Magic, this was slightly disappointing. A Gathering of Shadows was still enthralling, funny, and intensely fantastical, but it lacked some of the excitement and whimsy that occurred in the first book. The Essen Tasch sounded like quite the change from travelling between Londons, and it was, but the issue at hand was that it didn't actually occur until 3/4 of the way through the book. Essentially, there were three-hundred pages of slow build up to the games, which then felt wildly rushed in order to wrap the story up and bring on the cliffhanger (which I predicted entirely). The plot was solid, but there were several ways in which it could have been reworked with the Essen Tasch pushed further into the story and the buildup lessened, with the issues that came up in the build-up being distributed throughout the Games. To me coming off the high that was A Darker Shade of Magic, that sounds better than what we were given. 

Nevertheless, I adored the character development in the aftermath of what transpired at the end of the first book. Often where sequels fail is in the character, and a failure to push characters forward to their extremes in the aftermath of serious change; as J.K. Rowling once said: "character is everything." However, Schwab did this perfectly, and the damage that had occurred was evident in its haunting of each character, regardless of the significance of their role. A Gathering of Shadows may not have had the same "magic" for lack of a better phrase, as the first book, but it was still enjoyable and a complete page-turner. 

A Conjuring of Light (#3)

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3)THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED... The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise. WHO WILL CRUMBLE? Kell - once assumed to be the last surviving Antari - begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive? WHO WILL RISE? Lila Bard, once a commonplace - but never common - thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

I don't think I'll ever truly be able to describe the emotion and excitement that coursed throughout my veins as I ploughed through this book. 666 pages in 6 days - which, having barely read anything that wasn't for A Levels prior to this for maybe 4 months, was quite the achievement for me. 

It's true, I have a tendency to love the final book in series more than any others: it happened with my favourite series, Harry Potter, and pretty much every other series I've ever read, including The Lunar Chronicles. Thus, naturally, the Shades of Magic series seems to have followed suit in that. A Conjuring of Light did have its flaws, but they were few and far between, and given the general contents of the rest of the novel, I could let said flaws slide. The first time around, I found it difficult to immerse myself in the chapters told from Holland's past perspective, and thus I reread those after finishing the book. That is something that in the grand scheme of this novel is incredibly minor. 

V.E. Schwab's writing is beautiful, the world building is phenomenal, and I couldn't care more for these characters if I tried. There were FAR too many times in this book in which the events left me teary, and made me feel so attached to the characters in this book. What happens here is dark, it's disturbing, and it's brilliant. The character development over the course of this trilogy - even in minor characters - has been extraordinary, and I never thought that I'd find myself caring for Holland, and yet somehow, V.E. Schwab makes me do it. 

I love the way this ended, and the emphasis on how much the characters have transformed since A Darker Shade of Magic, this book - although it was already forming in A Gathering of Shadows, - has also ignited my love for a new OTP (outside of Harry Potter), in Rhy & Alucard, and I adored how their relationship evolved over the course of ACOL.

Conclusion: Here my words are poor, because words will never be enough to describe how much I love this trilogy, and how much I'd give to get another novel or novellas. After Harry Potter, this has to be my favourite series.

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