A Darker Shade of Magic

IMG_9610

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Series:
 Shades of Magic (Book 1)
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Language: English
: 5/5 Stars
Do you ever avoid books for all the wrong reasons?

I avoided this book for the longest time because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be my “style” based on the cover designs and title. If I’m honest, I’m not sure what had me so hesitant when looking at the cover — I mean, they literally say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Despite knowing this, that’s exactly what I often do. Admittedly, I was also nervous this book would be too dark for me. While I love reading about magic, treachery, impending war and all the wonders of magic, dark and light, I don’t enjoy gore, torture or things of that nature.

You’re probably thinking “why not read a review?” “did you read the synopsis?” “what about this cover suggests any of the things you don’t like?” — listen, you’re right. None of these make sense and I honestly did little to no (definitely no) research on what the book was about beyond “eh, that cover doesn’t speak to me”. Mistakes are made every day, my friends, and I make quite a few of them.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong about this book! V.E. Schwab has such a unique and enticing writing style and I found myself immersed in these characters from the very beginning of this book. Readers are introduced to the magic and ways of antari by watching Kell as he interacts with the King of Grey London. There’s no hand holding or explanations given except through the eyes and narration of the main character as he carries out his responsibilities in traveling between London as a messenger. Immediately you’re craving more information behind the mysterious blood magic of an antari, the strange behavior of the King, and the notion of multiple London’s.

Kell is a deliciously mysterious character with a tortured soul and a habit for bending the rules. From his thoughts you learn that he is devoted to his brother and family despite the tortuous realization that he is not in fact a member of the Royal family so much as their property. Though Kell values the law and order of moving between worlds, he is fascinated by small trinkets with little meaning to others and often risks bending the rules in order to collect these precious items. These small aspects of Kell’s personality show the humanity behind his magical difference from others and allow the readers to wonder more about the man behind the magical black eye.

When you’re just getting invested into Kell and his story, enter Lila Bard — fierce, lethal and likely to steal the glasses off your face before you’ve even finished reading about her. The author chooses to portray her story in the same way as Kell’s, walking the reader through her thoughts and actions rather than providing backstory to prepare you for her arrival. Schwab executes this incredibly well, as I never found myself confused as she shifted between Kell and Lila’s perspectives.

At her core, Lila is an adventurer who longs for a life far more vibrant than the Grey world she was born into. Prone to pick pocketing in order to survive, Lila craves the life of a pirate who serves only themselves and the sea. Despite her rough and tumble, quick draw exterior, Schwab provides the readers with small cracks that show how vulnerable and caring Lila can be. I found myself wondering what led Lila to the life of a thief and who built that wall around her heart that forced her to believe she could only rely on herself.

These characters drive the plot of this story through their incredibly vivacious, competitive and quick-witted relationship. There is a tangible chemistry between them from the very beginning, again showing the brilliance in Schwab’s ability to write dimensional characters. Their chemistry is undeniable, yet it doesn’t distract from the main plot of the novel. They continue to pursue their goal while simultaneously showing that the nature of their relationship is evolving along the way into something more than just a thief and a smuggler who wound up obtaining a rare and deadly artifact that could destroy the worlds they know.

I found myself impressed by all the characters and their ability to subtly hint at what’s to come. We’re given ruthless villains readers easily hate, who introduce us to the main problem of the series — reintroducing the true vitari magic to Grey, Red and White London, potentially leaving them open complete destruction. These villains are tied to Holland, the only other antari to exist, who we long to believe has good inside his controlled soul. Holland’s character reminds me of the Darkling from the Grishaverse in that he is ruthless and cunning, yet tortured and a product of his circumstance. You want so badly for this character to redeem himself.

I thought the end of this novel was the perfect set-up for future books in the series. There were questions answered, resolutions provided, and yet so many little easter egg situations scattered throughout that never really were addressed. This is brilliant writing because it allows readers to feel comfortable and content with the ending, only to likely have their worlds shattered and mind’s blown at the beginning of the next book. I am not convinced that some characters won’t come back to haunt us in the next book, and I love that I have that sense of unease.

Overall, this book is filled with excellent characters, an intriguing and mysterious plot, and dynamic relationships. I was hooked from the start and only craved more with every page turn. This is an excellent read for those who love magical stories but may want a change of pace from the fantastical elements of faeries, witches, wizards and mythical creatures. This book perfectly ties the modernism of present day world with royalty and magic. Definitely worth taking a chance on this book!

 

Crooked Kingdom

image1
Title:
Crooked Kingdom
Series: Six of Crows (Book 2)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN-10: 1627792139
ISBN-13: 978-1627792134
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Saints, you guys! This book! All the things happen in this book. ALL. THE. THINGS.

So if you read my review of Six of Crows, you already know that I was very impressed with Bardugo’s story of the Dregs as they try to protect the world from a lethal drug that could potentially weaponize and destroy Grisha. If you didn’t read it — SPOILER ALERT, I was impressed. Also, you should check it out — but you do you, baby boo.

Getting back to my point, having read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, I enjoyed the Grisha-verse but I had some issues with the character development and ultimate ending to that trilogy, so I did not go into this duology with the highest of hopes. Bardugo made some excellent choices as an author that sold me on her ability as a writer, but also as someone able to grow within her own fictional world. Surprised as I was, I did not expect to continue to be surprised as I continued into book two, but man oh man — Bardugo blew. it. up.

Literally — there are explosions, shoot-outs, enhanced magical abilities, stake-outs, more robberies and plot twists than you could imagine, and just when you think that you know where the story is going, you are left shocked to discover there is an element you never considered. This was the perfect ending to an exciting and no-holds-barred story of the mobster-mentality of the Barrel. What is so impressive is that Bardugo doesn’t make the easy choice in almost any aspect of this book. There are moments when readers could feel things leaning towards an inevitable outcome, only to be ripped from the breath of what could of been to slam hard into the reality of what is.

One thing I always love and hate about fantasy is that amidst all this chaos, there’s always a love story forming/storming/exploring/boring/another -ing word here; I’m hooked because as a reader I want to believe in love and I want to fall in love with the characters, but as a human I am also frustrated because in many ways it feels too far away, too unbelievable. Now, in a world full of magical Grisha who can stop someones heartbeat with a swish of their hand or pull metal shards from the earth and kill someone with them, is it so unrealistic to assume people would find the time to fall in love and share romance? — uh, yeah.

Maybe it’s me, but I am always slightly more impressed when the author chooses to acknowledge the reality of the situation instead of just giving us readers the inevitable conclusion we desperately crave. We want the characters to kiss as much as THEY want to, but it’s easy to build us to that point and give us what we want. What’s harder, is giving us a realistic and vulnerable moment that not only captures the affection we know is lying buried beneath these characters, but honors the fact that someone who’s experienced these horrors couldn’t realistically move past those experiences quickly enough to fall in love and give themselves to another person.

This is where I appreciate Bardugo the most. By telling the story through the eyes of each character, we see the reality of what is; there is love, there is pain, there is vulnerability, there is strength, there is fear, there is longing. Each character experiences emotions we can all connect and identify with. We also see the reality that these characters have incredibly complicated and haunting pasts that live presently with them as they work through these impossible scenarios to stay alive and complete their mission. Are they capable of love? Yes. Do they want love? Yes. Do they give pieces of themselves to other characters? Yes. Can they devote themselves entirely to someone else? No, not yet.

The dynamic between Kaz and Inej really brings the brillance of Bardugo’s writing to life because she could have easily given readers the ending they all dreamed of; Kaz would change and devote himself to Inej, telling her what she longed to hear and how he really felt. He would trust her enough to be able to touch her, love her and be with her. She would trust him and together they would be unstoppable. That would have just as easily fit into this story line and the build up between the two of them in the first book set the tone for that type of relationship to form and it would have worked. That approach would compromise the character development that is so crucial to this story and would have made it a 4 star read. What makes this book great, rather than just good, is that these characters give what they can, rather than what we, as readers, desperately wish they gave.

I won’t go any further into detail because I don’t want to completely ruin this for anyone who may have yet to read it. Overall, the character development in this story and the dynamic between the Dregs crew is what carried this excellent plot along and allowed readers to fall in love with the Grisha-verse. The mobster-mentality was not something that I was particularly excited about when I first began these books and I was so fully invested in this world thanks to the talented writing.

On a more fun note, I loved the nods to Shadow and Bone with the introduction of Genya, Nikolai and Zoya! I always enjoy when books crossover like that and that brought me so many feel-good moments while reading!

Overall, this book was filled with amazing plot twists that will leave you at the edge of your seat, but I was most impressed with the relationships and the dynamic between the crew. The realism present in these stories made it such a wonderful reading experience and showed that Bardugo is a force to be reckoned with as an author. Definitely a must-read for any fans of fantasy and fictional worlds. (Just make sure you read the Shadow and Bone trilogy first!)

Six of Crows

IMG_9385[1]

Title: Six of Crows
Hardcover: 480 pages

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
First Edition edition (9/29/2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1627792120
ISBN-13: 978-1627792127
Rating: 5/5

“‘No mourners…’

‘…no funerals.’

Among them, it passed for good luck. ”

This quote is a perfect description of the tone set throughout this entire novel. A hopelessness so ingrained in a group of people that their phrase for good luck is hinged around the idea of no one mourning or honoring their deaths.

Having read the Shadow and Bone trilogy, I was familiar with the Grisha universe prior to reading this novel. If you’re wondering which you should read first, I suggest reading the trilogy prior to the duology — it will get you a lot of historical context that lays the foundation for the problems, war and ultimate state of the world this book is set it. I will say, I enjoyed the Grisha trilogy but found myself frustrated with the direction the story ended up going. Leigh Bardugo is a phenomenal writer but it felt like the end of that trilogy took the easy way out — but that review is for a different day.

Six of crows shows Bardugo’s redemption in making the difficult but correct plot choices, in my opinion. This entire book is thrilling because the reader (presumably having read her previous Grisha trilogy) goes into the story assuming they will have some idea of where the story will go, having explored this world before. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Six of crows follows the dark and dangerous mob-lifestyles in the Barrel of Ketterdam, far away from the Golden Palace of Prince Nikolai and the worshiped Sankta Alina. Bardugo does not shy away from the dark and gruesome reality of the mob lifestyle, she embraces it. Readers are shown vivid descriptions of call-girls, gambling rings, mistakes punishable by death and ruthless leaders capable of lethality at any second. Despite such a horrific environment, Bardugo’s character development leaves the readers connecting, loving and rooting for characters with truly horrible qualities.

One thing I appreciated was the pacing of this story – you’re shown an enticing and mysterious scene right off the bat, completely immersing you into this story as you crave to find out more behind what happened. Immediately, you’re pulled away and shown the humble beginnings of Kas Brekker and the Dregs from the Crow Club, learning about their personalities, roles, and motives for the dangerous job that takes up most of the story. Readers learn details slowly — not so slow that they’re bored — but slow enough that they’re kept hooked to the plot, hoping the next page turn will provide the answer they need. Just when you might become a bit bored by the plot, a twist or exciting, unexpected wrench gets thrown into the mix bringing you back in.

As you go along in the story, you’re introduced to more details about each member of the Dregs, their pasts that led them to this journey they take together, and the secrets that shape their relationships. These details are done brilliantly, as readers are able to see these memories and experiences from each characters point of view. This brings a human quality to the characters and allows readers to empathize with their situations, thus creating a bond between reader and character that allows them to continue to love and support the Dregs despite the horrible things they do to each other and others throughout the journey. You’re rooting for them to get the endings they want and deserve and hoping they won’t choose to lie, cheat, kill and steal in order to get there, but ultimately accept that that is just who they are.

The only time this aspect of the characters was frustrating was at the end of the book. The relationship between Kaz and Inej is tantalizingly frustrating throughout the story, but the end of the book is where we really see Kaz’s nature and I found myself so frustrated that he couldn’t be better for her and that because of him, Inej gets placed in the worst case scenario. I’m hoping that he redeems himself in the second installment.

Overall — there’s no denying that Leigh Bardugo has talent and if you loved the first trilogy, I guarantee you’ll love this one even more. If you had mixed feelings on the first Grisha trilogy, I urge you to give this duology a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Stay tuned for the review around book two!