A Gathering of Shadows

Kell is one of the last magicians with the ability to travel between parallel universes, linked by the magical city of London. It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into his possession and he met Delilah Bard. Four months since the Dane twins of White London fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body back into Black London.

Now Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila. And as Red London prepares for the Element Games – an international competition of magic – a certain pirate ship draws closer. But another London is coming back to life. The balance of magic is perilous, and for one city to flourish, another must fall…

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For the past year, whenever I’ve seen mention of Victoria Schwab or A Darker Shade of Magic – almost always in glowing reviews or rhapsodising tweets – I’ve just sort of shrugged to myself. I read it. It was fine, but I wasn’t that into it. I guess I’m just not a fantasy person, I said to myself. It’s hard to get into a book when I can’t turn off the part of my brain telling me it’s just… silly.

I was wrong.

It isn’t silly.

When I read A Gathering of Shadows I fell in love with it like Kell did with Delilah: hard, fast and with some theft involved (of my heart, obvs).

We could analyse why A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t work for me but I think it’s pointless really. It boils down to a simple statement: book, it’s wasn’t you, it was me. It’s like when Taylor Swift released Shake It Off and I thought for a couple hours I didn’t like it. I was wrong. It’s a vital part of 1989. I love that song.

Like I love A Gathering of Shadows (and A Conjuring of Light, which I am currently about half way through. I went out and bought it, like, instantly even though it wasn’t even pay day yet).

Have I apologised enough yet for my initial lack of enthusiasm? I’m SORRY, okay.

Let’s move on.

V.E Schwab’s writing – if not her name, which I mistype at least three times at every attempt – is like unwrapping a gift, but like in a game of pass the parcel there are layers and layers to peel away before you reach the (dramatic, crazy, heart attacking-inducing) centre.

The only way I can truly describe it is that I want to EAT this woman’s prose. Honestly I think it would taste like chocolate.

I know you know what I mean.

A thing about A Gathering of Shadows is that it’s a lot like The Goblet of Fire – most of the plot is essentially pointless, but it leaves the characters distracted enough for Voldemort to regain his powers while everyone else is looking the other way. Voldemort in this instance being White London (previously of evil Astrid and Athos fame) now under the control of the mysteriously alive evil Antari, Holland.

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RIP Dane siblings

Pointless but fun, and essential in setting up the events of A Conjuring of Light (which so far are CRAZY, btw).

A problem I’ve had with fantasy in the past is that the plot driven nature of most of the books comes at – in my opinion, don’t get mad at me fantasy lovers – the sacrifice of the characters. I often feel like they are stock versions of people, rather than the sort of friends I would happily invite to inhabit my imagination for a week.

Not so in Schwab’s Londons. I was so distracted by Rhy (I’m a sucker for a prince, apparently?) in the first book that I totally failed to notice how engaging Kell’s character is. He spends much of the book with his desire for adventure and independence at war with his responsibilities to his family.

Raise a hand if you can relate to that. Or, maybe don’t actually. There’s no way I could ever count them all.

On the other side of the coin there’s Rhy, who wants his brother to be happy only slightly less than he wants him to stay. One of the interesting images of the book is that of the spell binding Rhy and Kell together, the one that keeps Rhy’s heart beating. The truth Schwab writes around is that the bond was forged way before the spell came along. One boy never knew how to live without the other a long time before death was ever involved.

And Delilah Bard is… basically everything that I want to be.

The Brave adventurer.

The pirate.

The impossible.

Also she has a very utilitarian, purpose driven dress sense that I can’t help but respect.

Lila never met a challenge she wasn’t up for.

As women, we are so often unsure of ourselves, unsure of our legitimacy, if we’ve really earned our place, if we’re allowed to occupy the spaces we’re in. Not Lila. I don’t get the impression that doubting herself ever even occurred to her. As The Least Sure Girl Ever*, I find this to be hella inspiring. In my daily life I think I’m going to start asking WWDBD? What would Delilah Bard do? Though of course the only answer that that question is whatever she damn well pleases.

Altogether, I can’t recommend this book enough. The magic tournament everyone is taking part in has fight scenes that’ll make your heart pound, enemies of Red London, though distant, will keep you on edge throughout. You get to see Lila being a pirate. You’re introduced to Alucard Emery, the new love of my life I would write about at length if this weren’t far too long already.

This wasn’t so much a review as extended fangirling. But, as I’ve mentioned, I have a lot of that to catch up on.

What was your favourite part of A Gathering of Shadows?

*anecdotally proven

 

 

 

 

 

The Raven Boys

Even if blue hadn’t been told her true love would die if she kissed him, she would stay away from boys. Especially the ones from the local private school. Known as Raven Boys, they only mean trouble.

But this is the year that everything will change for Blue.

This is the year she will be drawn into the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys. And the year Blue will discover that magic does exist.

This is the year she will fall in love.

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I avoided reading Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys despite years of amazing reviews because when I read Shiver – I was seventeen and in my first wave of Twilight-related paranormal romance burn out/feminist awakening (don’t even talk to me about Stephanie Meyer) – I was not into it. And yet the amazing reviews of The Raven Boys just kept coming.

So I caved.

And it turns out (for not the first time. At least I’m honest.) that the bloggers were right and I was wrong. THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

Another reason I didn’t read The Raven Boys for so long is the blurb. It reduces it to nothing more than a romance (which is fine, if you’re in the mood for that. For me, right now, I need a little more), a marketing technique that woefully undersells what Maggie Stiefvater has created (in my ever-so-humble opinion).

The town of Henrietta is a complex and magical creation. It is a place with massive economic disparities. There’s a famous boy’s boarding school there, Aglionby where the richest send their sons to become the next generation of businessman, bankers and politicians. Across town, there are the native residents, most of them lower middle to working class. The Aglionby – known because of the crests on their jumpers as the ‘raven’ – boys and the townspeople rarely mix.

It’s in the poorer part of town where Blue lives, in a house full of women who all happen to be psychics (with the exception of Blue herself). If there is one thing I would have asked of this book, it would have been more time in the ‘little bright blue house at 300 Fox Way.’ I adored this community of women. There is a very specific thing that happens among some older, single, heterosexual women, which is a certain man-scepticism. It’s like there came a point when they just decided they didn’t want them around anymore. My family is 90% divorced women, so it’s an environment I grew up in (though sadly my family are not psychics) and not one I see represented in YA all that often. I especially haven’t seen it written in such a perfect, funny and loving tone.

Full points to Maggie.

The other, and probably most important aspect of Henrietta, is that it sits on criss-crossing ley lines (sometimes known as the corpse road) which makes it an intensely magical place. In addition to the psychics who live there, it is rumoured that a sleeping prince, Glendower, is hidden within the ley lines. Whoever wakes him will be granted whatever they want. However, finding him, as Gansey – a raven boy who is kind of like a teenaged Alaric from The Vampire Diaries but with less dead girlfriends – is no easy task.

All these elements are drawn together when Blue – despite not being a psychic – witnesses Gansey’s future death. With that event, she steps from her own world into that of the raven boys.

The Raven Boys is at its heart, a book concerned with the idea of freedom. I mean, could a book filled with psychics really be about anything else?

Blue has lived her entire life according to what her family have told her to do – up until she meets the raven boys. In choosing to get involved with Gansey, she disobeys her mother for the very first time. However, she disobeys her mother to run off with a guy it has been predicted she will either fall in love with or kill – so can the action really be considered free?

Freedom is also looked at from an economic, as well as a magical perspective. For some, like Gansey, freedom appears to be state he was born into. His family have a limitless budget, and that has allowed him to travel the world following his paranormal whims. On the other hand, his hunger to prove the existence of the supernatural is so great as to dominate his existence. Every decision he makes is based on finding the ley lines hidden beneath Henrietta. Gansey’s supposedly boundary-less existence is ruled by his obsession with the paranormal. It is an inextricable part of his identity, and something he believes he was fated for. Much like Blue, can he be really be free if he has a ‘fate’?

Adam, on the other hand, is a poor kid at a rich school. He lives in a financially unstable home with an abusive father, and believes the only way to be free is to get through his Aglionby scholarship and earn the sort of job that would make him a true raven boy. Adam’s friends are desperate to get him out of his abusive home, but he refuses to leave on anybody’s terms but his own. Is the freedom that Adam seeks – a freedom that can only be achieved alone – just another kind of trap?

Yeah. This book holds a lot more than romance.

The first book in The Raven Cycle has got me all kinds of intrigued. I only hope the rest of the series is as good.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by mad King George III. Red London – where magic is revered and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London…

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I went into A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Shwab with expectations high. The hype for this one has been intense.

I don’t read a whole lot of fantasy. When I want to totally remove myself from the boring every day, I tend to reach for a sexy paranormal novel. While I can’t say that A Darker Shade of Magic has changed me into the avid fantasy reader so many other book bloggers are, it certainly sparked my curiosity.

The magical details were some of my favourite parts of this book. Kell has this coat which is somehow also many different coats. He can change to the style of whichever London he happens to be in simply by turning the thing inside out. Or outside in, depending on the circumstances.

I liked the brief moments in which magic had a voice. It was pure hunger and needed to consume without purpose or agenda. Its dogged and unrelenting want was intriguing to me. It made the magic – dark magic, I should say – that much more frightening; it wasn’t a person with motives you could question or a childhood worth analysing. No daddy issues could explain its need to devour all that was unlucky enough to find itself in its path. It’s frightening to face an uncomplicated evil.

The plot is sprawling and there is a lot to take in – three Londons’ worth – but Shwab navigates it in a way that is surprisingly free of info-dumping. Throughout this first in the series at least, Red London is the ‘best’ London. It has all the magic and the democracy. The complicated political situation (complete with murder-ey brother and sister king/queen team) in White London was interesting to me, as was the strange lack of magic in Grey London, both of which went largely unexplained beyond the whole it was because of Black London thing (it turned evil so they sealed it off and in doing so were also cut off from each other). Since this is the first in the series however, and there was a lot of ground to cover, my hope is that the other Londons will be explored in greater detail as the series progresses.

I liked A Darker Shade of Magic well enough, but I do wish I could have connected with the characters more. What I didn’t realise going in is that it’s written from various viewpoints, but primarily narration is shared between Kell, the magic guy, and Lila, a criminal with aspirations of piracy he accidentally pulls into his mess (and like most YA ladies, she goes along with the whole thing without asking half of the questions I would have). There was a hint of romance, but I didn’t really feel it. It manifested itself in a random kiss that to me at least, came from nowhere. The other central relationship in the book is Kell’s with his adoptive brother, Rhy.

(with all the talk concerning Rhy’s sexuality and him shoving Kell up against the wall the first scene we meet him, I will admit, I definitely misunderstood the way this relationship was going. They see each other as brothers. I was a little disappointed).

The relationship with Rhy is probably the most important in Kell’s life. Whenever there was drama involving Rhy, I felt anxiety for him and I definitely was hoping that he wouldn’t die, but overall he wasn’t in the story enough for me to really care about him. As in his relationship with Lila, Shawb told us that they cared rather than take the time to actually make me feel it.

This might not be a problem for everyone. This isn’t a short read, and as a fantasy novel it is plot, rather than character driven. It was frustrating for me, being, as I always have been, much more interested in the people catching the murderer than the way he gets caught.

Despite my reservations, I likely will continue with the series. The Neil Gaiman comparisons aren’t unfounded. Plus I really like the idea that Lila is going to become a pirate. I want to read what that looks like.