February 16th, 2015


A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

Review copy provided by Tor.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the story of four parallel worlds with very different outcomes. One of the protags is one of the very few people who can move between the worlds, and he has color-coded them to keep track of which one he’s referring to–Grey, Red, White, and Black. The divergence of the worlds is not random but refers to their relationship with magic.

That all sounds a bit technical and inside-baseball; the book is anything but. It was such a fast read that I was 2/3 of the way through before I even noticed I should probably do things like move around and stretch occasionally. I am not one of the genre readers who is a sucker for thief protags, but the thief Lila was brave and useful and entertaining. And the two princes were just what they ought to be (errm, sorry, child of the nineties)–that is, they were sympathetic and comprehensible in their relationship with each other, their parents, and the rest of the world. While not everyone has a fully filled-in backstory, ramification from background is the name of the game–each world shapes its denizens differently, for good or ill.

And there are music boxes and magical artifacts with minds–or at least wills–of their own. And burning ships.

Fun story, hurrah, would read author again.

One note: the city in which all this takes place is London, with the Thames as an important thing. If you pick this up hoping for another immersive London fantasy, it will not deliver. There is not a heck of a lot of our-London historical detail in this book. For me, this was not a disadvantage–I have plenty of Magic London Books and not a lot of good recent parallel worlds magic stories. But best to know what one is getting into in advance: set in London, yes, Magic London Book subgenre, not really, no.

Please consider using our link to buy A Darker Shade of Magic from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


Books read, early February

Eleanor Arnason, Hidden Folk. Icelandic mythology-inspired short stories. There were a few of these that fell oddly into the 1970s-esque trap of “the Irish are a special maaaaagical people,” but the language was right on in all of them for being saga inspired. Generally good fun.

Helen Bynum, Spitting Blood: The History of Tuberculosis. So very good. Sanatoriums, interactions of TB with leprosy, general degenerative interesting stuff.

Octavia Cade, The Life in Papers of Sofie K. Kindle. A magical realist novella about a nineteenth-century Russian mathematician. If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I can’t help you; if it does, hey, did you know there was this book? There is this book! It is just the sort of thing you like if you like that sort of thing! (I do.)

Mike Carey, Lucifer Book Three. Giant graphic novel omnibus, and I think I am done with the Lucifer series on this one. The stories are not compelling enough to be worth the deliberately ugly art. I understand that it’s deliberately ugly for a reason, is making a statement, etc. But it is still a visual assault that I can opt out of, and will.

Faith D’Aluisio and Peter Menzel, Women in the Material World. A late twentieth century book of photographs and interviews with women in different countries worldwide, touching on their daily material lives in a very practical and specific way. I would have passed this by without a recommendation, because if it had been less concrete it would have been awful. As it was–fascinating.

Benedict Jacka, Chosen. These are short and zippy–this is the fourth in a series–and if you’re looking for Magical London Books, this is one. This one has had enough room to start ramifying interestingly. I don’t recommend starting here because of that, though–there’s no reason not to read the previous ones, and they’ll make the ramifications here work better.

Laurie R. King, Night Work. I may also be done with this series. There was a lot of exoticization of non-white characters, which was particularly bad as both the characters and the exoticization were central to the plot. I had sort of gotten along with the earlier volumes in this series on the theory that they were from an earlier time, but this is getting pretty contemporary and not acting like it. So–sigh. Onwards in the search for another long mystery series I like.

Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. This is a particularly interesting biography because so much of its process geeking is text rather than subtext: Milford will talk about interviewing Millay’s sister and then talk about what she thinks is not being said, what she has doubts about and why, what other sources she’s using. Quite good; I wish Milford had more work out there. (She wrote a bio of Zelda Fitzgerald, but I had enough of Zelda Fitzgerald in Flappers and don’t need an entire book of her, no matter how good the biographer.)

E. C. Myers, The Silence of Six. Myers is quite good at Average Teen Voice, whether or not the teen in question is entirely sympathetic. This is a teen hacker novel in the vein of Little Brother and Homeland. Lots of running around and skullduggery, good fun.

Julie E. Neraas, Apprenticed to Hope: A Sourcebook for Difficult Times. Lent to me by someone with whom I was talking about chronic illness stuff. I’m sure it’s very helpful to some people, but I found a lot of it frustratingly basic.

Greg Rucka, Stumptown Vol. 2. Portland PI graphic novel, with rock musicians. Reasonably fun if you want a one of those, not one of Rucka’s best.

V. E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic. Discussed elsewhere.

Chris West, A History of Britain in Thirty-Six Postage Stamps. Every year I buy myself a book for my grandpa’s birthday. I pick something that I think we could have enjoyed together, because I’m not done sharing things with Grandpa even though he’s gone. This was this year’s purchase, and I’m confident that Grandpa would have found it interesting. A lot of the historical overview was stuff that someone who knows a reasonable amount about GB/the UK would already know, but some of the detail was more middlebrow/person-on-the-street than histories often focus on, and that made it feel more authentic to me: if you asked a bunch of Britons what happened in such-and-such a year, the World Cup is very likely to come up, for example. Also the postal-specific stuff was interesting and explained some institutions we don’t have here, like banking at the post office.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux