Shades of Magic Series Review

220552622076487929939230Titles: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic Series)

Author: V. E. Schwab

Published: 2015-2017

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Kell is one of the only magicians able to travel between parallel worlds. Situated in his world’s version of London, he acts as intermediary to the royalty of three worlds. Bringing messages and information between them. Yet, behind the royals’ backs, Kell illegally transfers goods between worlds.

This smuggling remains a quiet side business until the day Kell makes a mistake and transfers something he shouldn’t. Something that puts everything and everyone Kell cares about at risk. It’s up to him and his new companion Delilah Bard, a thief from our world, to save all three Londons Kell travels to.

Review: The first two books captivated me and the third was enjoyable. Book one and two are some of the only books of their length I’ve read in a single day. Book three took a few days more, but the fact that it is the longest of the series might have something to do with this.

Other reviewers have said that they had a hard time getting into the first book, but I did not find this to be the case. I think my reading experience was different because I started the first book at a time when I had several hours to devote to reading without interruption. Books one and two are some of the only books I’ve read that have kept me up long past midnight in the last few years.

Something I’ve noticed about many of V. E./Victoria Schwab’s characters is that many of her male leads have personality traits more often found in female leads with the opposite true for her female leads. This holds true in this series for Kell and Lila. The dynamic that results from these character traits in Schwab’s dual point of view novels with one male and one female lead character contrast each other nicely.

Kell has, for the most part, lead a sheltered life up until the start of the first book. He was raised in a palace as part of the royal family with most everything provided for. Yet, Kell also has an identity crisis. He is one of the only members of his kind, a blood magician known as an Antari, and was adopted into the royal family. Kell’s search for identity contributes to some of the series’ main obstacles.

Lila spends her days picking pockets in our world’s version of London. Not the version of today, I believe it’s meant to be set sometime in the 19th century but can’t remember for sure. Lila dreams of becoming a pirate and leaving London. She enjoys cross dressing to the point that none of the authorities searching for her know she is a girl.

Holland is one of the series most developed side characters. He is the Antari from White London, and the only other Antari Kell knows at the start of the book. It takes a while before the reader gets to know him, but my perspective of Holland as a character changed drastically once I learned his motives.

Rhy is another major side character. He too undergoes much development throughout the series. While I liked Rhy, I don’t think I loved him the way many other reviewers seem to.

The different Londons contrasted one another well. I liked how Red London, White London, and Gray London were all surrounded by different counties with different cultures and histories.

That said, I had some issues keeping the world-building straight. I don’t know if this is because I read the first few books so quickly, or because it was just hard to keep track of. While it didn’t affect my overall enjoyment, I was somewhat confused by the characters’ appearances/the characteristics common among some of the ethnic groups featured in the novel. For example, Kell is described as pale, but Prince Rhy has dark skin. I suppose this could be explained by Kell being adopted, but it still made me wonder if I was reading their descriptions incorrectly.

Rating: 4.5/5 for books one and two 4/5 for book three with a 4/5 for the series as a whole.

4 blue jays

 

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A Torch Against the Night 4 Stars

25558608Title: A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes book 2)

Author: Sabaa Tahir

Publication Date: August 30, 2016

Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher, but opinions are my own.

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: *This is the second book in a series. This review will be spoiler free, but the synopsis isn’t. Those who haven’t read the first book might be interested in my review of An Ember in the Ashes.*

Lila and Elias must work together in order to free Lila’s brother from the most secure prison in the emperor. Along the way their own freedom will be threatened. They must free Lila’s brother while trying to avoid being captured or put to death themselves.

Thoughts: The second installment in the An Ember in the Ashes series proved a fast paced, engaging read.

My favorite part about this book was the author’s use of tension. I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next particularly since it seems Tahir has no problem with killing characters off.

One think I would have liked to know going into this book is that this is not a finale. I heard somewhere that this series was meant to be a duology, but it is most certainly not. I ended the book very confused as to why everything felt so open ended, but learning this book is the second in a series made a lot more sense.

I still felt the magic system wasn’t fleshed out all the way, but there was more of it mentioned in this book than the first one. It was nice to see more magic in this book, and I hope there will be more of it in the books to come. The magic system doesn’t strike me as particularly original, but it’s still a change from the element based magic systems that seem to dominate recent fantasy releases.

My main gripe with this book is similar to the one I had for the first book in the series. That is to say I didn’t find the story sticking with me long after I read it. 

Rating: This is a great book for people looking for a fast-paced read or need something to get out of a reading slump, but I didn’t find it particularly memorable, so it gets 4/5.

4 blue jays

The Sudden Appearance of Hope 3.5 Stars

25746699Title: The Sudden Appearance of Hope

Author: Claire North

Publication Date: May 17, 2016

Genre: Adult Fantasy/Science Fiction

Note: An advanced copy was provided by the publisher (Redhook), but opinions are my own.

Synopsis: Hope Arden is the woman everyone forgets. She can have an hour long conversation with someone, walk away, and if she returns a minute later the person she was talking to before will have no idea who she is.

This has made Hope a very good thief, but when one of Hope’s targets ends up dead she takes it upon herself to investigate. What she discovers could have the ability to change everything, or nothing at all.

Thoughts: After thoroughly enjoying Claire North’s other novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review this book. While I did enjoy this novel, my overall opinion is very mixed. 

My favorite aspect of the book is its concept. The idea of people hiding in plain sight has always intrigued me, and this book explores how being forgettable can affect someone’s life in ways I had not considered.

Our main character, Hope, has had no relationships lasting more than a day since she was sixteen-years-old. Her own parents have no memory of her. The only thing that remembers her are machines. This makes holding a job and obtaining medical care beyond complicated for her.

This novel uses Hope’s unusual circumstances to explore aspects of modern society including the idea of “perfection” through the use of an app that the author made seem so plausible it was a little scary.

This novel is fairly slow pace with repetition that comes with having a character who needs to reintroduce herself to everyone everyday. The most frustrating aspect of this book is that because of the constant reintroduction there wasn’t much in the way of prominent secondary characters. No one trusted hope because they couldn’t get to know her, and, therefore, never opened up to her. This allows the reader to understand just how alone Hope’s situation has made her, but at the same time makes it more difficult to connect to the story.

The writing style is unconventional. There were a number of bulleted lists spread throughout the text as opposed to at the beginnings of chapters like it normally might be. I’m still not sure how I feel about this technique. One one hand, some of the information was very interesting and added to the story. On the other hand, at times it could go on so long I skipped it because it felt a bit like an info-dump.

The plot structure isn’t typical either. Rather than building to a climax, the story ends on a note that leaves more questions than answers.

Rating: This book is very thought provoking, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for something fast-paced. Those who enjoyed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August might like this.

3.5 blue jays

 

 

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

23437156Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 29, 2015

Genre: Young Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: When a substance is developed that turns magic users known as Grisha into mindless slaves of great power the world is put at risk. A crew of six thieves are hired to pull off the heist that could save the world.

Review: 

Six of Crows is a great book, and so much fun to read. It was very reminiscent of some of my favorite fantasy novels, but at the same time stood apart from others in this category.

Six of Crows Crew

The strongest aspect of Six of Crows is the characters. In spite of the fact that there are so many narrators, each one comes across as distinct. I especially appreciate the fact that the characters actually acted like thieves.

In many books the character will go around saying that they’re known as an assassin, an experienced solider, or have a lot of experience stealing from important people, but then when it comes down to the act of either murdering or stealing something they hesitate.

This has never come across as realistic to me. At the same time, however, I recognize why many authors chose to portray their “ruthless” characters in this manor. It is difficult to sympathize with a person who can harm or steal from innocent people and feel no remorse, but Bardugo managed to pull it off. 

The relatively small number of characters with magical abilities made them all the more impressive. The main characters in Six of Crows are highly skilled individuals, yet for many of them these skills are natural in origin (ie intelligence), but the characters use them in such a way that seems almost supernatural.

Six of Crows Map

That said, the magic that we did get to see was a great addition to the story. My favorite aspects of the first book and a half that I read of the Grisha Trilogy was the world-building, so I was more than happy to reenter that world in Six of Crows.

Bardugo has created a very complex magic system different from what I’ve seen in many fantasy novels (especially YA) where the magic is often glossed over. Though this novel has much less focus on the magic system than the Grisha Trilogy, it managed to further expand upon it by showing what a Grisha’s power can do when pushed to extremes.

The world itself was expanded upon as well. I really liked how many of the characters in this novel were from very different parts of this world as this isn’t something we often get to see in fantasy, which often focus on one region of the world the writer has created.

The only negative criticism I have to offer is related to the reason I did not finish the Grisha Trilogy. That is to say that a significant portion of this novel was spent on build up. This is not to say that nothing happens, quite to the contrary, things seem to go wrong quite often. What I mean is that I spent most of the book anticipating the climax of the actual theft as opposed to anything the characters were trying to overcome at that particular moment.

I really wanted to love the Grisha Trilogy because I have a signed copy (see the image below), but am so glad that I can now consider myself a fan of Bardugo thanks to this book. I was hesitant to read this one because I thought I might need to finish the Grisha Trilogy first, but was pleased to find that this duology stands on its own.

Siege and Storm

In any case, I managed to get a hold of a signed bookplate. Used as a book mark, really like the way my copy of Six of Crows looks:

Be Dangerous

What readers should know: Though this book keeps everything very vague, one of the narrators was forced to work in a brothel against her will. She has since left this profession behind, but still bares negative effects of her time there.

As stated in this review the thieves in this book truly act as thieves. This means that some of the narrators steal and kill people throughout the story. There is also some language.

Rating: This is a really great book. I highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and people trying to get into fantasy.

4.5 blue jays

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series by Laini Taylor

8490112
1281255013618440Titles: 
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Days of Blood and Starlight, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Author: Laini Taylor

Publication dates: 2011-2014

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: “Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”– Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor

Karou is a rather unusual art student from Prague. She never talks about her family or past, and answers all personal questions with an outrageous story about traveling around the world hunting for teeth. She mysteriously disappears often, and once returned to school having contracted malaria. The truth is, Karou can’t answer the questions about her past because they are as big a mystery to Karou as everyone else, but she’s about to find out the truth.

Lives will be lost. Wars will be fought. A forbidden love between an angel and a monster unearthed.

Review: The writing and pacing in this series is just amazing. I read the entire trilogy over the course of about a week, and there are so many great quotes to be taken from the writing.

I had some minor issues with the first book, especially the second half which consisted mainly of flashbacks, and felt there was an element of insta-love to the romance although it didn’t bother me as much as it does in most works because after the novel’s primary relationship was formed the characters’ reacted to learning hard to accept truths about one another in a relatively realistic way not normally seen in young adult fiction.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone feels much more typical in terms of young adult fiction than the next two books. The first book feels like urban fantasy as most of the novel takes place on modern Earth. In the next two books the fantasy elements take over and the story feels much more like high fantasy than urban.

One of my favorite elements in this series was the symbolism particularly that of the wishbone.

I appreciated the author’s portrayal of “angels” and “monsters.” I feel the message Laini Taylor was trying to get across involves questioning everything and not jumping to conclusions. Just because someone looks like an angel doesn’t make them trustworthy, and just because someone looks like a demon does not make them a demon.

Favorite quotes: “It is a condition that monsters do not perceive themselves as such. The dragon, you know, hunkered in the village devouring maidens, heard the townsfolk cry ‘Monster!’ and looked behind him.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Imagine if [Juliet] woke up and he was still alive, but…” She swallowed, waiting out a tremor in her voice. “But [Romeo] had killed her whole family. And burned her city. And killed and enslaved her people.” –Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight

“Karou wasn’t a prize to win; that wasn’t why he was here. She was a woman and would choose her own life. He was here to do what he could, whatever he could, that she might have a life to choose, one day. Whoever and whatever that included was her own affair.” –Laini Taylor, Dreams of Gods and Monsters

What Readers Should Know: This series contains cursing intermixed with casual conversations in the way many teenagers speak. Sex is mentioned with some frequency, although no detailed sex scenes ever occur. There are also some fairly gruesome scenes in book two due to the main characters becoming involved in a major conflict. *minor spoiler* In Days of Blood and Starlight a character is almost raped, but the “r” word is never mentioned. While younger readers may mistake this scene for an act of mere aggression it will be immediately clear to everyone else what was narrowly avoided. Personally, I thought this scene captured the fear and horror of the girl involved.

Rating: The first book was a 4.5/5 for me, but the rest of the series was a 5. It’s rare to find a series in which I preferred the sequels to the first installment, but that was the case here. I recommend this for people willing to overlook a little insta-love who enjoy fantasy.

five blue jays