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

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

Genres: Adult, Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

The third book in this trilogy came out recently, and as I always do with popular series of any kind―including, most recently, BBC’s Sherlock―I wait until it’s almost completed before getting into it. It’s usually by accident, or because it’s shoved into my face―as A Conjuring of Light was, all over Goodreads―and since I’d read Vicious not that long ago, I thought the timing was perfect.

Oh, was it good. It was spectacular. Though its setting is historical, this book is pure fantasy, full of elemental magic, seals, and curses―though the concept is very unique. There is a great structure of the different Londons, the terms for magicians and their powers, and how their world came to be with the sealing off of the doors and Black London. I don’t have much experience with parallel universes, but I love the way they’re written in this book.

There’s plenty of death and heartache to keep me occupied―the crueler, the better―and not only that, but we have the perfect villains to simultaneously love and hate in the form of Athos and Astrid Dane.

“I’m going to let you keep your mind,” said Athos. “Do you know why?” The blade’s tip bit in, and Beloc gasped. “So I can watch the war play in your eyes every time your body obeys my will instead of yours.”

God, how I hated them―and yet I loved them, too, because they were written so well. V.E. Schwab has a knack for writing bad guys, not just in her adult novels, but in her young adult books as well. Vicious may not have been as gruesome as I’d have liked it to have been, but I’m not going to deny that V.E. Schwab writes my favorite villains.

And also, my favorite supporting characters. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I adored Rhy. He reminds me of Wesley from The Archived, and if this is a character type that Schwab plans to continue using for the rest of her novels, then sign me the hell up.

“A fine idea,” said Rhy. “But no. We must go out, you see, because we’re on a mission.”

“Oh?” asked Kell.

“Yes. Because unless you plan to wed me yourself―and don’t get me wrong, I think  we’d make a dashing pair―I must try and find a mate.”

He’s flirty, funny, loyal, kind, probably bisexual, and I love him. He needs more screen time. I do love Kell―he’s charming and gentle, and he doesn’t even need to go out of his way to show it―and after a while, I did grow to love Lila, though I thought she was extremely reckless; but characters like Rhy need more appreciation. Cast away all of the brooding princes, the tall, the dark and the handsome. Give me a character that can make me laugh.

Ms. Schwab, I raise my glass to you. This book was fantastic, and I’m dying for more.

Review: A Torch Against The Night, by Sabaa Tahir

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A Torch Against The Night, by Sabaa Tahir

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“Most people,” Cain says, “are nothing but glimmers in the great darkness of time. But you, Helene Aquilla, are no swift-burning spark. You are a torch against the night—if you dare to let yourself burn.”

(Highlight the blank spaces for spoilers!)

I was surprised with all of the controversy over An Ember In The Ashes. I devoured it. I had never read a story so full of rage and despair. It was intoxicating in its cruelty; it made me furious, but in a way that riles you up, makes you hope that the protagonist tramples the villain into the ground.

It’s only fair to note that A Torch Against The Night starts out slow – dead slow. But that quickly diminished, and the old pace set in. It sets off right where the An Ember In The Ashes ended, with Laia and Elias on the run from the Empire. They’re blazing a trail to Kauf prison, where Laia’s brother is contained, hoping that they can release him and use his knowledge of weapons to fight back against the Empire. While they run, Helene Aquilla – the new Blood Shrike, and Elias’s former best friend – is hunting him down against her will, and the Commandant is slaughtering every free Scholar in sight. Add in the fact that Elias is dying of Nightweed poisoning, Darin might face execution at any moment, and that the two of them are the most wanted fugitives in the Empire, and you have one tension-filled, action-packed story that feels like a blade hanging over your head, about to come down at any moment.

I think the addition of Helene’s point of view was smart because it brings us back to how things are with the Empire. With Marcus as Emperor and the Commandant playing him like a violin, we are constantly reminded of its corruptness – of why it needs to be brought down. Additionally, we get inside of Helene’s head. She doesn’t want to hunt down Elias, because she loves him, but if she refuses to, her family will be slaughtered. We feel her struggles, her powerlessness, as she’s manipulated to do the Empire’s bidding.

“Ah.” He tilts my chin up and searches my face. “Panic, fear, and desperation. I prefer you like this, Blood Shrike.” He bites my lip, sudden and painful, his eyes open the whole time. I can taste my own blood.

“Now, Shrike,” he breathes into my mouth. “Go fetch.”

I also love the direction the story is taken. The arc of the story is twisting around as new motives are revealed. More of the fey are popping up, including the jinn, which excites me to no end because I love Arabian mythology. (Does that mean there will be ghouls as well? Oh please, please.) Things are getting more complicated, and the Empire may not be the biggest threat out there.

Also: I can’t believe Keenan was actually the Nightbringer. I wouldn’t have been able to see that coming even if it were right in front of my nose.

I’m so excited to see where this series goes. I don’t care what anybody else has to say about these books: I love them. The story is dynamic, and it contains an unparalleled viciousness that I love because it pulls me in completely and wraps me around its finger – and honestly, that’s all I can ask for in a good book.

Sabaa Tahir is a force to be reckoned with.

Review: Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys

11178225Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys

Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½

“Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin’ we’re goin’ one place and we end up another. But that’s okay. The important thing is to start.”

I have mentioned more than once that historical fiction is not my favorite cup of tea – but when I spotted Out of the Easy, something pulled me to it, made me pick it up and take it home.

Turns out, my intuition was right. Out of the Easy is a fantastic book, driven by strong characterization and just the right amount of suspense. It’s not a murder mystery, like I thought. It’s the story of one girl’s desperate desire to get out of New Orleans, a city where she has been judged and ridiculed because of her mother’s occupation. The city, in turn, tries its absolute hardest to drag her back in.

Josie’s mother is a prostitute, but that is not why she is a bad mother. The other women in the brother appeal to that, with characters like Sweety and Dora that are kind-hearted, strong, and independent. Even though they don’t enjoy their profession, they still play the hand they are dealt in order to survive. Josie’s mother, on the other hand, is self-absorbed and childish.

“I am not too old,” she said through her teeth. “You’re just jealous, and you know it. You’re lucky I didn’t throw you in a trash barrel, you little ingrate. I sacrificed everything for you, so don’t tell me what I am.”

I took a breath and tried to speak quietly. “You don’t mean that, Mother. Stop it. You’re making a scene.” I tried to pull my arm from her grasp. “And you’re hurting me.”

“I’m hurting you? Oh, that’s ripe. You ruined my body and tied me down during the best years of my life. I could have been famous. And you say I’m hurting you?”

It’s understandable why Josie wants to get far, far away from her, the city, the brothel, everything. Not only does she have her mother, who is dating a man from the mob, but she’s constantly being compared to her. Furthermore, men ask if she has started at the brothel, and one has the audacity to ask to be her “first”. She’s being crushed under her mother’s shadow, and she wants to go to a place where no one knows where she came from.

Even though she’s constantly being dragged down, Josie is lovable because, flawed as she is, she doesn’t give up. She has a fire inside of her.

Cincinnati spun around toward me. “All right,” he said, casually raising his hands. “Let’s not get crazy, Josie.”

“Crazy Josie—I kinda like the way that sounds.” I clutched my gun with both hands the way Willie had taught me. “Why don’t you get out of here before I do something crazy.”

This is not the twisted, plot-driven novel that I usually go for. It’s a much simpler book than that, yet it still holds deep meaning. This is a story about grief, loss, and despair – and also how, in spite of everything, life goes on.