3.5 star, adult

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

Series: Shades of Magic #1

A Darker Shade final for IreneKell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


The world sits in balance, humanity in one hand, magic in the other. The two exist in every living thing, and in a perfect world, they maintain a kind of harmony, neither exceeding the other.

With all the hype that surrounds this series, I was a bit intimidated picking up V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. But everything they say about this book is absolutely true.

Be prepared for a world – or should I say worlds – of creativity as you enter even the very first page. While it was a bit confusing at first, readers soon get the gist of how this society is run. 3 parallel worlds exist and only those with very special magical abilities can traverse between the worlds. Kell, our protagonist, is one of the only two that still exist.

[Kell] was, after all, Antari.

Magic is described similarly to how we see it in many other novels. Elemental magic exists, with control of the elements like water, air, fire, rock, etc. But there’s a difference with Kell and the kind of magic he possessed. To be short, blood magic. And who can’t say they’re slightly thrilled when hearing just those words put together? It could spell trouble, or it could just mean there’s great power and potential.

And Antari could speak to blood. To life. To magic itself. The first and final element, the one that lived in all and was of none.

Aside from the magic system, the parallel worlds is a fun addition. And aptly, Kell has named each of the worlds he can visit by a colour that represent the society.

I don’t normally explain a fantasy world so in-depth in a review but I can’t help but marvel at the uniqueness and enthralling way this world building has touched me. 3 worlds. 3 colours.

Whitea world falling apart and dying as its ruthless citizens fight for control and hold back any dangers magic may have once presented. It has somehow lost some vitality – hence colour – to it

Greya world without much magic, and its citizens have almost forgotten about its existence. It is dreary and kind of boring without the essence of magic filling up the place – probably the closest world to what you can imagine as our Earthly version of London

Reda world brilliantly flourishing with different elemental magic among its citizens, and a fairly content way of ruling and continuing as it is. Maybe that is why it’s associated with the scent of flowers and red as it reminds us of life and growth

Yet, there is more. There was once a fourth world. One that has been sealed off from the rest. But something has come into Kell’s possession from that lost world and it opened up a world of trouble right into his lap.

If that world building description and the main plot arc of the book/series didn’t get you excited, then I don’t know what will. This is imaginative fantasy making at its best, with the brilliant Victoria Schwab standing at the helm.

Even the prose is beautiful in its elegant yet simple descriptions. Not just of the world around the characters, but the individuals themselves. There were a number of names and characters to sort through – let alone which worlds they hail from – but no one else aside from Kell was as important as Lila Bard. For all her thorny masks and thievery, she was someone I came to admire. ‘Cause isn’t inside every hardened shell some experiences that made them that way? Something deep and vulnerable that doesn’t want to be seen by the light of day?

And for the first time, Kell saw Lila. Not as she wanted to be, but as she was. A frightened, albeit clever, girl trying desperately to stay alive. One who had likely frozen and starved and fought – and almost certainly killed – to hold onto some semblance of a life, guarding it like a candle in a harsh wind.

With the book broken down into several parts and short chapters in each, it was fairly easy to breeze through, especially for those who are daunted by long and complicated fantasy novels. While I have many praises to extol on this first book, I will admit that it started off quite slow. Some of it may be due to the natural progression of acclimatizing us readers to the world Schwab has built without overwhelming us with pages and pages of information dump. I certainly never felt that as I am still very much in awe of the story, even days after I’ve finished it. But the excitement and the main storyline took its time in coming and developing.

However, I have very high hopes for the rest of the series. As first books go, A Darker Shade of Magic is more than an excellent start to an exciting series. It excels at making itself stand out in a sea of such similar fantasy tropes.

The danger may seem to have been dealt with, but I get the feeling something is still stirring and there’ll be more for Kell and Lila to deal with soon.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” Kell asked Lila now.

She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply.

Overall Recommendation:

Excellent prose, brilliant plot and a world beyond your imagining, A Darker Shade of Magic is everything that people have been shouting about these past years. In a land where parallel worlds exist and only certain magical people can travel between them, danger lies when things that don’t belong in some worlds show up and remind everyone of the dangers imbalanced magic can bring. Protagonists Kell and Lila embark on a crazy quest to save all their worlds as trouble comes to them, all the while fighting something dark that may fester inside each of them. Even if you aren’t normally a fantasy lover, this book explains its world building well and will guarantee to satisfy fans of action, adventure and a tease of romance. While it can be slow-going at first, trust me, you’ll want to get through this, and feast your senses on a world with Antari.

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3.5 star, YA

Review: Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson

Series: Dance of Thieves #1

Dance of Thieves_FINAL 9.18A new novel in the New York Times–bestselling Remnant Chronicles universe, in which a reformed thief and the young leader of an outlaw dynasty lock wits in a battle that may cost them their lives—and their hearts.

When the patriarch of the Ballenger empire dies, his son, Jase, becomes its new leader. Even nearby kingdoms bow to the strength of this outlaw family, who have always governed by their own rules. But a new era looms on the horizon, set in motion by a young queen, which makes her the target of the dynasty’s resentment and anger.

At the same time, Kazi, a legendary former street thief, is sent by the queen to investigate transgressions against the new settlements. When Kazi arrives in the forbidding land of the Ballengers, she learns that there is more to Jase than she thought. As unexpected events spiral out of their control, bringing them intimately together, they continue to play a cat and mouse game of false moves and motives in order to fulfill their own secret missions.


3.5 Drink Me Potions


Smart and filled with an interesting cast of characters, entering back into the world of The Remnant Chronicles was like slipping on a cozy shawl in the winter and sitting by the fireplace in Dance of Thieves.

Although my memory isn’t what it’s used to – so you can guess just how many details I recall from the other series – little tidbits dropped here and there made me smile, though you definitely don’t have to have read any of Mary Pearson’s other books to jump right into this one.

I liked that I never quite knew what was exactly gonna happen next. One moment, our heroine Kazi has everything in control, and the next? She can find herself tied up with a guy like Jase Ballenger. And from there, things do get interesting.

The pacing is fast enough, settling into the story right away. And it doesn’t stay in one place for too long so I never felt like it dragged its heels in for scenes/moments that should’ve been done with a long while ago.

Yet. There’s something in me that feels like the story took its time in laying out the foundations too much. You don’t get many details into Kazi’s mission to the Ballengers in the beginning, only vague notes about having to come under the guise of something else. And you don’t get why the Ballengers may be doing something wrong.

Where it’s not as high action as I had hoped from this author, the romance was sufficient. I know. Not a very heartwarming comment but at the moment, not many romantic relationships in books have really tugged at me. Frankly, I feel almost bored with them so this is a compliment at this moment.

Yes, it was a bit rushed at times. But the reality of how their feelings built through the moments they shared and the trust they slowly gave to each other was real.

And though these elements are normally essential to me as a reader, nothing warmed my heart as much as the focus on family ties and fierce girls who can kick butt. The Ballengers were large in number but they had each other’s’ backs over anything else. Likewise, Kazi’s group, the Rahtan, that served the queen was like a found family from different backgrounds now all serving one purpose together.

In reality, without some of these extra things, Dance of Thieves may have been harder to swallow.

And of course, wonderful appearances of our main cast in the Remnant Chronicles are featured here so that was the icing on top.

While I may have been expecting too much from this story (what with everything that I remember from Mary’s writings), this novel still weaves together an imaginative new story in a familiar world that has intrigue, fun personalities and the different families we have. A definite story to check out for fans of Mary and her previous series, but also for anyone looking for a fantasy read in a well crafted world.

Overall Recommendation:

Dance of Thieves features a mostly new cast in the wonderful world of the Remnant Chronicles. With enough romance, a decent plot pace and an intriguing mission hanging over our heads, diving back into this land is like slipping on a shoe. Two different families, the Rahtan and the Ballengers, come head to head as missions collide and tenuous trust is built. Beautiful world building and surprising appearances of former characters, this novel is a perfect companion to the previous series and something fun to read if you’re into all-things fantasy.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

Series: Heart of Iron #1

heart of iron -ashley postonSeventeen-year-old Ana is a scoundrel by nurture and an outlaw by nature. Found as a child drifting through space with a sentient android called D09, Ana was saved by a fearsome space captain and the grizzled crew she now calls family. But D09—one of the last remaining illegal Metals—has been glitching, and Ana will stop at nothing to find a way to fix him.

Ana’s desperate effort to save D09 leads her on a quest to steal the coordinates to a lost ship that could offer all the answers. But at the last moment, a spoiled Ironblood boy beats Ana to her prize. He has his own reasons for taking the coordinates, and he doesn’t care what he’ll sacrifice to keep them.

When everything goes wrong, she and the Ironblood end up as fugitives on the run. Now their entire kingdom is after them—and the coordinates—and not everyone wants them captured alive.

What they find in a lost corner of the universe will change all their lives—and unearth dangerous secrets. But when a darkness from Ana’s past returns, she must face an impossible choice: does she protect a kingdom that wants her dead or save the Metal boy she loves?


3.5 Drink Me Potions


May the stars keep you steady. And the iron keep your safe.

Science fiction at its best, Heart of Iron has notes of action, romance and intrigue in this Anastasia retelling!

Ana and her crew of misfits aboard the ship Dossier were a wonderful found family that reminded me a lot of Melissa Lander’s Starflight series. From the spunky Ana with a heart for non-humanoid individuals to her Metal boy, D09, and ambitious pilot Jax with some secrets of his own, I thought this was a unique (enough) cast of characters. The format of the novel was easy to get through as it alternates between most of the main characters’ POVs, although the downside is having rather short chapters at times before it’s onto the next person.

Although I would categorize this book in science fiction, there’re elements of fantasy embedded. Set in what is known as the Iron Kingdom where 3 different planets have aligned together, they worship a Goddess who’s been said to have vanquished a Great Darkness a thousand years ago. And as the 1000th year approaches, they’re awaiting a new Saviour to come and do it once again – which you can probably guess, sounds rather familiar with other fantasy tropes.

In some other places, it felt particularly reminiscent of Star Wars. For example, the interactions and characteristics of D09 and E0S reminded me of C3P0 and R2D2, respectively. I absolutely loved it as these non-humanoid characters were given such distinctive personalities (or close enough, in the case of a non-speaking, bleeping-only bot). Sometimes I felt like I looked more forward to their POVs as their human counterparts weren’t always as exciting.

Action abounded and their mysterious quest to unearth what happened to their kingdom’s royal family years ago was definitely intriguing. I think the middle just lacked good pacing in places, and certain plot points were predictable, especially if you know and love the original story of Anastasia. I did admire Ashley Poston’s ability to weave this story as both something unique and completely hers while keeping to some things found in Anastasia, which can be hard to do it justice.

I wasn’t expecting the love interest to be Di (D09) at first, thinking Robb, the Ironblood Ana runs across on her journey to unearthing the secrets of a lost ship, would fit the bill more. But there’s the diversity in relationships as Jax and Robb have something cute going on. Di and Ana’s relationship was a little bit harder to swallow at first (he is a Metal, after all), but it grew on me and I’m totally rooting for them.

She didn’t know who she would be without him, and she never wanted to know. Her heart beat, and his wires hummed, and they were Ana and Di – and there were no words for that.

All in all, it’s still a fun and enjoyable read and I look forward to seeing what comes next from this series – especially from that ending!

If you’re fans of Melissa Landers and Amie Kaufman/Meghan Spooner’s books, I would definitely recommend this for you.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Iron takes the great things of both fantasy and science fiction and weaves together a story about found families, your fate and the lengths we go to save the ones we love. As story retellings go, I thought it was a unique spin on Anastasia while keeping to some original material that added to the overall space setting and plot. Fans of YA science fiction should not be disappointed! I can’t wait to see what’s in store next!