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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4 star, adult

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Image result for the witch elm

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life: he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

The Witch Elm asks what we become, and what we’re capable of, when we no longer know who we are.



4 Drink Me Potions


‘I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person.’

Going into this book, I had expected some sort of existential, philosophical discovery kind of journey, but that is really not what I got. Instead, it was a murder mystery sort of novel (my favourite!) with a large twist. In The Witch Elm, Toby is a well-rounded, generally deemed good person, who suffers a life-changing event and is seemingly never the same after. Struggling with his head injury, Toby rapidly finds himself in a state of constant confusion, with muddled memories adding to his paranoia.

Having escaped to the Ivy House for refuge with his dying uncle, things quickly turn around when a skull is discovered inside a large elm tree in the garden. Again Toby’s life is plunged into mystery, with detectives and police at every corner. Who around him can he trust, when he can’t even trust his own memories and character?

The Witch Elm follows the main protagonist, Toby, who starts off high and mighty (though not too haughty) but quickly falls to rock bottom. Even we ourselves as readers are not sure if we can trust Toby with his disjointed memories. This made for a very interesting read as usually a whodunnit novel doesn’t involve yourself as a prime suspect. Everyone appears suspicious, but we also can’t rule out ourselves as a possible suspect either, making this story an exciting journey from the beginning all the way to the dramatic climax and denouement.

I really enjoyed that this book explored a lot of aspects of identity and self-awareness. How much does who you are as a character really play into your actions? Also, how strongly do people judge your actions by how closely it matches your perceived character? There is a very interesting exploration of this whole reality versus perception of character and actions that is a motif found throughout the whole book.

The beginning did start off a little bit slow for me, and the lucky nature of Toby was a little bit irritating. But as I got to about half-way through the book, I actually found myself really entranced in the whole scenario, not unlike how Toby must have been feeling in the book himself. Each persona in the book was well thought out and developed in such a way that even though everyone’s character was clear as day, it was difficult to pin down any incriminating evidence. Just when you think that things are about to be resolved, things take another tumble and whirl around until the very final resolution. It was definitely an exciting roller coaster of a journey that was gripping all the way to the very end.

Overall Recommendation:
A haunting story of rediscovering yourself on the backdrop of a murder mystery. Toby is a classically lucky guy up until he slides right to the very bottom. The story follows him as he struggles to remember what might or might not have been, and who he can trust when a human skull is found in his garden. The Witch Elm is a gripping tale that explores how the perceived reality versus the actual truth might differ. What we discover about our true selves might sometimes be better left unknown. If you enjoy a thrilling murder mystery where literally everyone is a suspect, you will probably enjoy this book. If you like that idea with the addition of a self-(re)discovery journey layered on top, then I would definitely recommend this book.

4.5 star, adult

Review: The Oyster Thief by Sonia Faruqi

Image result for the oyster thiefThe mermaid’s scales were bronze, and they shimmered like hundreds of pennies arranged close together. Her immense blue-green eyes gave a look of fragility to her face, yet he found her eyes unsettling. She was leaning against a thirty-foot-long shark, which emerged from behind her and opened its mouth to reveal a great big cavern lined with hundreds of teeth – a black tunnel ready to swallow him.

Coralline is a mermaid who is engaged to the merman of her dreams. But when an oil spill wreaks havoc on her idyllic village life, her little brother falls gravely ill. Desperate to save him, she embarks on a quest to find a legendary elixir made of starlight.

Izar, a human man, is on the cusp of an invention that will enable him to mine the depths of the ocean. Her discovery will soon make him the richest man on earth – while threatening merpeople with extinction. But then, suddenly, Izar finds himself transformed into a merman and caught in a web of betrayal and intrigue. Meeting Coralline in the ocean, he decides to join her on her quest for the elixir, hoping it will turn him human again.

The quest pushes Coralline and Izar together, even though their worlds are at odds. Their pasts threaten to tear them apart, while a growing attraction adds to the danger. Ultimately, each of them faces an impossible choice. Should Coralline leave her fiancé for a man who might betray her? And Izar has a dark secret of his own – one that could cause him to lose Coralline forever.

Magnificent and moving, set against a breathtaking ocean landscape, The Oyster Thief is a richly imagined odyssey destined to become a classic.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


Two world collide when a mermaid and human man meet, plunging readers into a vast underwater realm brimming with adventure and intrigue.

Coralline is a mermaid living in her hometown of Urchin Grove, working as an apothecary to heal others. Meanwhile, Izar on land is the adopted son of the CEO of the prosperous Ocean Dominion, a company which seeks is to destroy the ocean and mine the precious minerals on the ocean floor. Izar is a gifted inventor, and discovers how ot create underwater fire to raze the ocean floor. Their two worlds collide when Izar is left for dead but becomes a merman instead, meeting Coralline.

The story begins at Coralline’s engagement to a handsome rich merman, whose family’s wealth and status precedes him. Immediately you are reminded of The Little Mermaid, with the beautiful scenery and world created by Faruqi. Vibrant colours and animal familiars exist in this imaginary underwater world and it is as beautiful as any land could be. Faruqi draws many contrasting parallels between the underwater world and the world above and we quickly learn that each is bitterly aware of the other.

When Coralline’s brother falls sick, she embarks on a treacherous journey filled with lies and deceit to try and find a magical elixir to cure him. On her way she meets a half-dead Izar, whom she nurses back to full health. Together they travel a large expanse of the Atlantic looking for this mysterious magician who created this elixir of starlight said to save any life once in exchange for a curse (unicorn blood, anyone?).

I thought this book had all the elements of a classic fairytale that one might want: a loveable and relatable protagonist, Prince Charming, betrayal and plot twists, and a very clever villain, all tied together with the classic true love romance. There’s also a lot that wasn’t expected, and that’s what really drew me into this book. The story really explored different aspects of real life like environmental issues, doing what is right versus what you want, morality and propriety. In addition, koodos to the author for doing her research: as a science major, it really pains me to have to read through very faulty scientific logic in a book. Not in this one! The scenery, ideas and theoretical science that are proposed are all very believable and logical, giving these two contrasting worlds a very realistic feel.

They weren’t kidding when they said that this book is filled with betrayal and intrigue. It almost feels like a whodunnit novel, with lies and misperceptions around every corner, waiting to strain relationships, whether they be familial or romantic. I think this book will resonate with many people with all the different issues that are explored, and I would definitely recommend this exciting adventure to anyone.

“Fire vaporizes water, and water vanquishes fire. The two can never truly meet.”

One of the most exciting and thought provoking lines in the book, it is quickly a theme that emerges tying the balance of the whole book together. Can the underwater world and the land of fire above truly ever be at peace? Or are they just too different?

Overall Recommendation:

A beautiful underwater world not unlike our own that really pulls you into the ocean with the characters themselves. Although most of the story takes place underwater, all of the issues that are brought up are all relevant to our lives. Even as a reader, it is hard to trust anyone in the book, and you are also forced to take a side as you follow Coralline on her journey for the magic elixir. A constant rollercoaster of emotion and suspense, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys observing these parallel worlds where it is easier to more candidly address some real world issues. If you loved The Little Mermaid as much as I did, this grown up version will definitely be the twist you’ve been waiting for.