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.


Review: Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Series: The Illuminae Files #2

gemina-amie-kaufman-jay-kristoffMoving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.

The saga that began with Illuminae continues on board the space station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of BeiTech’s assault. Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter, Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair are struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.

When an elite BeiTech team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum may be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival. The fate of everyone on the Hypatia—and possibly the known universe—is in their hands.

But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.

5 Drink Me Potions

I would think after the mindblowingly-awesomeness that was Illuminae, it would be a very hard act to follow. Fortunately for us, Gemina is equally as badass as its predecessor, if not even a smidge better in a few areas.

The events in Gemina are set literally minutes right after what transpired at the end of Illuminae, albeit in a different location on the Heimdall Jump Station where all our favourite cast of characters were racing towards in the previous book.

Both acting as a sequel and a companion novel, we follow a whole new cast of characters navigating a world that is about to turn UPSIDE DOWN and INSIDE OUT on its head.

We already know from Illuminae the level of pure genius that is a combination of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, but here is exactly why their genius-ness was NOT a one-off chance occurrence.

The new cast
I was a little worried at first that I wouldn’t love the new protagonists as much. After all, Kady and Ezra were pretty awesome in book 1, and their romance was just so SWOON-worthy. But worries can be laid to rest as Hanna and Nik have stolen my heart.

Hanna is honestly just as badass, if not MORE, than Kady. Being trained in multiple forms of martial arts by her Commander father – what a wonderful decision for father-daughter bonding, Commander – she had the skill set to help defend her station from the impending danger being wrought on them. Plus, it sure helps to have her courage and wit on top of that. She wasn’t the little spoiled rich girl that the other characters initially pegged her for, and I adored her for standing her ground and showing everyone what kinda heroine she could be when push came to shove.

These other said characters would include both Nik and his cousin Ella. Nik wasn’t the sweet kinda guy that Ezra Mason was (oh rest my beating heart), but he wasn’t exactly the bad-boy-criminal that I may have thought he was either. He didn’t want to be this way, but you can’t choose your family, can you? And for a hero, he was definitely the most surprising. Of all those onboard the Heimdall, I’m sure no one else would think he was hero material. I loved his POV as much as Hanna’s, and I’m glad that there was more of him in this story (whereas I’m still miffed that Ezra wasn’t as prominent in Illuminae as I had hoped).

Ella’s great too. She’s like that awkward third wheel of this ragtag resistance group against the invading mercs. She throws in those cringey moments when Nik and Hanna are getting too cozy, and make us laugh while everything else is coming to pieces and people are dying all around. She’s no innocent herself (gang family, remember??), but I love her heart and loyalty. She even seems to come around with her opinions of Hanna. Plus her particular skill set behind the scenes makes her the unsung heroine of this story.

The artistry of this book *insert glowing heart face*
You know, I didn’t think anything could be prettier than Illuminae and its dossier of special files. I loved everything about it, from the maps to the IMs and the hilarious Security Footage Summary with the censored swear words everywhere. I even adored AIDAN’s commentary and unintentionally deep and funny thoughts.

If you think you’re gonna be missing this, or that Gemina is just a replication of what has been done by these two authors already, then you’re in for a surprise. Yes, in a way, it’s the same as all these types of files are also found in this book (yay!), but no, it’s also different. How?

Author Marie Lu has also contributed to this work of art with journal drawings by Hanna. They’re absolutely gorgeous and it adds another layer to this wonderful dossier of files. Plus, there are certain new types of pages that I thought were hilarious. Likewise, sometimes the words and the directions they take represent the movements of the characters, or follow along with the drawing in the background.

And even better? Kady and even AIDAN are back in this novel, so if you’re thinking you’ll be missing them and their words, there will be pages on their involvement on the Hypatia. Don’t worry, the authors didn’t forget about them and their amazing survival to this point. Things will start to wonderfully tie in together.

Honestly? You may be someone who loves ebooks or audiobooks, but this is one series where you just HAVE TO get your hands on the physical copy to fully appreciate how beautiful it is. I can’t tell you how much more beautiful it is without a) ruining things, or b) inadequately describing how wonderful Gemina is even after the initial surprise has subsided with Illuminae. Just grab one and read it!

The twists and turns of the plot and the insane details
I remember clearly how crazy the plot twisted in Illuminae as it was so subtle but it just all made SENSE at the end of it. Here? There were certain points that didn’t initially make sense when I read them, but as the story unfolded and things unravelled in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined or guessed, it all clicked as well. I dunno how Kaufman and Kristoff do it, but they are absolutely BRILLIANT in how they weave together all the intricate ideas to make a great story told in a beautiful format.

Another sideline to this plot was the presence of alien creatures that are also problematic for the crew on board (as if having mercs onboard wasn’t bad enough, you know?). The detail put into their genus and species – there’s a whole wiki-type page for the creature that’s provided, and as a scientist, gotta appreciate that detailing! – as well as how it’s cultivated and everything was downright amazing. Like it’s just one little thing in this gigantic plot, but they don’t do anything halfway. I’m so impressed. It makes this whole dossier effect more real.

I can go on and on but…
I’m sure all the reviews can go on about the brilliance that’s this series. So you don’t need anything more from me. I will end by saying that Gemina is worth the buy (it was an automatic purchase for me too), and it’s just as good as its sequel which is a rare gem to find in YA these days. Full of action and hints of romance (unfortunately, not as much as it was with Ezra and Kady), it’s everything you can ask for.

No matter if you don’t like sci fi, or if you don’t like YA, or if you think it’s too long (honestly, 659 pages just fly by ), it’s ALL worth it. I’m just so glad that this book I’ve been waiting for a whole year for was just as great as I could hope and expect. I’m even more glad that I’m ending 2016 off with this as one of my last reads. It’s worth it, and I can’t wait to see what book 3 brings!

Overall Recommendation:
Honestly, there’s no way I can put all that I’ve praised in this glowing review of Gemina in a brief summary. I’ll try, but you should just read the whole darn thing. For a sequel, it’s just as amazing as book 1, and you won’t be disappointed. The new heroes are just as awesome as Kady and Ezra, there’s even more beauty in this new dossier of files collected from Jump Station Heimdall and unforeseen twists of the plot made this an unforgettable read. You NEED to get your hands on a hardcopy NOW of Gemina. Before the year ends, if you can. You won’t regret it. Promise.


Review: The Thirteenth World by A.N. Willis

Series: The Corridor #2

the thirteenth world -AN willisTime is running out for Stel Alaster.

The Corridor, the only portal between First and Second Earth, is failing and the barriers between all twelve worlds are thinning.

Using her unique ability to travel through the multiverse, Stel sets out to save the Corridor . . . and ends up discovering a mysterious new world.

In the sequel to The Corridor, will the thirteenth world hold the key to the Corridor’s secrets?

Or will the portal implode and take every last universe down with it?

3.5 Drink Me Potions

Thank you Alloy Entertainment for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**The Thirteenth World comes out on September 29th!**

It began a few weeks after the cliffhanger of The Corridor left us. And my, could I say that the cliffhanger had me itching to get my hands on this sequel so much faster??

Anyway, I have a lot less complaints about this one. For once, the sequel may have surpassed its predecessor, which is rather high praise coming from me.

From book one, you would know that all is NOT happy and well on First Earth where Stel and most of her friends were from. The Corridor is acting up and is even MORE unstable than before, if that’s possible. And now? She was separated from everyone she loved and her portal wasn’t working. Talk about jumping into serious stuff immediately.

If you read my review for The Corridor, you’d know just how much I wanted to punch a ton of the characters. My despise for Dr. Tabor, aka the worst family friend EVER, literally made me wanna lock her up somewhere to get a taste of her own medicine. She did not win any points with me, as I suppose that wasn’t the plan.

However, to my surprise, my huge dislike for Stel’s brother Justin has actually faded. I know, I know. He redeemed himself in my eyes, although I truly hadn’t wanted that to happen after all he did. His character really grew and I could understand a little on why he did what he did. I’ll let you judge for yourself whether he was worth redeeming.

Justin may have outgrew his asshole-ness, and so it also seemed that Stel’s old bestie Lissa didn’t suck as much either. She was truly helpful when it came to controlling Overprotective Brother Syndrome, and I guess what she did at the end of The Corridor was somewhat redeeming too.

“My brother had been shocked into silence when Cohl and I came home earlier…Unfortunately, the silence hadn’t lasted long.
‘He’s too old for you. Plus, I don’t like his attitude. And that
‘You sound like an old man right now…Can we please not have this conversation? I’m leaving in twenty minutes.’…
Lissa took one look at me and my brother, and swooped in between us. ‘Justin! I was hoping to find you. I need your help, um…lifting something very heavy.’
‘Oh?’ Justin gave me another glare, but his attention was rapidly moving to Lissa’s.
‘Yep. Very, very heavy. I know you’re the
only guy around here who could lift it.’
Justin pushed back his shoulders, and crossed his arms. Which just so happened to make his biceps bulge. ‘I’ll take care of it for you.'”

I don’t know what it was about this book, but everyone that was pure AWFUL last time around was just….nicer? I guess the potential destruction of your life as you knew it could do that to you…

Stel’s identity crisis in this novel was hugely focused. What is she? Why could she do what she could do? And now everyone was counting on her to save the entire multiverse. Talk about big responsibilities.

She faced a lot of conflict about where she came from, and her actual birth heritage. Plus, did people see her for who she was, or just that girl with the super-portal-making powers? Was that all she summed up to now? It was nice to see some depth to the story, beyond the sci-fi/dystopian feel of the plot.

Likewise, The Thirteenth World wasn’t just great on character growth, but also more action-packed. Come on, the whole multiverse is coming to chaos and potential implosion of all the worlds. That’s crazy stuff. Sure, the astrophysics or pseudo-physics (I wouldn’t know if half of that stuff was true or made sense…) flew beyond me, but it sure was fascinating to hear how their ragtag group was gonna prevent such chaotic consequences from happening.

And more WORLDS! Who wouldn’t love visiting another world that oddly seemed like yours but isn’t? It’s just a shame that the world-building took a backseat in this sequel as there was more focus on the Corridor and fixing it. I would’ve loved to have known a little more backstory into one of the new Earths that was visited here.

And before you all berate me for this long review without talking about it….I will admit that Cohl has grown on me too. See? What IS with this book and redeeming characters? I didn’t feel the chemistry there with him in the last book. Hello? He was a TOTAL ASSHOLE to Stel in the beginning. Rude, much? And then you tell me you grew feelings for her? Uh, NOT buying it.

Anyway, that was in the past. Their romance and the predicament of being from two different universes really stresses the LONG in long-distance romance. I loved that beyond having those dopey “I-love-you-and-I-miss-you” kinda conversations, there was a level of friendship that felt lacking previously.

“Cohl said, ‘We’ll have to try somewhere else. One of the other Earths we’ve never visited. What do you think?’
‘I think your plan is perfect. And that you’re amazing.’
‘Anything else? Don’t stop now, this is just getting good.’
I inhaled deeply. ‘You smell pretty nice, too. Don’t let it go to your head.’
‘Too late.'”

Their love felt more real too. And in one scene, the writing was superbly touching. And so true. It described how real love should be like, and in that moment, I knew their love had won me over (’cause the writing didn’t make me wanna gag instead).

“We stayed there in the kitchen until almost midnight. We didn’t talk, didn’t even kiss, just held each other…..We’d said the words – that we loved each other – but that wasn’t really how I knew it was real. It was in the pauses, in this quiet moment when words had failed us. A touch, a look…It was the fierce ache around my heart, the stiffness in my lungs. It was being together until the very last priceless second.”

I’m assuming this is the last book of the series, although I had initially thought it’d be a trilogy. I will say that it won’t let you down. It wrapped things up nicely, but not too nicely like a stiff present. My only disappointment is that there won’t be any more exploration of the other 12 worlds. *secretly hopes for a spin-off book…*

Overall Recommendation:
The Thirteenth World definitely holds more grit and action, now that all the introductions to this slightly-futuristic-yet-not-too-far-off-into-the-future kinda world has been made. A ton of characters that I previously hated with a passion has surprisingly redeemed themselves without making me want to gauge out my eyes for reading it. And beyond character growth, it still held intrigue when dealing with multiverses, potential implosion of the worlds and, of course, the intricate workings of portal travelling. I think it summed up all the questions you ever asked and more. Definitely give it a shot.

Note: All quotes taken from this arc are subject to change