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.

3 star, YA

Review: The Emerald Sea by Richelle Mead

Series: The Glittering Court #3

the emerald sea -richelle meadThe dazzling conclusion to #1 New York Times bestselling author Richelle Mead’s The Glittering Court series.

Meet Tamsin, the Glittering Court’s hard-angled emerald. Her outsized aspirations make her a fierce competitor, rising to the top of the ranks. But when the ship she boards for the New World is tragically lost at sea, she is quite literally thrown off-course.


3 Drink Me Potions


This is the first series I’ve read where all the stories mesh together but it’s from different protagonist POVs. While book 1, The Glittering Court, ravished me in one long sitting, my heart just wasn’t into the second book following one of the other girls.

So with wary expectations, I jumped into Tamsin’s story. After all, it’s partly the same story as what I’ve read twice already!

To my surprise, The Emerald Sea was intriguing. Tamsin’s little secret that made her such a pain in the ass sometimes (or like all of the time)? It’s finally revealed and it’s made some difference in how I view her.

The pacing was slow, but I can’t say that it’s ever boring in the life of Tamsin Wright. From skirmishes with different races of people to living with fringe religious groups, it’s like one bad thing after another comes her way. Mind you, this makes the book unnecessarily drawn out at times.

I wasn’t particularly fond of the romance, but I did like the love interest. Jago Robinson wasn’t your typical nice guy who’d never say or do anything less than polite for the “fairer sex”. He’s sarcastic, and protective of what he thinks is right no matter the consequences for him. I loved their conversations and interactions as they were at times teasing and fun with witty banter.

This book – or series, really – isn’t for everyone. Basically a fantasy version of colonial America and its early settlements, it reminds me a lot of Rae Carson’s Walk on Earth a Stranger series. Thankfully I like historical fictions so it wasn’t a complete turn off for me.

Because of the historical kind of setting, women portrayals were sometimes hard to read. Yet Tamsin’s ability to always “get things done”, no matter the complexity of her circumstances, really pushed the boundaries of what women could or should do in such a society. And for that, it was empowering to follow such a character in such a world as this.

While this is by far not one of Richelle Mead’s better works (I mean, just think of how popular the Vampire Academy series and its sequel series has been!), I enjoyed this book well enough. Clever in its execution as it seamlessly tied together some of the events we’ve seen in the other 2 books, The Emerald Sea made for a good conclusion to this trilogy. But I’m confident in saying that I’m good if I don’t visit the land of Adoria again in yet another POV any time soon.

Overall Recommendation:
The Emerald Sea covers the third protagonist from The Glittering Court, Tamsin, and the adventures she was simultaneously having during the timeline of the previous 2 books. Written in the same slowly flowing pace with a touch of the historical atmosphere, I found it slow at times but never quite boring. Filled with new insights into Tamsin’s character and her motivation behind every action, this was a rather female empowering story given the setting. Intrigue, action and heady romance, this book’s got it all, though I will warn that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

4.5 star, YA

Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

broken things -lauren oliverIt’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.


4.5 Drink Me Potions


**Broken Things comes out October 2, 2018**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

The problem with fairy tales isn’t that they don’t exist. It’s that they do exist, but only for some people.

I’ve been in a book slump for a while (actually, for quite a bit of this year, really), but Broken Things has definitely been a wild journey that spun me breathlessly through the lives of our protagonists, Brynn and Mia.

While I love a good thriller/mystery, what sets this novel apart in its genre is also the element of a story within a story. The girls were accused 5 years ago of murdering their best friend in the exact same way that was depicted in the fan fic sequel they were writing on an imaginary place called Lovelorn. Already sounds kinda good, doesn’t it?

The pacing was just the right amount. Alternating between Mia and Brynn’s POV – both in the present and in the past around the time of the murder – the pieces of what happened that day slowly unfolds while we try to understand who these girls are now in the aftermath of what happened. The town gave them a name: the Monsters of Brickhouse Lane. And the question that haunted me sometimes while reading this was this: did one of them actually do it and earn that name? Or are they really victims?

As mysteries go, it was the perfect blend of slowly unfolding clues and unique character story arcs to fill the in-between. And oh boy, were there some amazing characters here. I felt I knew Brynn and Mia by the end of it. Brynn, the girl who wants to appear all strong and tough on the outside but really was tired of the world calling her a monster. Mia, the dancer whose thoughts were in beautiful dance moves and poses, struggled to find the right words sometimes but in doing so showcased her underlying strength all this time.

Supporting characters such as Mia’s best friend eccentric Abby and Brynn’s cousin Wade who was dead set on proving her innocence were just the icing on top of the cake. Romance was interweaved into the story yet I found it wasn’t the most important thing. So I was VERY glad for its presence but happy it was kept more on the sidelines to allow the focus on the heart of the mystery.

And the world building of Lovelorn.

Oh my.

In between chapters, there were gorgeously written excerpts of the original story the girls loved, Return to Lovelorn as well as the sequel they wrote in the past. For a contemporary story, this felt like it had something lovely to add for fantasy lovers. Like it’s the best of both worlds put into one.

And the beautiful prose doesn’t just stop at these story excerpts. Lauren Oliver has outdone herself in her writing. I’ve read her past books before (and not all of them were particularly amazing) but I just really couldn’t put this book down largely in part ’cause of how she worded ideas or even the mundane events happening with Brynn and Mia.

So that is where I’ll end this review with. If this were a list to check off, then Broken Things definitely has it all: a gorgeous air of mystery/suspense, good pacing, realistic and fun characters that felt 3-dimensional, and beautiful prose.

And that ending was definitely perfect. You’ll know what I mean.

All these people, these hundreds of thousands of people, have stories. Fascinating, ever-unwinding stories. I am just one of them. And I am still midsentence.

Overall Recommendation:
Broken Things ties together elements that make for an exceptional mystery, whether in YA or otherwise. With good pacing and unique characters, there was always this air of intrigue hanging over me as I wonder who really killed Brynn and Mia’s best friend all those years ago. Beautiful prose by the one and only Lauren Oliver catapults us quickly to an ending that explodes with a culprit we may not have guessed, and it leaves me wanting more from these characters and the world of Lovelorn within their story. You definitely should check it out!