Title: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: February 24th 2015
Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.
Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King--George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered--and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London--a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, 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.
Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.
As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.
I feel like there are so many reviews and praise of this book everywhere that I am going to make a list of all the things I like about this book.
- The writing. It’s concise, sharp, witty, and engaging. Sometimes I feel like I’m reading a book word for word, but Schwab manages to make reading absolutely effortless and a heck of a lot of fun.
- LONDON. Like I mentioned in my last post, if there’s a book set in London, I’m sold, please give it to me to read, and this series has FOUR LONDONS. FOUR!!! The world building never seemed confusing to me, didn’t seem forced, and I found it one of the most effortlessly magical worlds built in my recent reading experiences!
- Kell’s magical coat. I want a coat with that many sides and that many pockets. Just think of the snacks and books I could carry with me if I had a coat like that??
- Lila’s lifelong dream of being a pirate. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate?! And her missing eye? Is she possibly an Antari?? omg
- It’s violent and stabby and bloody.
- The magic. It seems simple and not very complex on the surface, but by the end of this, I feel like so much more can be explored in the scope of the magic, and I hope it is in the rest of the trilogy!
- The characters. They’re so varied and engaging and sassy and everything I like to find in a cast of characters.
I waited to read the second until the third one was released, and now that I have all three, I’m reading the rest of the trilogy this year! It’s an incredibly hyped trilogy, but I find it’s well deserving of the hype it receives.
Title: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published by Angry Robot
Published: September 1st 2015
Format: Mass Market
And some of us believe in freedom of the individual over the tyranny of the common good.
On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.
Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.
After reading Kameron Hurley’s Stars are Legion, I immediately wanted to read everything else she’s written. I picked up The Mirror Empire at work because it was the only other thing aside from Stars are Legion that we had in stock by her at the moment, and I started reading it as my first pick for a Tome Topple read-a-thon this month. I wasn’t disappointed, and it was one of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time.
The Mirror Empire subverts the popular tropes found in epic, patriarchal fantasy. While not as visceral and gross as Stars are Legion, this world Hurley has created in The Worldbreaker Saga certainly skeeved me out at times. Some of the buildings are organic, some of the weapons are organic (and attached to bodies by way of seeds in the wrists, of which I imagined coming out much like Wolverine’s claws???), some of the magic is blood magic. It’s the sort of fantasy with the perfect balance of violence and horror that gives you chills and thrills down your spine.
The story is complex and ambitious and takes a little while to get used to because nearly everything about the worlds in The Mirror Empire is different from our own familiarities. It calls into question our own ideas and expectations of gender, gender roles, family structures, and “how things have always been done.” The way in which Hurley does this is subtle. The questions and observations about our own society are covert but become a series of questions you as a reader begin to ask yourself as you explore the lives of the main characters in the story. For example: why is it generally acceptable to us as a society for women to be kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (male) consumption, but when it’s subverted and the men are kept small, beautiful, and always ready for (female) consumption, it’s striking and odd? I enjoyed the trope subversion immensely, and I want to keep reading the series to see where she goes with it next.
It’s certainly a mirror that reflects the best and worst of the expectations of the fantasy genre and our society, and if that’s an intentional pun, I like it. I think if you like epic fantasy and are looking for something new and different in the genre, you should check this one out!
Title: The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins
Published by Viking
Published: March 1st 2016
Format: Trade Paper
An epic novel of magic and mysticism, Celts and faeries, mad kings and druids, and the goddess struggling to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth
What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries,
The Last Days of Magic
brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.
Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and—with her twin, Anya—unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.
As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today’s world—and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.
The Last Days of Magic
introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale—a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.
Mark Tompkins’ The Last Days of Magic
is about the Celts and the old days of magic before it supposedly disappeared from the world. Aisling and Anya, twin girls, were born to unite the Celts with the faeries of the Middle Kingdom. And while the clans of Ireland fight against each other, England and Rome want to drive the magic out of the Emerald Isle. War looms on the horizon, and political tensions twist and stretch among allies and enemies.
I really liked the concept of this book. I expected a story full of history of the Emerald Isle, the warring clans of Ireland, the threats of invasion from Rome and England, and I feel like I got that, for the most part. Sometimes I felt like the history was explained and told to me rather than shown throughout the narrative, and sometimes I felt like it helped me understand the story a little bit better.
However, the thing that bothered me the most about this story was actually the prologue and the epilogue. In the prologue and epilogue, we find out that a young woman named Sara Hill has some family secrets that she is just discovering from her grandmother, and while en route to escaping with some documents that important people have been after for centuries, something happens to her (I don’t want to spoil it too much). I felt like none of that truly tied in with the story at hand until the very end when I realized that most of this book is just a prelude to a potential, as-of-yet unannounced sequel. I feel like this story could have easily stood on its own without the prologue and epilogue or could have incorporated more of Sara’s story through alternating chapters of the past and Sara’s present.
I did enjoy reading it, and I’ve always loved stories set in old Ireland, old England, and old Scotland because I find those histories so amazing and complex, so I was very pleased to see such a well-researched concept explored in this book. I think it’ll be great for anyone who has either a passing interest in the magical history of Ireland and anyone who enjoys historical fiction infused with magic. The mythology is entwined with history so well that this story about the last days of magic is very believable.
Thank you to Viking and Goodreads for an advance copy of this book! All opinions are my own.
Title: The Devourers by Indra Das
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: July 12 2016
Format: Trade Paper
Yes, you looked at me and I wished you were not human, that I could cleave your soul in two and watch your second self emerge, a beast as lovely as your first.
I received this book last year as part of a Goodreads giveaway, and am just now getting around to reading it and reviewing it. I’m making a serious effort to reading and reviewing those review copies I get, and I feel like I read this at just the right time. I started it last year when I received it but couldn’t get into it the way I had hoped. Sometimes we just have to wait for the right moment to read something!
Anyway, I was initially interested in this book because The Devourers draws comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite authors, and I can see why it does. The Devourers is a violent, fantasy-infused exploration into India’s shapeshifting mythology. If you are turned off by graphic mentions of violence and rape, then this might not be the read for you, but if you can stomach that sort of thing, then this might be something to consider picking up! Das explores concepts of gender identity and expression in The Devourers, and this exploration becomes really apparent in the last third of the book.
The thing that bothered me the most was the rape and then the constant referral later on to the act. It felt like a third of the book just kept constantly referring to it in a very weird way, as if it affected the shapeshifter who did the act more rather than the woman who experienced it. I did like, however, that the woman brought up her assault every time the man who attacked her tried to dismiss his behavior. It’s difficult to talk about, in real life and in books, and I think once I got to the end, I liked how Das wove it into the story.
It’s a very interesting story, very much a fairytale that explores the deepest, darkest parts of humanity, and once it’s done sweeping you away, it leaves you with a lot to think about.
Thank you to Del Rey and Goodreads for a copy of this book to read and review! All opinions are my own.
Title: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 31st 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Format: Trade Paper
Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.
The buzz for Stephanie Garber’s Caraval said it’s perfect for those who like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Neil Gaiman in general, but you know, for teen audiences. While it lacks the complexities found in Morgenstern’s and Gaiman’s works, I can see why other people made the connection. It’s magical, and it’s that kind of YA fantasy that’s like candy, all sweet, a little sour, not much by way of depth, so if you’re expecting the kind of depth and complexity that The Night Circus offered, you’ll be disappointed. This is the kind of book I can see myself reading again while at the beach or outside in the summer with a cold drink. I really enjoyed reading this. I struggled for the first fifty or so pages because I think I was expecting a similar kind of world-building that came with The Night Circus or the ominous, lingering darkness found in Gaiman’s works, but once the story really started picking up speed, I couldn’t put this down.
Caraval follows two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live with their overbearing, abusive father. They’ve never left their homeland, and Scarlett has especially dreamed of visiting the mythical, traveling Caraval. The invitations are exclusive, but Tella and a mysterious sailor whisk Scarlett away to the oft-dreamed about place. Once there, Scarlett realizes that there is so much more to Caraval that she could imagine and danger is always within reach, that all sorts of risks are involved with games.
The romance and everything seemed to be a whirlwind ride and almost a little too fast-paced, but then I remembered what it was like to have a crush on someone when I was younger, and the rise and fall of that crush seemed to only take a week with a burst of intense emotion between the beginning and the end. In that sense, it almost seems like a warning to the younger crowd – be mindful of your heart, your desires, and your hope, because it might be destructive if you don’t think it through.
I received an advance copy of this book through my work. All opinions are my own.