A Conjuring of Light: A Review

*A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.*

“Life isn’t made of choices. It’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.”

“We don’t choose what we are, but we choose what we do.”

Once there were four Londons. Black London was consumed by magic a long time ago. White London will die without more magic. Grey London never had any magic. Then there’s Red London, the jewel of the Maresh Empire and a shining beacon of magic across its world. That magic is what makes Red London so beautiful; it’s what is threatening to destroy it as well.

An interloper from Black London is tearing its way through Red London leaving destruction and death in its wake. Kell is used to being alone and to thinking of himself as isolated thanks to his Antari blood but all of that changes when the only home he’s ever had and the only family that matters is threatened. But Kell can’t fight this battle alone. Not if he wants to win.

Lila has thrived in Red London leaving behind her life as a thief to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. She made it through the magical competition of the Essen Tasch but not she has to learn to control her magic before it begins to control her.

Kell and Lila will have to use every spell and trick they know to face a new threat from Black London. Along the way they’ll rely on old friends like Kell’s brother Prince Rhy and uneasy allies like the mysterious Captain Alucard Emery. Even old enemies may become allies before the battle is over. To survive, to win, will take everything the Antari have to give and maybe even more in A Conjuring of Light (2017) by V. E. Schwab.

A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.

A Conjuring of Light picks up shortly after book two. Everyone is in peril and trouble is brewing. The tension does not let up from there. At more than six hundred pages you would thing this book would feel bloated of slow. It doesn’t. Schwab’s story is perfectly paced to give this series the conclusion it deserves.

Written in third person this novel alternates perspective to follow all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love over the course of this series. Rhy is still struggling with what it means to be a prince without magic while also processing the way his life is now tied to Kell’s. Alucard is haunted by his past and not sure he can ever be free of it. Lila still has so much to learn about being an Antari and letting people love her instead of running away. Kell, similarly, is still struggling to define what family means for a man with no memory of his past. Does a past he can’t remember mean anything compared to the family he has known for most of his life?

Then, of course, there’s Holland. Before A Conjuring of Light it’s easy to say Holland is the villain of this story and stop there. Schwab’s deliberate and complex characterization, however, slowly reveals that there is much more to this oldest and most experienced Antari. This story is also peppered with flashbacks for all of the characters though most notably for Holland.

It’s a rare epic fantasy that can be grim and tense and also make you laugh out loud. Schwab makes it look effortless here. A Conjuring Light is a perfect conclusion to a truly original series filled with memorable characters, adventure, and one of the most stunning redemption ever.

A Conjuring of Light is a story of uneasy alliances, fierce bonds, and at its center three powerful magicians whose lives are inextricably linked–whether or not they want to be. This series is a must read for all fantasy enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Event Recap and Reflections: Victoria Schwab Signing This Savage Song

Last week I went to Victoria Schwab’s signing on July 7 for This Savage Song at Books of Wonder. This book was the only ARC I asked my BFF Nicole to try to get for me when she went to ALA Midwinter a few months ago. I added the event to my phone calendar almost as soon as it was announced and adjusted my work schedule to be sure I could be there early. I went alone because no friends could accompany me and it was that important for me to be there.

It was a great event. Victoria talked about how the main characters of this book, Kate and August, both explore different sides of anxiety. She mentioned that a theme she returns to often in her stories is an exploration of what it means to not feel comfortable in your own skin. She also explained that August’s voice came to her very early on in the writing process while Kate remained much more reticent–forcing the entire story to shift into third person so that Victoria could tell both characters’ stories throughout the novel. It’s a common pattern in her novels having tough, non-talkative female characters contrasted with more emotive male characters.

During the Q&A, Victoria imagined that her characters Delilah Bard and Victor Vale would be the most interesting ones to see locked in a room together. She guessed that neither of them would talk but that by the time they were released they would have a grudging respect for each other. Victoria discussed how she explores archetypes in many of her books but always strives to create something new (witches in The Near Witch, monsters in her latest novel and so on) and how her degree in the portrayal of monsters factored into her writing This Savage Song. (Spoiler: The way monsters are perceived has everything to do with humans and not always a lot to do with the monsters.)

During the course of her career (eleven books so far) she has realized that every character she writes represents one aspect of herself whether it’s something she strives for (Delilah Bard) or something closer to her reality (Victor Vale or Holland–jokingly). She also talked a bit about organizing her owned books by color and how she isn’t a re-reader which, as someone else who doesn’t re-read, I loved. She explained how her calendar method of tracking progress on various projects helps her to be a consistent writer even if she is not a fast writer. (I adore this idea and use star stickers and a monthly calendar to track my blog and work stuff–working on adding writing back into my routine too.)

I try to attend Victoria’s signings whenever she’s in New York (just about a year ago I was at McNally Jackson buying a red-endpapers copy of A Darker Shade of Magic) and this one obviously didn’t disappoint. At the end of the night I returned my newly signed copies of This Savage Song and A Gathering of Shadows to their spots on my bookshelf.

victoriaschwabbooksAfter staring at my books I started thinking about a lot of things (like how lucky I am to be in New York where so many author events happen). This signing was an interesting full circle moment for me.

Four years ago, in 2012, I worked at Books of Wonder for eight months. It felt like my library degree was a mistake and although I desperately missed librarian work, I had begun to wonder if it was ever going to happen for me as an actual career. Last week, while I waited for my number (61) to be called I considered that point in my life where earning more than minimum wage seemed like a pipe dream compared to now when I just marked my second anniversary as a full-time librarian in June.

Five years ago, in 2011, I discovered Victoria Schwab’s debut novel The Near Witch at a signing at Books of Wonder. I had just started attending book signings as I became more aware of the book community in New York through a combination of blogging, getting review books through Amazon Vine, and being in library school. I was at the signing for a different author but gave myself permission to buy one book. After much agonizing, I picked up The Near Witch. I read the book soon after and reviewed it on here, as I’m wont to do.

A few months later I met Terra McVoy at another signing (at Books of Wonder) and she offered to participate in a blog interview. And honestly, that changed my life. Because of that meeting with Terra, I began reaching out to other authors, including Victoria Schwab to talk about The Near Witch.

The rest is history.

Of course I snapped up The Archived and The Unbound. How could I not when I was a librarian and these books featured a library where the dead rest on shelves like books? Vicious became a point of pride book to get at BEA 2013 and a favorite read that I think still find myself thinking about to this day. And I can’t even tell you how often I’ve been recommending A Darker Shade of Magic (which I was lucky enough to read just before its release thanks to a very generous librarian who saw my tweets asking for ALA attendees who got an ARC to think of me). When I received an ARC of A Gathering of Shadows after requesting it from the publisher, I really felt like I had arrived as a blogger. Then, of course, there’s This Savage Song which might be my favorite Victoria Schwab book to date of the ones I have read.

Victoria talked about her “overnight” success on Tumblr last week. Specifically, about how framing her career that way isn’t the most accurate portrayal. Reading that post, seeing Victoria at a signing and knowing we are solid acquaintances now thanks to Twitter, and admiring my own books on their shelf, I realized what a privilege it is to follow an author  from their beginnings. It’s crazy to think about who I was when I attended that small panel signing where I bought my copy of The Near Witch compared to who I am this month when I was 61st in line for Victoria to sign copies of her eleventh book.

I am so grateful to be where I am and, silly as it is, a bit humbled when I think about how many opportunities I have found and received surrounding Victoria’s books (and so many other books that I  have discovered because I started blogging and going to book signings).

This Savage Song: A Review

“Nobody gets to stay the same.”

This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabNo one knows what happened in Verity to make monsters appear in the wake of violent acts. The only certainty is that two factions struggle to maintain order in a city where safety has become an illusion.

The Corsai who prey in shadows, and the Malchai with their eerie red eyes and pale skin, listen to Harker and spare those who can afford to pay for his protection. Kate Harker wants to mold herself in her father’s image. After years of training herself to emulate her father and hide her weaknesses (like her deaf ear and the nightmares that sometimes still haunt her), Kate finally feels ready to meet her father on his own terms. She is prepared to be as ruthless as he is and prove that she can one day take on his mantle leading Verity’s monsters.

Flynn, meanwhile, tries to bring together those who can’t afford Harker’s brand of safety and believe that working with monsters can only end one way. Flynn’s secret weapons against Harker are Verity’s Sunai–rare and powerful monsters born from the most horrific acts of violence who feed on sinners to keep themselves alive. If it wasn’t for their coal black eyes, you’d almost think the Sunai are human.

August Flynn desperately wants to be human like his adopted parents, the Flynns. He dreams of being able to play his violin without fear, without feeding. He starves himself, trying to push himself past hunger and beyond his own monstrous Sunai tendencies. He hopes that by helping protect the innocent he can become more human than monster. August jumps at the chance to help his father’s cause by spying on Kate and figuring out what Harker is up to as the city’s uneasy truce threatens to break.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are on opposite sides in a city on the verge of war. When everything in Verity begins to go wrong, they are also the only ones who can keep each other alive in This Savage Song (2016) by Victoria Schwab.

This Savage Song is the first book in Schwab’s new YA series, Monsters of Verity. The book alternates third person close POV between Kate and August throughout.

Schwab presents a world that is eerily plausible in This Savage Song. Some aspects of this world are more developed than others but the key pieces to the story are completely realized. Being the first book in a new series also leaves room for further development in future installments.

Verity is one of several supercities across what was once the United States–a country that disbanded after unrest over the Vietnam War. The supercities were born in the wake of this upheaval and order was restored. Until a few years before the start of the novel when violent crimes began to leave echoes in the form of monsters. Six years ago Harker and Flynn called a truce but with promises broken and more monsters being born, the balance of power may be tipping as the novel starts.

Kate and August are opposites in every sense of the word (although both are described as fair and pale, respectively). Kate is cold and calculating. She struggles to suppress any traits that might be conceived as weaknesses by others–especially her father. August, meanwhile, is desperate to be warm and, well, human. Anything to prove he isn’t entirely a monster and still has some humanity left to save. Throughout the story Kate and August serve as counterpoints and foils for each other with each representing, in various ways, something the other can never hope to achieve.

This Savage Song is a fast-paced urban fantasy that still manages to deliver subtle character studies of monstrous humans and humane monsters. A larger conspiracy unfolding throughout the story adds a bit of mystery to an already taut plot and lays groundwork for events to come in later books.

This Savage Song is a thoughtful and nuanced story about light and dark, about resisting change and accepting it, as well as the fragile nature of what makes us human … or not. In a world filled with monsters, it turns out that there are no easy answers about right and wrong. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Fracture by Megan Miranda, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at ALAMW 2016 (thanks to Nicole!)*

A Gathering of Shadows: A Review

*A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one.*

“Strength and weakness are tangled things. They look so much alike, we often confuse them, the way we confuse magic and power.”

A Gathering of Shadows FinalIt’s been four months since a smuggled stone from Black London nearly destroyed the three remaining cities that share its name. Four months since Kell tied his own life to his brother Rhy, the crown Prince of Red London, to save Rhy’s life. Four months since Kell and his unlikely ally Delilah Bard had to fight their way through the Dane twins in White London to try and save both of their worlds. Four months since Kell returned the stone to Black London along with Holland’s dying body.

Life should be returning to normal.

Rhy is recovered though the nightmare of that night  four months ago still haunt him. Kell stuggles with his guilt and the aftermath of his actions but he is reformed now–a smuggler no more–and determined to make amends. Lila, meanwhile, is trying to find her way in a foreign land in a foreign world now that she has finally left Grey London behind for Red London and its magic.

While Red London prepares for the Element Games, crowds gather for the spectacle and both Lila and Kell find themselves drawn to the games for different reasons. With old friends and allies converging in Red London, perhaps it only makes sense that something darker is waiting to claim its moment in White London.

After all, in worlds where everything has a price and magic can never really be destroyed, alliances and purposes can become very, very, messy in A Gathering of Shadows (2016) by V. E. Schwab.

A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic.

A Gathering of Shadows expands the worlds introduced in book one by delving deeper into the international (and even cross-world) politics found in Red London while also bringing other empires and lands into the story. Rich descriptions help bring all of the settings, but especially Red London, vividly to life throughout the novel.

The larger story arc of the series plays out well against the backdrop of A Gathering of Shadows‘ more contained story centered around Element Games. Schwab’s intricate plotting follows various characters in close third person perspective as the novel builds to a climax that is surprising at times but ultimately satisfying.

If A Darker Shade of Magic was all about discovering that magic comes at a price, then A Gathering of Shadows explores what shapes that payment can take as characters search for redemption, validation, and even absolution in their own ways.

A Gathering of Shadows is another sophisticated fantasy with high appeal in a series that seems to only get better with each installment. A must read for fans of book one. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

A Darker Shade of Magic: A Review

“Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places.”

A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria SchwabKell is one of the last Travelers, a magician with the coveted and closely guarded ability to travel between worlds. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler working for the crown of Red London to dispatch correspondence between the different cities that share the same name.

Kell’s work brings him to Grey London–a dingy, dull place ruled by the increasingly mad King George III where industrialization has all but stamped out magic. There is also White London–a ruthless city where people struggle to control magic as it drains more and more from the city. There used to be Black London. No one talks about that.

Kell’s official position in the magically balanced Red London also allows him to pursue less official activities as a smuggler supplying magical artifacts to Collectors and Enthusiasts in all three Londons.

Meanwhile, Grey Londoner Delilah Bard knows that she is meant to be a pirate. Even if she is currently without a ship and reduced to working as a cut-purse for the time being. When she crosses paths with Kell, Lila knows that she has found something she never realized was missing from her life.

But magic, even small magic smuggled across borders, is a dangerous business where nothing is free. Drawn into a deadly web of magic and conspiracy, Kell and Lila will have to wok together if they want to save any of the Londons in A Darker Shade of Magic (2015) by V. E. Schwab.

A Darker Shade of Magic is Schwab’s second book written for an adult audience. (She has numerous, equally wonderful YA titles published under the name Victoria Schwab.) It is also the start of her new fantasy trilogy.

A Darker Shade of Magic is an evocative fantasy novel with not one but three well-developed worlds that include historical details and logical magic conventions. For all of the characters, perhaps most literally for Kell, magic comes at a cost–one that is quite dear for some–a theme that Schwab skillfully explores throughout the novel.

Despite the dangers and dark elements to be found here, A Darker Shade of Magic is also imbued with a sense of wonder for both magic and exploration as new worlds open before Kell and Lila’s eyes.

Kell and Lila are reckless characters who are dangerously charming. They are also shrewd and often jaded, particularly Lila. These traits make it all the sweeter to read about their evolving bond and to see this unlikely pair work together against some very dangerous enemies. Witty banter throughout is an added bonus in this story filled with sharp observations and vivid prose.

A Darker Shade of Magic strikes the perfect balance between urgency and introspection with a fast-paced plot and characters who often operate in the grey areas of morality. Seeing the story from both Kell and Lila’s perspectives adds another element to this intricate story that hints at marvelous things to come in the rest of the series. Highly recommended for fans of both urban and high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Unbound: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The UnboundMackenzie Bishop is a Keeper for the the Archive–a library where the dead rest on shelves like books–where she works to keep violent Histories from escaping their shelves.

Last summer she almost lost her life to one such History.

In the intervening months Mac has tried to get her life back together–as much as it can be when she spends so much time lying to everyone she knows and lurking in shadows. But with nightmares that feel real, a new school, and members of the Archive who would sooner see her removed than recovered, Mackenzie isn’t sure how to get back to normal.

When people in town begin to disappear, Mac’s doubts about herself and her safety grow. The disappearances don’t seem to have anything in common. Except Mackenzie herself. Solving the disappearances could help Mac keep her freedom and reclaim some modicum of safety as she truly puts the past behind her. Failure could mean losing her memories, her place in the Archive and her life in The Unbound (2014) by Victoria Schwab.

The Unbound is the sequel to Schwab’s novel The Archived. This book continues several weeks after the conclusion of The Archived with handy flashbacks and recaps to explain key events from the first book. The Unbound works well as a standalone however it does contain mild spoilers for The Archived.

Flashbacks and dreams lend an otherworldly quality to this eerie novel as Mackenzie tries to make sense of her life in the wake of fighting an escaped History. Despite her strong face, cracks are beginning to show in Mac’s carefully constructed armor; it is becoming harder to keep her life at the Archive separate from the life she pretends to lead.

While readers got a sense of Mac in the first book, they really get to know her in The Unbound. Mac’s unflinching loyalty to the Archive was already shaken but now it is shattered as much of what she knows about the Archive is thrown into question. Mac’s friends, a blend of familiar faces from book one as well as some new characters, add another dimension and levity to the story.

Schwab once again delivers a dazzling blend of mystery and fantasy in an entirely unique world in The Unbound. Vivid characters and breathtaking prose guarantee readers will be clamoring for a third book.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Vicious: A Review

“The world resists, when you break its rules.”

Vicious by V. E. SchwabVictor and Eli have been competing with each other since the moment they met. Victor could easily surpass Eli, of course. But he recognizes the same reckless ambition in Eli and, Victor thinks, the same broken pieces that Victor can’t quite fix in himself. In a world where so many things are boring Eli, at least, is interesting.

Eli proves to be especially interesting in their senior year of college when their shared thesis research about adrenaline and near-death experiences reveals that under the right circumstances it may be possible to develop ExtraOrdinary abilities.

Their fates tangle even further when experiments with that research go horribly wrong.

Ten years later Victor and Eli find themselves on opposite sides of a battle for power. While Victor breaks out of prison determined to exact revenge on the friend who betrayed him, Eli is on a mission of his own to eliminate every ExtraOrdinary person that he can.

Victor and Eli both know a final meeting is inevitable. They both know only one is likely to survive. But even as they move inexorably closer to that final confrontation, it’s unclear who will emerge the hero. And who will forever be remembered as the villain in Vicious (2013) by V. E. Schwab.*

Vicious is an intricately plotted story of revenge and the not-quite redemption of Victor Vale. With chapters labeled “ten years ago” and “last night” (among other times) readers are brought closer and closer to Victor and Eli’s dramatic showdown. Flashbacks interspersed with the present story explain the rivalry between the two men while also providing valuable insight into their characters.

Schwab expertly navigates the murky area between right and wrong as readers (and perhaps the characters themselves) are left wondering who, if anyone, is the actual hero of the story.  With a plot exploring the idea that opposing a self-proclaimed hero–even for very good, very right reasons–might make someone a villain by default, Vicious is still populated with a number of surprisingly likable characters.

Vicious pushes the boundaries of conventional superhero tropes to take this story in a new and original direction. Readers looking for the next great anti-hero or fans who always cheer a little louder for the bad guy will definitely want to give Vicious a try.

*V. E. Schwab is the alter ego of YA author Victoria Schwab. This book is marketed for adult readers. It would be great for older teen readers but younger readers should be prepared for more mature language and some violence.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*