When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.
A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble
Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★
I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.
Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.
What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.
Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.
Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).
As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.
Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.
The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).
What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:
“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).