A Darker Shade of Magic

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
Pages: 400
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.

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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).

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).