Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Tor / A Darker Shade of Magic #1
“I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Kell is one of the Travelers—people who can use magic to travel between parallel universes. He lives in Red London, where magic is bountiful, the monarchs beneficent, and life generally good. His counterpart Holland lives in White London, under the thumb of a brutal brother and sister and in a corrupt and cruel land. Kell’s new partner in crime, the thief Lila, is from Grey London—our London, more or less, magic-less and dull. And no one speaks of Dark London, the dead city that was sealed away, and whose nearness is what corrupts White London.
The idea of the four Londons—the crucial concept behind the book—is an excellent one. I feel like there is a fantastic foundation here for future books, because we spent most of our time in Red London and Grey London, whereas White and Black London were the ones I was most interested in seeing. Both make me think of Fallen London, the the game which has some of the most detailed, thorough, and vibrant world-building I’ve ever experienced. I think having that comparison made me want more out of White London; I wanted a better sense of the class and power structure and details of day to day life. But like I said, there is a lot of groundwork laid here that I am intrigued to see built on.
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Review: Vicious by V. E. Schwab
Science fantasy / Standalone
“If he’d had to judge based on the two of them, then ExtraOrdinaries were damaged, to say the least. But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics.”
The research of college roommates Eli and Victor leads them to believe that the rumours of people with superpowers—the ExtraOrdinaries—might be true, possibly precipitated by near-death experiences. On a disastrous evening, they succeed at replicating the events that lead to someone becoming ExtraOrdinary, but destroy their friendship in the process. After years in prison as a result of their stunts, Victor finally gets out and embarks on a quest for revenge against his one-time friend.
Vicious has had a lot of good press, and I’ve been excited to read it for a long time. It didn’t disappoint. The pacing is excellent, the plot exciting, and the characters imaginative. Schwab balances a sinister atmosphere with the fun and entertainment of a good superhero origin story… and it pulls off a dual timeline structure similar to the one I loved in Ancillary Justice, alternating between when Victor and Eli are college friends and when they are mortal enemies to gradually reveal what went wrong between them.
Superhero stories tend to have good guys and bad guys, or at the least good guys and misunderstood guys. Schwab posits that there are no good guys, not really: the Joseph Brodsky quote that opens Vicious (“Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse,”) sets the tone for the story. Victor and Eli are not heroes, nor are they tragically misunderstood villains. They are both complicated characters, self-centered and narcissistic, lacking in compassion, and manipulative.
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