James S. Kendall

Writer, thinker, wanderer.

James S. Kendall is an author of fiction both literary and other. He's also a husband and father constantly searching for ways to be a better human.

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Review: "A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab

Oh how neglectful I’ve been with reviewing some of the wonderful books I’ve read recently.  I have no excuse for this other than sheer laziness.  But that ends now!   Or, at least, it ends for the moment.  My wife and I recently took a “lay-around-and-do-nothing-but-read” vacation which is, for book nerds like us, something akin to a meditation retreat.  I had the opportunity to read several books including a couple fantasy novels.  In particular, I really want to talk about A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

I LOVED this book.  It’s been a long time since I mourned finishing a book quite as much as I mourned finishing this one.  There I was, sitting by the ocean in a funk because I wanted more time with these characters.  As critical as it is to any fantasy novel, the world building is excellent and interesting.  But, really, the characters are so delightful in their interactions that V.E. Schwab could have mailed it in on plot and setting and I still would have loved it.

Yet, she didn’t.  There are certain conventional shapes to fiction, especially genre.  I wouldn’t say that she breaks a lot of new ground here.  But, what she does, she does so well, that it’s a delight to watch unfold.  This is a book set in a world with parallel Londons: Gray, Red, White, and Black.  The primary character, Kell, is one of the few who can travel between these parallel worlds.  The other major character, Lila, (who I’m tempted to call the “co-main character” except that’s not a thing, is it?) is a native of Gray London, the city most like our world.  Well, our world of 300 years ago.  Their banter and the way they play off each other is what makes this a book you never want to finish.  I really don’t want to tip any more of what happens in this story because it is one of those where you benefit from knowing very little going in.

The books this most reminded me of were Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Darker Shade… has the same deftness in world building and agility of plot that so sucked me into Rothfuss’s writing.  Meanwhile the world she builds, the characters of Lila and Kell, and over all feel bring about a breathless curiosity much like Morgenstern’s wonderful novel.   On top of that, the language of Schwab often demonstrated that straight-forward elegance of Susanna Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel).  Yes, sometimes I would stop and just savor a particular phrase.  Maybe that’s just a writerly kind of enjoyment, but she knows how to craft a sentence.

Overall, I consider this a 5 star book.  One I don’t hesitate to recommend to everyone.  No, it will not change the course of genre fiction.  It does not blow apart the foundations of western literature.  If you want something that will challenge you and stretch your understanding of the world and your place in it… well, maybe look elsewhere.  However, if you want a piece of enjoyable fantasy as beautiful and well-crafted as a fine watch.  This is your ticket.  Go Get It