12 April 2016

Yearning for the Mystical: A Review of A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab

School-yard parental discussions are an opportunity to lay waste to anxiety, expound snippets of personal data that float off beyond the swings to catch in the tree bows before they atomize, mingling with the atmosphere. As our children stuff worms into their pockets, we whisper hopeful secrets and unabashed longings for time alone. No family retains life's key to success, we all trample along, attempting to catch moments in butterfly nets, comprehending the futility of those actions. As days, months and seasons pass, my span in the school yard has become my moments of peace. Being able to slow life down to snippets of joy, is the magic I actualize.

My son often questions the workings of things, trying to parcel together his understanding of his small world into one of order. As molecular concepts bounce between us, I wonder if those discussions need a pinch of the divine. I want him to be in tune with the extraordinary, discern that the clouds are speaking, churning with advice as we walk under their gaze to school. This spark of energy that ensnarls, comforts, berates, and ground us to the soul of the Earth, reminds us of our humanity. Of all my hopes, I wish that the twinkle in his eyes remains and he continues sussing out the whys to life with clumps of dirt in his hair and laughter being caught on the crosswind.

I selected A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab as one of my year's end reads because of the magic. Whether it be reality or fantasy, I yearn for the mystical, aspiring for impossibilities spun from the mundane. As I curled into a reading ball of content, surrounding myself within the tales of London plus 4, Schwab's writing held me fast. Kell, one of the last blood magicians of his or any realm, transfers between world's as King's errand boy. Gifted with the ability to manipulate the five sacred elements, Kell is marked as either the saviour or the demon, depending upon time, place and fortune. 

Kell's world throbs in the nurturing power of magic, blessing the city, turning the river Thames into a glowing, meandering artery of red power. Red London is the Camelot of the Shades of Magic series with magic the religion, and the heart of it's utopian contentment. Now imagine the opposite, a Dickensian land, and you have arrived in Grey London; a muted city robbed of enchantments that eons ago once hummed. Add to this complexity, the White; a London where magic has become endangered, a force to capture, to control. The citizens, slaves to the constant battles for thronal power suffer under the might of their rulers' dark intent. And yet as the three London's exist, overlaying each other through parallel universes, a Black London lays dead, closed to all three, a haunting, the harbinger of what may befall the rest.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a flowered, unique idea ultimately smothered by the very characters that breathe life into the plot. This realization, however, came later, once I held the weighted sophomore novel,  A Gathering of Shadows and realized the very story that entertained me with the first book was a pretty illusion. Lila Bard, Kell and Rhys have an anime quality that I have yet to determine is the author's crafted decision or side-product of creating archetypal heroes who are in their early 20s. Blame my old lady genes, but a pint-sized thief able to transport from Grey into Red and ultimately into White London, managing to save the Prince and his realm's most powerful magician seems fantastical. And there is the catch, because a reader's intent upon accepting the world-building of a fantasy book needs to swallow a large dose of the unexplained. I whole-heartedly enjoyed my reading of A Darker Shade of Magic at the same time, understanding that it was the concepts and well-written descriptors, not the people that filled my imagination with a rich tapestries of words. 

V.E. Schwab can write, there is little doubt. The issue may very well be that I, as a reader do not fit the demographic.

3 April 2016

Poolside Cactus: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine

Taking full advantage of my snow bird parent's southern abode, I celebrated March Break beneath the inadequate shade of cacti. As far as my eyes could gleam, the world was about to impale me. Days were quietly spent with morning discussions of snakes that would bleed into pool afternoons, to zenith with star gazing. The kid has an intense relationship with deadly snakes, what can one do but encourage. 

Amongst the busy green spaces of downtown Toronto, my home is the Yang to this desert Yin. Vitalized by orange blossom infused air, and cloudless skies that stretched beyond the mountain peaks, I read. Of the months of 2016, my reading ventures have been nothing but spectacular; there is something to be said in planning. My usual book forays are a mindless romp through blog recommendations jostled up with random choices. Wholly uninterested in the Hugo/Nebula's, I inaccurately presumed that all awards were overrun with similar nomination sentiments. Upon discovering  The Kitschies which in turn directed me to the Mothership, The BSFAs I finally feel more at home with the award scene. Does this mean I have become a more hardened, balls to the walls SF reader? Not so much, I like what I like, with or without the internet fever of acceptance. The Kitschies/BSFAs shortlists act as refreshing guides, offering specimens that I would never have known to read. I am simply not deep enough into the SF publishing world to know what I am supposed to know. This girl is not the geek you think she is. 

What matters is knowing what I know, which happens to be a good book. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine is that book. A retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club imbues the old German fairy-tale with hooch. It takes quite a book to enchant a frozen Canadian freshly transplanted from a grey-dipped landscape to blooming cacti soaked in blessed heat. Wanting nothing from life but to breathe, motherhood broke through this zen-like state bringing me firmly to pool-side present. As I life-guarded the snake charmer in my life, I quickly was in need of a book. 

Maybe it was the glare of the water or possibly the mid-afternoon cocktails, but The Girls at the Kingfisher Club enthralled me. New York in the 1920s was a city of passions. With the horrors of WWI fresh, and Prohibition locking the United States into a morality play, twelve sisters danced into the early hours. Jo, the eldest, wished to escape her father's house, but with the death of their mother she donned the matriarch hat, offering a beacon of safety. As General, Jo's nightly call of taxis to leave at midnight became their call to arms. With the dark allure of the speakeasy, and an endless parade of young men, the sequestered sisters had reasons to live. 

Valentine brought forth the rush of those dangerous times, soaking the pages with flapper fever. Her poetic tale provides a keyhole into the allure of hidden dance halls, illegal jag juice, and the wanted disregard for societal constraints. It is the timeless story of freedom, draped in beads, bobs and champagne, all throbbing to the beat of the Charleston. My copy bears the waterlogged marks of pool-side splashes and sunshine joy. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is the redemptive story you have been waiting to read.