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.

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