A Slightly Different Review : A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by VE Schwab

Today is a slightly different format for a review.   This is my second buddy read with Mayri at the Bookforager blog.  If you haven’t visited Mayri before I heartily recommend you do so, she’s a wonderful blogger. Our first buddy read was Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier.

Slight spoiler alert – this didn’t really work out as well as we both hoped.  It’s a good book for sure and probably a few years ago I would have adored this but at this stage we probably won’t continue with the series but will instead look for a new book to start.  Read below for our thoughts.

We decided to post our review during Wyrd and Wonder the details of which can be found here.  This is a celebration of fantasy  It’s a fantastic event and it’s never too late to join in the fun.

W&W

Similar to our last buddy read this review will take the form of our chat back and forth.  This time round Mayri is posting the opening chapters and I will be going with the conclusion – so, ideally you might want to step away and go read Mayri’s post before continuing to read on.   

Also, before I start, I would mention that given the nature of our ongoing conversation during our read this post will contain spoilers so if you’re planning on reading this book you might want to avoid both posts.

Mayri has posted our conversation for week 1 and 2.  The conversation below follows weeks 3 and 4:

A Darker Shade final for IreneWeek 3 – Chapters 9-11

Mayri : Is it just me, or did the pace just kick up a notch? I even wrote down the page number (page 261) where I felt things started to get … not interesting, it’s been interesting from the beginning, but … more urgent, I guess. Like the vague threat of what the black stone can do suddenly became immediate. What do you think, Lynn?  

Lynn : The pace definitely picked up in fact when I read this section I almost pressed on because I felt like I was finally getting into the stride of things.  I didn’t though, I showed massive restraint! 

Mayri : (I’m so proud of you!) I was wondering when the Dane twins were going to rear their heads again, but wasn’t expecting Astrid to turn up inside Rhy! That was pretty cool. 

Lynn : Oh yes, I definitely didn’t see that coming.  What a surprise.  I think the only downside that I felt about that was if it’s really so easy to infiltrate a member of the royal family then that really isn’t very good.  In fact anybody could be taken over and manipulated.  But yes, such a shock – and I do like a good shock.

Mayri : Good point. Why haven’t they guarded against this possibility? They know about magic, so they know what can be done with it…

And I’m not sure that the magic in the stone is going to be wield-able. I’m pretty sure it’s got its own ideas. I really like the way it’s growing itself now it’s found people with more magic in them to burn. 

Lynn : Yes, that stone is pretty scary and quite tricksey too.  Is it just me or does it seem to be finding itself more ‘capable’  bodies to take over.  The last chapters definitely make me think that the stone poses a greater threat than I first suspected.  I wonder what will happen if Kell and Lila manage to take the stone back.  Will it’s presence fade then from the other Londons or will it keep on growing in strength.

Mayri : Good question. It’s interesting how power seems to be distributed differently across the Londons. I liked the description of the people of Grey London as only having a candle’s worth of life in them. And I think we’ve now got a pretty good idea of what happened to Black London, if not why. I’d like to know how the magic got the way it is now – sentient and hungry. 

Lynn : Yes, why did the magic change.  This black stone is certainly very hungry and incredibly willful!

Mayri : And Lila. She definitely remains the more interesting of the two. I love that she recognises the cunning of the stone. 

Lynn : Yep, I like Lila.  I mean, to be fair, I don’t dislike Kell but considering how much he knows and his experience he comes across as a little naive in some respects and you just can’t help thinking that he’s really put his foot in it.

Mayri : Definitely. I still find Kell bland, even this far in and think Lila makes the more compelling character. I love when she gets to dress up! That was awesome! I can picture her in her horned mask – what a badass look! 

Lynn : It was a good scene and I loved her choice of outfit. She’s very calm in most situations isn’t she, even managing to swipe an invitation for herself. I had a horrible sort of dread that the young ladies she took the invite from would figure it out and be lying in wait. You have to admire her too. Walking into this elaborate, royal party, on her own, and with no real qualms. Go Lila.

Mayri : Yeah, go Lila! 

 

Week 4 – Chapters 12-14

Mayri : Man, I still don’t really know how to feel about this story! On the one hand, I love the four Londons, I love Lila, and I was fascinated by Holland and what had been done to him. But on the other, I feel it’s been an uneven ride, slow to start and now, in this last section, all in a hurry to finish. Holland is vanquished like that *snaps fingers* when I wanted so much more from him. Rhy dies, but oh, nope, it’s OK, Kell’s done a spell. And Athos and Astrid never quite got the room or time to make their menace truly felt before Kell and Lila defeated them, (although they’ve definitely left an impression).

I sound like a right moaning min, I know, but my overall feeling is one of disappointment. There were a lot of promising ideas that didn’t ever get off the ground. And I don’t know if I can be bothered to read on. The only story I want more from is Lila’s …

Perhaps I feel this way though because we weren’t grabbed from the beginning, and so we never gained any momentum?

Thoughts?

Lynn : To be honest I couldn’t agree more.  Like you say, on the one hand there were so many promising ideas and people and yet on the other I feel like they weren’t given a fair shot somehow or just failed to reach their potential.  All the threats that loomed were easily defeated and the twins were definitely a disappointment. And I can’t help wonder why Holland had to die?  It just seemed such a shame.  I do like Lila and I loved that she walked away at the end and didn’t even glance back.  She has a lot of potential especially now she has discovered she has a small glimmer of magic herself, but much like you, I’m not really interested in continuing this one.  To be fair, I don’t think I’m the target audience and these days I’m less inclined to be bowled over by the promise of a dreamy relationship, which, I realise didn’t happen here – but it does hold the potential for a love interest in future instalments, even maybe the dreaded love triangle.  

I vote we move on and see if we can find something that will really blow us away.

Mayri : Ha! I second that! I’d much rather discover something new than read something because it might get better. 

And, yeah, I felt this wasn’t really written for me either. I can see how everything that happened in this book could whet the appetite for some (especially that possible romance *shudder*), but unfortunately, it didn’t grab me.

And there are so many books out there … waiting for us. 😁

 

So, there we have it.  All wrapped up.  It’s a shame this one didn’t quite work out for us both.  There are some fabulous ideas here and to be totally fair – I recently read and adored The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue by the same author so it could be that my expectations were unrealistically high going into this one.  This book does enjoy a lot of love though so don’t be put off by the fact that it didn’t quite win us over.

 

A Slightly Different Review : Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Today is a slightly different format for a review. 

DaugherI recently buddy read Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest with Mayri at the Bookforager blog.  If you haven’t visited Mayri before I heartily recommend you do so, she’s a wonderful blogger and I loved our buddy read, so much so in fact we are already planning our next book.

So, the review today will take the form of our chat back and forth as we progressed through the chapters. I will be posting half our discussion and then you just step over to Mayri’s blog to check out our thoughts on the concluding chapters.

Now, before I start, I would mention that given the nature of our ongoing conversation during the read this post may contain spoilers so if you’re planning on giving this a read you might want to bear that in mind before moving forward:

Chapters 1-4

Lynn : Obviously I’m familiar with this fairytale but I think Marillier is doing an excellent job of fleshing the characters out.  It has a feel of a historical novel almost with the inclusion of war or troubles between the Celts and the Britons and I’m fascinated by the inclusion of Sorcha’s stories – particularly the one about the jewel encrusted goblet that put me in mind of the Arthurian legend about the Holy Grail. I love Sorcha’s storytelling and her gentle ways – it helps to remind me that she’s still a child really which I think I forgot sometimes because she’s so mature in some respects. I’m also really interested to learn what has happened to Simon.

Chapter 4  was emotional wasn’t it? The scene where Sorcha’s garden is destroyed (I was furious) and then the brothers being trapped and changed (it was really quite a strong scene).

What do you make of it so far?  Are you already familiar with the fairytale?

Mayri – Yes, I’m familiar with the fairy story too. Or I was. I’m not sure that I remember the end right, or if I’m mixing it up with another story (something about one of the brothers ending up with a bird’s wing in place of one arm?)

Something I found really interesting when I read Marillier’s Heart’s Blood was how she set it in a specific historical period, and I love that she’s done the same here. It’s the same period, I think. I have to admit, I don’t know much about the history between the Celts and Britons, but I’m really enjoying all the details.

And Sorcha’s stories are fab. I quite like that she’s telling fairytales in a fairytale retelling – that makes me smile.

And yes, like you Lynn, I’m struggling to keep in mind that Sorcha is only 12 years old at the beginning of the story. She is very mature in some ways, already an experienced healer and very patient. I question this decision and am wondering if there’s a reason why Marillier has started the story with her so young. Is there a reason, I wonder.

The destruction of her garden was heart-wrenching! I like (hate!) the tension that’s been building with the introduction of Oonagh, and when she finally showed her true colours and cursed them all the transformation felt both magical and real, if that makes sense? Oonagh feels impossible to defeat right now.

I’m fascinated by these siblings. In a short space of time, Marillier has given us enough information to care about each one of Sorcha’s brothers and be upset at their fate. The relationship between the seven of them was really well written – how important it is to Sorcha, how they each carry a bit of their mother, how they each have different destinies (will the trilogy continue with their stories? I hope so).

Finally (you’ll be glad to hear … I’ve rambled on and on) I appreciated how Marillier made Simon a traumatised character. He may become a hero or a villain, I don’t know, but his terror and pain at being tortured, being really badly damaged in body and soul, made him a lot more interesting than if he’d just bounced back.

Lynn – I loved reading your thoughts.  I also don’t know much about the Celts and Britons to be honest I feel like I should be better read about such things. 

And, yes, fairytales within fairytales – it’s just so cunning and really appeals to readers (myself included) who love that sort of thing in the first place.  I’m such a sucker for fairytales.

Sorcha being 12 is very puzzling, (and in fact as mentioned above I keep forgetting that she is so young) but then I think it’s probably something that will add weight to her years of hardship – not phrasing that very well but it wouldn’t surprise me if she isn’t a good deal older by the time she  completes her ordeal. Maybe 7 years at least?

Mayri – Yes, I’m expecting this too. And seven years has an appropriately fairytale-ish ring to it.

Lynn  – So, are we thinking that Sorcha and Simon will meet again?  I’d like to think so.  At the same time, where did he disappear to? Did the ‘folk’ take him?

Mayri – I really hope they meet again. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t find out what’s happened to Simon and get to see him mended. And if the Folk did take him, will he be OK when we see him again?

Chapter Five

Lynn – This felt like a relatively short chapter but at the same time gave me a few notions to chew on.

I was really interested in a few things and hopefully I’ll remember them all and make sense of my ideas.

Firstly, poor Sorcha.  I don’t think I ever realised just how horrendous the task she’d been set really was.  Not only would I not have the first clue about how to spin and weave but having to do so with a plant that sounds hideous to touch (kind of reminds me of nettles) – how on earth can you make clothes out of such things?  Anyway, I admire her tenacity and am a bit overwhelmed on her behalf about what lies ahead for her. Not to mention I’m almost certain that I would have said something out loud by accident at some point.

This brings me to the second point.  It’s amazing how fairy tales lessen the impacts somehow.  Because they’re short stories you’re told the whole thing within a few pages and not only do the ideas not really have a chance to take root other than in a very fanciful way or perhaps that they’re a story with a message, you never quite understand the severity of what has actually happened during the tale, not to mention the language used in fairytales helps to spin the story in a sort of charming way.  ‘Once upon a time, etc..  I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings and I think so far this has got to be one of the most hard hitting in that respect.  

Mayri – Yes, yes, yes! They never sound too bad, because of how short they are! I liked this in Heart’s Blood too, that Marillier gave things a bit more weight.

(And heck yes, I’d have spoken accidentally and bodged the whole thing!)

Lynn – I haven’t read Heart’s Blood – was it good?  Is it also a fairytale retelling?

Mayri – Yes, it’s a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It’s set in the same period, and has the same lovely blend of magic and historical detail as this book does. I heartily recommend it, I enjoyed it a lot (which is probably why I keep going on about it – sorry). 

Lynn – It’s the sign of a good book when you feel the need to shout from the rooftops as often as possible and I will definitely pick up a copy of this one – thanks :D)

Then, just as things were becoming very grim the boys returned for their brief visit and I can only say that I must have been really tense, but not realised, because I could almost feel my shoulders relaxing when they set about doing tasks to help out Sorcha. It also made me realise that she really did draw the short straw.  Of course, they have risks themselves, the possibility of being hunted, for example, but when they change they really do become a swan with very basic instincts, thoughts and feelings whereas Sorcha is living every moment.  In that respect, do you think it’s easier for the boys to not remember themselves when they’re in swan form?  Or do you think they’d prefer to retain their intelligence?

Finally, such a sad parting as the dawn broke and Sorcha was left alone again. Not to mention Finbar gave me a strange sense of foreboding.

Mayri – I agree that Sorcha’s got the short end – the whole thing is so much more of a punishment for her than for them because they lose themselves to a degree. With the exception of Conor perhaps, who seems to keep some of his own mind when he becomes a swan (because how else would we learn what was going on back home? Ha ha).

Finbar’s distance was very worrying, I don’t like the feeling that he is losing himself more than the others.

And then hell’s bells, such a brutal interlude! I’m not sure that rape was needed to make Sorcha’s trials any worse than they already were. Just the threat of being found would have been enough, to my mind, to have her want to move on when the Lady of the Forest says to. 

I question Marillier’s decision to put this in here. 

Lynn – Me too.  I was really struck by the brutality of it tbh.  To be fair, it wasn’t overly long or gratuitous but when I was reading it it felt long.  And it did stay with me -and perhaps that’s really, as conflicted as it seems, a testament to the writing, because it had such a powerful impact.  For me, I couldn’t help wondering why Finbar couldn’t have just encouraged Sorcha to leave the cave – but maybe he isn’t allowed to interfere in the trials she faces?

Mayri – I did feel that the brothers were a bit ineffectual here – but I guess, when you only have one night in which to help there’s a limit to what you can do.

Chapter 7

Lynn – Certainly took my mind off things a little.  Red and his companions.  Firstly the chapter where Red and Sorcha were being attacked and she called for help.  I couldn’t help thinking, when they ran away and ended up on a mudslide, of being put in mind of that film Romancing the Stone where the two characters similarly find themselves on a mudslide. Plus, before that the scene in the water with what I’m assuming were merfolk calling to Sorcha to join them -and then finally the scene in the cave with the folk and Red’s strange denial of it all to himself the morning after – even though he made sure to keep the remains of the candle.

Mayri – (Wow, Romancing the Stone is a movie I haven’t seen in a while! Tempted to dig that out for a rewatch now). As soon as Red, Ben and John showed up I felt the story pick up its pace just a bit. I like how Sorcha keeps thinking of the Britons as these down-to-earth, no-imagination types, like they’re a different species. And then Red goes and proves her right by not accepting the magic that happened right in front of his eyes.

Now head on over to the Bookforager to read our thoughts on the concluding chapters.