Category Archives: Historical Fiction

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

4.5

a darker shade of magic

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. 

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped. (Goodreads)

***** I received an ARC copy of this book from Titan Publishers. This is an Honest Review*****

This is my first Schwab book and it is a fascinating, multidimensional setting of three Londons, which are unique for being the point where three geographically differing worlds overlap. This is a wholly original and refreshing new story with an air of antiquity to it. The story, its complexity, the flavour and atmosphere of the overlapping worlds pull you in from the first page. The world building is remarkable and the prose is nuanced and lyrical.

The characters are satisfactorily complex. Not extraordinarily so, but enough to delight in. Kell is a Traveller – a rare species of people capable of travelling between the three worlds. Worlds of differing amounts of magic, technology and life. He wears a unique coat and acts as messenger for the Red Crown. (I will admit, I really liked Kell’s coat and loved whenever the parts about it came.)

Lila is a cross-dressing thief who aspires to be a pirate. To have an independent and free life with no shackles, no restrictions, no bonds. There’s a stimulating balance to him, and common sense that is welcome in both. The rest of the main characters comprise of the Red Royal Family which includes Prince Rhy, the closest person to Kell; the current rulers of White London and their Traveller and messenger Holland; and a bartender and owner in Grey London.

Kell and Holland particularly, are the truly complex characters of the book. They straddle the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, weak and strong. Lila is refreshingly independent whose ambitions are not put on hold for anything or anyone. However I wish there had been more interactions with Rhy, the prince. His relationship with Kell and personality are all seen through Kell to significant depth, but I wish there are had been more, to get a sense of him as a reader. Especially considering the developments that take place because of him.

The length of the book didn’t faze me, only made me eager to know what would happen next. Kept me on my toes, so to speak. Yes, it takes its sweet time to progress and has a leisurely pace, yet I never felt impatient with the story or for the end to come, nor did I despair over how much was left to read. The thought in my mind was – What will happen next? How will the story move forward? Where will it go? And what will happen once we’ve reached there?

Explaining this without giving details is difficult, but I will say that I did not expect the ending. I am ambiguous about it. On the one hand I expected it to end on a cliff-hanger, especially since it was apparent that there will be sequels. But that did not happen. The danger which I expected to continue into the next one was temporarily halted with the resolution of the part of the story and struggle that this book dealt with. I also did not particularly care for the Rhy-Kell plot in the second half.

I felt the writing slackened towards the end, especially considering the standards of the first three quarters of the book. Suddenly things happened swiftly and not smoothly. It came across as rushed. All the pent up tension and anticipation was not fully and satisfactorily carried through, did not match the build-up. At the end I felt – That’s it?

Other than that, A Darker Shade of Magic is a remarkable story with a mystical charm and I can’t wait for more of the worlds and their stories to unfold. And I will definitely be reading more of Schwab’s works in the future.

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Book Review: The Winter King (Weathermages of Mystral #1) by C.L. Wilson

3.5

the winter king

After reading the Tairen Soul Series, I had mixed feelings about picking up a new series by the author. Not because I didn’t like Tairen Soul series, but because I liked it a lot , and it left me with bittersweet aftertaste. Naturally, I was slightly averse to reading another series by the author. As a result, The Winter King had been lying on my shelf since its release. I would have left it there, but as the case is, very few things can appease my temper when I fall sick. I whine a lot, and am generally bored. That is the only reason I picked up this book. But I am glad I did.

The Winter King is more a historical-romantic fantasy than anything else. Set in a world of Magic, Gods and Legends, it has the making for a great story. In fact, had this book been devoid of the sex scenes, I would have happily recommended it to teenagers.

The story revolves around Wynter-the King of Wintercraig and Storm-the abused princess of Summerlea. Wynter was wronged by Summerlea’s prince. As a revenge, he conquered Summerlea and chose to marry one of the beloved princesses from the Summerlea Kingdom. To achieve his aims, he willingly embraced the Ice Heart, a deadly gift from a God. This gift is bound to have consequences, to fight these, he needs an heir, which will be provided by the daughter of his enemy. Hence, making his revenge much sweeter. What Wynter did not foresee was his attraction to his wife. What Khamsin (Storm) did not envision was that her fate as a prisoner will finally lead to her freedom.

The story’s backbone is simple. The hero takes a wife as a punishment to his enemy, but falls in love with her. However, contrary to the norm of stories falling under this plotline, Wynter is a caring man, who has honour. Storm has had a troubled life and she has suffered a lot. Wynter’s treatment of Storm is never abusive – physically or emotionally. Storm and Wynter are made for each other but they have to overcome their trust issues, their vulnerabilities before they can actually embrace their future together. But that is not all they have to face. There is treachery and betrayal from those who surround them. An evil shadow lies on the horizon awaiting to devour the world and Storm and Wynter have to fight against time to survive and save their kingdom.

The fantastical elements in the novel were easy to envision, the legends easily understood and the stories about Gods never called for blind faith or preaching (for which I was immensely grateful). The side-characters were well-balanced. In fact, there were many events in the book which were easily foreseen, but the characters and the discourse kept me interested. The romance was good, considering it was almost insta-love. If truth is to be told, the affection between the two was nothing that developed instantly, and as the story clearly depicts, there is no value for love without trust, which develops gradually and over time.

From what I have read so far of  Ms Wilson’s books, she prefers to give her heroines as much power as the heroes, though they might suffer from insecurities. This stood true for this book as well. She provided a rational mind to the heroine so that I was not left banging my head against the wall due to the heroine’s stupid emotional decisions. Storm was a strong character anyone would like. I wouldn’t call her a kick-ass heroine. But I would agree that she had the brains and the balls. Wynter was more of a giant who is a sweetheart. In one word, I would call him adorable.

This book had plenty of potential for angst, but it never culminated into a climatic scene. Which kind of left me drifting. It was at these times that I was unsure of my footing as a reader. While I like it when the story takes a turn for the unexpected, I still felt that something was lacking overall.

On the whole, the story is quite predictable, but the many events that occur in the book are never so, hence it kept me on my toes. I eagerly anticipated the next turn the story would take. However, I also felt that the novel could have been shorter. I say this because sometimes, I had to drag myself through the next few pages or incidents, which in my opinion were really not much-needed by the story. The twists in the novel made the ordinary story extraordinary, but maybe fewer twists could have made it better.

I did open this book expecting myself to be wowed. That didn’t happen. There is nothing epic about this book(or the series), but I have got nothing to complaint about. I felt good after reading this book and I am looking forward to the next installment to the series. Here’s hoping it will be about Dilys Merimydion, the Prince of Calberna. (Interesting character, that one. Would love to see more of him.)

All in all, a really good book.


Book Review: Talus and the Frozen King (Talus #1) by Graham Edwards

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Talus and the Frozen King is a fantasy novel set in the Neolithic Age, where people like intelligent detectives, philosophers and adventurers with gifts of rational and logical observations were rare. The cover of the book however, shows not a Neolithic man, rather a more medieval looking man. The armor is too sophisticated. An error in itself. Also I saw no elements of fantasy in the book. There are concepts of spirits and the afterlife, but nothing to place it in the fantasy genre. This book was a Historical Mystery to me.

Talus and his companion Bran are the Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson of the Stone Age. The similarities and character traits are too obvious to overlook. Now whether this is deliberate, a copy or an homage didn’t make much of a difference to me, though it obviously makes it difficult to not draw comparisons instinctively. However, my observations have nothing to do with this issue.

Talus is a mysterious, highly intelligent bard accompanied by his friend Bran on a journey to the far north. They are following the Aurora Borealis in the hopes that it will lead them to a place where, they’ve been told, worlds meet and time converges; where they may find answers to their own personal quests.

Bran, a former fisherman, is almost at the end of his tether, travelling in the harsh, barren lands in extreme winter. He has lost the drive to seek the mysterious place. But before he can leave, he and Talus hear wild screaming coming from an island down the cliff where they stopped for the night. Talus persuades Bran to check out the dangerous looking island to see what ails the people on it.

They find the island’s king sitting frozen on the ground, naked, surrounded by the villagers. The wailing they heard was the mourning women. Talus quickly deduces, to everyone’s shock that the king was murdered, not frozen to death, and convinces his son, the king-to-be, to let him find the murderer so he can answer for his crime.

The rest of the story is about how Talus, through his observations, draws logical conclusions and finds out information to solve the mystery. Bran is his short tempered friend, with a few demons of his own, who though a bit slow, manages to see and understand things that escape Talus. Together they get embroiled in the lives of the people of that disturbing island, whose shadows are not safe for anyone.

Talus and the Frozen King is mostly a well written novel with an interesting and fairly intricate plot. The world building is well done, and the story very atmospheric. From the very beginning you sense that Creyak is a creepy, uneasy place and it remains so throughout the book.

There are just two female characters in the novel and both are strong, intelligent women who add depth to the story. I really liked that they weren’t the helpless kind or barely there characters.

Coming to the protagonist, Talus is a bard and of course, he narrates a few stories in the novel. I found him to be an unimpressive bard. His language did not seem all that different from the others, but more than that, his storytelling skills were nothing to boast about. When you have a setting and atmosphere like this one, and the character is narrating something, the stage is set for something great. Something that pulls you in, where the words twine and twist through the air, weaving a web of sensations and rapture. Talus failed, quite badly. His oratory was not strong, and his tales too short, some even incomplete and interrupted.

Even his roundabout conversations with fellow humans, especially when he is explaining a clue, or an obvious fact, weren’t always pleasing and fun. And most of the time as the novel was moving towards the end and the answer, his explanations were half formed, incomplete. Too many distractions and cuts to delay the reveal, hence frustrating. Talus’s cleverness had a forced quality to it. The withholding of information from others and hence us, got a little irritating after a while and made the conversations, the transition in scenes and the story stilted and wandering. This led to Talus not being as impressive as his fellow characters and the author make him out to be.

Bran is a little too stupid for my liking even though he contributes to the solving of the mystery in a way Talus can’t. He understands human emotions and sees their connections. But most of the time, he’s impatient and foolish. His tragic back story makes you sympathise. However I didn’t like his attraction to, and fascination with, a female character simply because of her resemblance to someone in his past, and found it unnecessary. And I didn’t feel the chemistry between him and Talus. You don’t feel the bond that forged between them in the past and which has kept them together as a team.

There were also a few contradictions and mistakes on the characters’ observations and reactions. The story began well. But as it hurtled towards the end, it was too rushed. The mystery itself was going at a languid pace even as the action wasn’t, which was frustrating. The answer was forcibly delayed and interrupted constantly.

Another issue was that the characters seemed to not require sleep. Talus and Bran were already exhausted when they came to the island, and yet they don’t sleep for even a few hours for the next few days. They are constantly on the move from one part of the village to another, or doing something or other.

The surprise twist at the end was a definite shocker. It was completely unexpected. Overall the story had promise but it has been weakly characterised and fails at execution. I hope the second book is better.