When you enter one London—because in Victoria Schwab’s series A Darker Shade of Magic there are four—you can immediately feel the differences from the others. Grey London is like the real London, with well known landmarks and no traces of magic; Red London is beautiful and lush with magic; White London is hard and cold, it’s hold on magic a constant struggle; and Black London is just that—burnt and in ruins, a myth to most and a memory to some.
Readers are set on an adventure with Kell, an Antari whose job it is to travel between the Londons to communicate with the different rulers, when he is given a token of Black London. A token that should not exist.
But Kell is not the only hero in this story. Although Delilah Bard, a cutpurse with dreams of being a pirate on the open seas, is not a conventional hero, she is the only person who seems to be able to help Kell—whether he wants her help or not. Together the two face numerous challenges and villains, including Holland, the only other Antari that exists, and the Dane twins who rule White London.
Schwab takes several chapters to build up the plot, letting readers first get to know Kell and his world and the different Londons. But not too much information is provided at once. She drops hints of events that have happened or characters who are important to the plot like bread crumbs. All these hints help to lead to the main event, and although the outcome can be gleaned from these bread crumbs, Schwab crafts a story that will still leave readers breathless.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in a trilogy and the second adult fiction book written by Schwab. Although the pacing is similar to a young adult novel, the story’s gruesome and random murders, as well as its suggestive dialogue, move it up a peg to adult status.
Harry August was born on New Year’s Day in 1919 in the women’s washroom of Berwick-upon-Tweed station. His mother—a servant of the Hulne family—dies after he is born, and Harry is brought back to the Hulne family where he is raised by the groundskeeper and his wife. He lives a normal life, follows in his adopted father’s footsteps, and dies in a hospital in 1989. Then he is born again on that cold winter’s day in 1919.
In his second life, Harry August is committed to an institution where he dies again. It isn’t until his third life that he begins to search for answers and learns that he is an ouroboran—an individual who may die but always comes back to where they started remembering what happened to them in previous lives. But as Harry lays dying several lives later, a young girl comes to him with a message: The world is ending at a faster pace than it should be. And it is up to the ouroborans to find out why.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was a real treat. I found it in a bookstore and was immediately hooked by the premise. The thought of there being individuals who are constantly reliving life over and over—which I’ve seen in other stories—is something I find intriguing and captivating. I appreciated how Claire North (which is one of the pen names of Catherine Webb) made it so there were consequences to the actions of the ouroborans. Nothing is ever perfect. You can’t just keep reliving your life knowing everything and not change anything that happened, whether it’s on purpose or an accident. So it only makes sense that there would be consequences for too many things changing too quickly in the world.
I did think the beginning of the book was a bit slow, but it picked up quickly and kept at a good pace after that. There were also some passages that I had to read several times to understand, because there are sections on physics that go over my head (not being familiar with the theories). The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was well written with interesting characters and a plot that opens to a realm of possibilities. Personally, I think it’s a must read for almost anyone because it’s well balanced between adult fiction and science fiction.
It also begs the question: If you could live multiple lives, what would you do?
When beautiful Claire Harkness is found dead in her dorm room at Armitage Academy, everyone wants to know how she died. The students, teachers and staff, and town locals all find their lives upended as the investigation begins. Everything only becomes more complicated when it is revealed that Claire had recently given birth. But where is the baby now? And how did her pregnancy go unnoticed by everyone at the Academy?
When I started reading The Twisted Thread I was immediately hooked, which was slightly surprising to me because I’m not usually a fan of murder mystery books. But the characters were engaging and the beginning of the story had a great hook that kept me wanting more.
But then about half way through I felt like the book became a bit slow. Some of the information provided was repetitive and some of it unnecessary. The Twisted Thread is not a long book, only 384 pages, but I felt like a good chunk of that could have been cut to keep the plot fluid and going at a good pace. I felt there were too many characters involved in the telling of the story. Some could have been cut or combined into one character which may have helped the plot flow a little better.
I was also disappointed by the murderer reveal, as the end of the book felt a bit rushed with the reveal glossed over. Then there was an epilogue added that I don’t think was needed. By the end, there seemed to be a lot of focus on the main character’s personal lives than that of the case and the impact that came from it. And there are some characters who we never learn what happened to them. Their story starts, their lives becoming more interesting and promising as the story arcs, and then is suddenly dropped at the end.
But The Twisted Thread was interesting enough that I may broaden my reading tastes and branch out to more murder mystery books.
When Anais Hendricks is found with blood on her clothes the same night a police officer—one known to not get along with Anais—is found brutally beaten, she is shipped to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. Although she can’t remember the events that landed her there, Anais does know one thing: she is part of an experiment, always has been, and the experiment is closing in on her.
It was a bit hard to come up with a description for The Panopticon because I felt like it didn’t really have a plot. I thought the book started off interesting enough. The characters, especially Anais, were well written and the reason I kept reading the book. I wanted to know what happened to them in the end. But when it came to plot, I think it started off as something, but seemed to have been dropped halfway through and almost completely forgotten by the end.
We only slightly know what happened the day Anais is arrested for a crime she wasn’t even sure she committed, but we never fully find out what happens to the police officer—or really Anais for that matter. It’s obvious that Anais is not a normal girl: she believes she was born in a test tube and is part of an experiment where men with no faces watch her every move. She survives mostly on day dreams of a life that could have been. I think these are the things that make her interesting. I wanted her to succeed and to get a life she deserves to have, not the one she is living. I wanted her to get justice. And I liked learning about her as the book went on. But I’m disappointed that I’ll never really know what happened, and if she gets the justice she deserves.
I would not recommend The Panopticon for readers who are faint of heart or who are looking for a light read as it is a brutally honest book. Loosely based off of Jenni Fagan’s own experiences growing up in the Scottish foster care system, The Panopticon depicts moments of violence, self harm, and drug use, which may not be suitable for all readers.
Ten years after Victor and Eli—college roommates with the same ambitions—both had near-death experiences that changed the course of their lives, Victor breaks out of prison determined to catch up with his old friend. With the help of his cell mate and a young girl with her own special abilities, Victor finds Eli hard at work tracking down and disposing of every other super-powered person he can find. And he is just as eager to see Victor again as Victor is to see him.
Vicious is the third book by Victoria Schwab I’ve read this year (with the hope of reading one more before the year is out). Over the course of the year, she has become one of my favorite authors, creating characters and worlds that inspire me both as a reader and a writer. And Vicious was no different.
There probably wasn’t anything about this book that I could point at and be like, “Yeah, I didn’t really like that.” I was enchanted by all of the characters. They each had their own distinct personalities, and each came with their own background stories that were slowly revealed as the main story unraveled. The pacing of the story was well done—none of it dragged, but it also didn’t feel rushed at any point, as sometimes can happen at the end of a book. The ending was also the perfect mixture of closure with hope for a continuation, which is currently in the works and one I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Ove is a no nonsense type of man. He wakes up at the same time every day, makes sure everything is in order—not only in his house but around the neighborhood, as well—and makes sure everyone is following the counsel rules. And on this particular day the only thing he wants to do is die. But this is the one day things don’t go exactly to plan. And maybe that is for the better.
Similar to some of the other books I read this year, A Man Called Ove was a roller coaster ride of emotions. It was one of those books where the cover blurbs of “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” were 100% spot on. At first, Ove does not seem like the type of character you could come to like: he’s grumpy, rude, and opinionated. But there was something about him that made me love his character. While he’s never afraid to tell people what he thinks, he’s not in your face about it. He’s quiet, and mostly keeps to himself. He is a main character that is easy to cheer for and you want to see him have a happy ending.
The only thing I found to be tedious is the amount of characters involved in the story. Although they all seemed important in their own way, I wondered whether they were all necessary. Some I felt didn’t really have a big part in the story and were kind of just there. In for a second, and out the next. I feel like maybe one or two characters could have been cut or combined, but wonder how much that would affect the whole story overall. It was still a well written and entertaining book, one that I’ve recommended to almost everyone who asks me for a book recommendation.
A Man Called Ove was also adapted into a Swedish film, which I found to be just as good as the book. Although I personally felt that some things were glossed over in the movie, but my husband said he was able to follow along easily. Some parts at the end were slightly different as well, but not so different that it was off putting. However, I would still recommend reading the book prior to seeing the movie.
Years after his sister’s death and his mother’s breakdown, Eiji Miyake decides to travel to Tokyo to find his father who abandoned them long ago. As he tries to figure out how to meet with his father without his controlling step-mother finding out, Eiji continuously runs into bad luck and unfortunate circumstances. Will he be able to find the answers to the growing number of questions that plague him, or will Eiji be left even more lost than when he began?
By finishing this book I can now say that I have read every book that David Mitchell has written. And it did not disappoint.
Number9Dream was probably one of Michell’s weirder novels, written as dreams and reality weaving in and out of one another. But it wasn’t even just the dreams that were the weird part. The circumstances Eiji found himself in while in Tokyo were bizarre and would leave anyone disoriented and wondering what was happening. It also reminded me a lot of Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. Not only were they both coming-of-age stories about young men in Tokyo, but I thought the writing styles were similar and they had some of the same themes.
Although not my favorite Mitchell book (The Bone Clocks still holds that place), I enjoyed Number9Dream more than some of his other novels. While a bit confusing at times, I found the story entertaining and captivating enough to keep me hooked and wanting to know more.