There are no good men in this game, said Mitch. Only Mitch was not entirely correct. There are no perfect men – good and pure is a dangerous conflation. And good, being a relative thing, suited Mitch and Sydney well, at least. Victor was surprisingly good too. Sure, he hungered for sweet, sadistic revenge. Fantasised the exact places he would fire bullet after bullet into his former best friend. But said friend almost killed him first, so it was fair play. Or within the confines of understandable human reactions, anyway. (In V.E. Schwab’s other series, Lila relished the thought of carving Holland up, but no one would call her bad.) But even though Victor never grows into the villain that flared in the blurbs and summaries and mountains of praise, it did not matter in the end. This book is still dangerously enchanting.

I had said before that Schwab paints her characters in shifting shades of grey. In Vicious, she painted them in black. Some more than others (Eli is straight up Vanta), but all nonetheless a deliciously dark absence of colour. To be clear, black still does not necessarily mean bad here. In my books, Victor is arguably ‘good’. What it does mean is that this cast is on a completely different level than Holland. But not quite on the Dane twins’ either. They tore free of the pages with fascinating motives and wants and needs. Fascinating because with a little more blind ambition and a lot more arrogance, it becomes disturbingly easy to imagine ourselves in the protagonists’ shoes. That is how well Schwab crafts her characters – with deeply grounded motives, rationales, pasts, calculated trajectories. Even Eli’s depraved fanaticism and Serena’s similarly perverted, misdirected anger were, in a terribly twisted way, understandable.

The pacing was breakneck, even with the constant cutting back and forth between the past and the present. In Shades of Magic, the fickle dance between places and perspectives was the weakest strand. But in Vicious, Schwab doled out hearty, even servings of suspense. Every present chapter ended on the glinting edge of another precipice, but so did every past chapter. Even as I inwardly groaned whenever I was whipped away from the present timeline with a burning desire to know what happens next, I also had to feed another burning desire to know what happened next in the past timeline too. A cruel game, Schwab played. But a very clever one. Where there were slower (but alas, necessary) flashbacks, she wisely kept them succinct.

Some readers found Eli’s ‘religious’ fanaticism too abrupt or extreme to be believable. Personally, his ‘religion’ felt wrong even before he convinced himself that he was doing “God’s work”. As Victor wryly observed, what sane religious man would pray to Him for the strength to play God? Eli was worshiping himself, feeding his sickly inflated ego first by demanding that God make him into more, then by masquerading as a blessed angel. Besides, today’s grim reality shows how it is all too possible to twist religious zeal into something terrifyingly corrupt.

For a truly vicious tale spun from an original reinterpretation of superhumans and characters you will loathe and be intrigued by to the same disquieting degree, Schwab’s debut adult book is a thrilling, unputdownable read.

Favourite quote: “I want to believe that there’s more.” Victor sloshed a touch of whiskey over the edge of his glass. “That we could be more. Hell, we could be heroes.” “We could be dead,” said Eli. “That’s a risk everyone takes by living.”
5/5 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

For my review on Warm Up, the short story prequel, click here. For my reviews on V.E. Schwab’s other series, click here.

A Conjuring of Light

In truth, Schwab’s matter-of-fact prose plunged too far into the unfortunate ‘telling’ territory. And her miscalculated attempts to throw in some final paradigm shifts cast an amateurish tone over the characters’ voices. But lacing up the loose ends well (and leaving all the right ones free) is half the battle when it comes to concluding instalments, so I must give Schwab well-deserved credit for doing such a masterful job. I stand by my four stars.

While Schwab’s penchant for s p e l l i n g  o u t her characters’ emotions was already noticeable in the first two novels, the passages were far less frequent and drawn-out (and hence less glaringly obtrusive). Even more exasperatingly, many of the passages in A Conjuring of Light simply repeated the same tiresome internal ‘dilemmas’ in the preceding books. (If I drank every time I read yet another paragraph on Lila’s instinct to run or kill Alucard or otherwise sever relationships, I would have been too intoxicated to read past the first few sections.) Continue reading “A Conjuring of Light”

A Darker Shade of Magic

It is not often that you come across a well-written fantasy novel with a genuinely unique universe (and not another superficial rehashing of witches and werewolves), so I was immediately impressed by the opening chapters of this book. The richly constructed worlds (plural) and teasing mysteries will keep fans of The Night Circus engrossed. V.E. Schwab exercises a perfect balance between dropping hints and illuminating answers. By the end of the book, I had even felt a fleeting sense of worry that she would run out of sufficiently surprising twists for the next two novels in her trilogy. Assuringly, there are still some larger questions left unanswered, though not in the glaringly frustrating way as a cliffhanger would, or a story with too many loose ends. As I had said, Schwab has a knack for balance. Priste ir Essen. Essen ir Priste.

Contrary to some reviewers’ criticisms that the ‘superficial’ characters were difficult to connect with, I instead found layers to their pasts and personalities that I still cannot clearly grasp, which simply added to my excitement for the sequels. I do admit that Lila irritated me considerably during her first encounters with Kell, reminding me of a petulant child determined to meddle in matters she had no understanding of. But she won me over by the middle of the book. Certainly, she spoke and acted infuriatingly recklessly multiple times, and her moral compass was not exactly admirable (she did admit to enjoying killing, after all) but her wit and guile and just the right amount of bravado ultimately tipped the scales towards Badass and away from Hubristic Fool. And retrospectively, it gave her desperation to accompany Kell at the probable expense of her life (if not her soul) much more credibility than a more reasonable temperance would have done; suppose she was not as imprudent, would she have managed to force one of the most powerful magicians to let her follow him? All in all, I surprisingly ended up enjoying her subtle development the most.

As the sections and chapters had a habit of shifting between the events unfolding across the three Londons (some of which were obviously less gripping than others), the pace did slacken occasionally. A few diversions unnecessarily dragged out the time between each return to the main narrative, building suspense that frustrated more than it drove up anticipation. But in all fairness, Schwab’s talent for dropping a well-timed shadow of a hint kept me tearing through the pages. Whilst A Darker Shade of Magic does not present the sublime prose of The Night Circus or The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland, Schwab’s vibrant creativity stands out. In fact, for those who found Erin Morgenstern’s lengthy descriptions tedious, Schwab may offer a better balance between depth and pace.

Potential readers may be hesitant because A Darker Shade has been shelved as Young Adult by various sources. First, the overgeneralisation that YA is always insubstantial is already terribly presumptive. And ‘adult’ books are not necessarily complex or beautifully articulated either. But that is a topic for another essay. In any case, this book straddles the line between the two audiences (for YA and adult are audiences, not genres), with fantastical elements that will draw readers of all ages, but a writing style more commonly found in a so-called adult book. In that respect, it is similar to The Night Circus. So do not be put off – you will not regret it!

Favourite quote: “The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
Rating: 4/5

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