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

A Darker Shade of Magic CoverA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series, which is set in a world where parallel Londons exist: Grey, White, Red, and the lost Black. A Darker Shade of Magic follows the lives and intersecting adventures of Kell, one of the few magicians still able to travel between these Londons, and Delilah, a cut-purse from Grey London, the London of our world with no magic.

In this review, I have to begin with the world and concept of this book. It was these, along with the high ratings this book has received, that first drew me in to read this book. I find the concept of parallel Londons, each with different amount of magic in it, to be a fantastic one, and the novel does not disappoint in how it develops this world. The Londons feel cohesive, and the system that Kell works is well thought out and feels real.

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A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 2)

A Clash of Kings CoverA Clash of Kings is the second book in George R.R. Martin’s landmark epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. My review of the first book, A Game of Thrones, can be found here. This book continues straight from where the first book left off, and details the war that ravages through Westeros, at the same time as the long summer is slowly but surely ending.

In my review of the first book, I particularly praised Martin’s beautiful prose and his superb characterisations. Both of those elements remain as good here, as they were in the first book. In this book, I particularly noticed the excellence of each of the point of view characters’ character arcs. Each character has their own, very clear, character arc, that the whole of their narrative revolves around. For instance, Jon Snow’s character arc revolves around the theme of keeping to your oaths, and his narrative revolves around his oaths being tested, and his reactions to those tests. Moreover, each of the character arcs rises to a highly satisfying climax, which leave the characters completely changed, and make you eagerly await to read the next instalment in the series.

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The Great Format Debate

As someone who spends a lot of time reading books, I also spend a lot of time thinking about how I read. In today’s world, that thinking is dominated by the question of format; should I be going with print, ebook, or audio? It’s not a question that I have an easy answer for.

I should first make it clear, however, that I don’t think that there is an objectively superior format. I think all formats have their own advantages, and I don’t really care what format other people use (as long as they do use some format!).

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Behind the Lines by Chris Fox (Ganog Wars Book 1)

Behind the Lines CoverBehind the Lines is the first book in a sequel trilogy to indie military science fiction author Chris Fox’s Void Wraith trilogy. In this book, the new Coalition of the three races featured in the Void Wraith trilogy attempt to find the rest of the Gorthians (the main enemy of the previous trilogy). In doing so, Nolan and his crew stumble upon a new hostile race, and become stranded on one of their planets. The book details their attempt to survive and escape.

I was hesitant to pick this book up, because I had greatly enjoyed the first book of Chris Fox’s previous trilogy (review here), but hadn’t enjoyed the other two books (review here). It was impossible to know where this book would fall between those extremes, so I hesitated; in the end, it was the curiosity to know where this book lay between those two extremes that made me pick this book up.

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The City & the City by China Miéville

The City and the City CoverThe City & the City is a standalone novel from China Miéville, which is set in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which exist within the same space. This is not in any supernatural sense: certain streets are completely in just one city, while other streets are partially in both. Sometimes, one floor of a building exists in a different city from the floor above it. Nothing about it goes from realm of the possible to the impossible. In this setting, the novel focuses on Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad as he attempts to solve the murder of a mysterious woman.

It is quite difficult to pin down this novel’s genre. Of course, it’s clear that plot-wise it is a police procedural, but what the genre is setting-wise is much harder question. On the one hand, the setting seems to be constructed much like fantastic secondary worlds, but on the other hand, the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma seem to exist in a very realistic version of our Europe. Furthermore, that Beszel and Ul Qoma exist within the same geographical space seems absurd to the point of fantastic, yet the narrative clearly establishes its non-magical nature. Thus, if the narrative is a fantastic one (like virtually all of Miéville’s other works), it is hard to say where the fantastic lies. One might even be tempted to try and find it in the mysterious historical artefacts from the pre-Cleavage time excavated within the story, but even there, the stories about their magical nature never seem to go beyond being mere conspiracy theories. It is a very disconcerting effect; I feel convinced that the novel is fantasy, but I can’t point to any evidence for that. But maybe that feeling is what the term New Weird is used to signify.

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A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1)

A Game of Thrones CoverA Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, telling an epic story set (mostly) in the land of Westeros, where summers and winters can take anywhere from years to decades. But, at this point, with the popularity of the TV show based on this series, this novel really doesn’t need any further introduction, does it?

This is not the first time that I have read this novel. I read the first four books about a year before the TV show came out, and while I got the hardcover of the fifth book immediately when it was released, I never got around to reading it. Recently, I got a sudden yearning to be immersed in Westeros again, so I decided to re-read the first four books before starting the fifth one. Re-reading a novel, and this one in particular, always gives you a different perspective on the novel, so this review will be based on my memories of when I first read the book, as well as the further insights I gained through this re-read.

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Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Elantris CoverElantris is a (mostly) standalone piece of epic fantasy by Brandon Sanderson. In the book, Elantris, once a city of wonder and magic, has fallen into decay, and those people who become Elantrians are locked up in Elantris and considered dead. The novel tells the story of three interconnected people living in this world: Raoden (a recent Elantrian), Sarene (Raoden’s wife-to-be and now widower), and Hrathen (a missionary of the Shu Dereth religion attempting to convert Sarene’s city).

Despite this being the first work of epic fantasy that Sanderson published, this is not the first such novel that I have read from from him. Having that perspective on this novel, then, I can’t help but notice that this being his first novel is clear from the book itself. This is not to say that the book is bad (in fact, it’s a really great book), but just that almost everything that Sanderson does well here, he does better in his later works.

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