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A Darker Shade of Magic

I had read many reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic by US author Victoria Schwab and in October 2019, I decided to delve into this popular series. I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building and unique characters of the first book in this trilogy.

A Darker Shade of Magic follows Kell, one of two last magicians capable of stepping between three alternate realities. These parallel realities are connected by a city called London and, while magic exists in varying strengths throughout all worlds, it is the fourth world which was the strongest. This fourth reality, known as Black London was consumed by a dangerous magic that overwhelmed the inhabitants and the magicians. When this magic began to leak into the closest Londons, White then Red London, Black London was sealed off to prevent the spread. Now only White and Red London possess any forms of magic while Grey London has virtually none.

Kell, is a magician bound to serve the royal family of Red London but adopted and raised almost like a son but his power as a magician requires his service as a messenger between the ruling monarchs of Red, White and Grey London alongside Holland, his counterpart in White London. During an unscheduled and illegal trading escapade to Grey London, Kell is tricked into smuggling a relic from Black London into Grey London. Events soon spiral out of control, the dangerous and possessive magic from Black London begins to carve swathes through the inhabitants of Grey London. Kell inadvertently becomes entangled with Delilah Bard, a young woman, thief and vagabond, who steals the relic but possessing surprising resistance to its effects. Soon, Kell and Delilah are embroiled in a dangerous game to clear Kell’s good name in Red London and stop the spread of the corruptive magic from Black London by returning the relic and resealing Black London. Throughout this ordeal, Kell and Delilah try to outmanoeuvre Holland, the magician from White London.

A Darker Shade of Magic was an intriguing first instalment of a trilogy rich in world-building and detail. I enjoyed it immensely. A great read!

Writing

Salvador Dali Illustrated Alice in Wonderland

I just discovered the 150th Anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol published by Princeton University Press is an illustrated version by artist Salvador Dali. Absolutely stunning illustrations that are pure magic!

You can buy hardback and paperback copies of this gorgeous edition through most bookstores and online stores at affordable prices.

Recent Reads, Writing

Zodiac Themed Anthology Series

I’m currently reading the second volume in a 12 part series, a Zodiac themed anthology produced by Aussie Speculative Fiction. Each month, a new anthology featuring that month’s zodiac sign will be released. This January-February, I’m reading Aquarius and because it’s also my own star sign. The Aquarius anthology features many unique interpretations of the water-carrier star sign by Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction writers. You can read more about the Aquarius volume here.

I have also contributed a short story to the Taurus Anthology which will be released in a few months. I also wrote a brief post on my inspiration and research behind the short story.

If you’re interested in reading the Aussie Speculative Fiction Zodiac Anthologies, you can find copies the Aquarius and Capricorn Anthologies through Books2Read with direct links to your preferred bookstore.

Recent Reads

A Wizard of EarthSea

I have read many reviews about the late US author Ursula K. Le Guin but I had never read her works. After listening to fellow authors and the reading community discuss the impact of her work, I decided I must read A Wizard of Earthsea for myself. Despite my high expectations, I was not disappointed. Originally published in 1968, A Wizard of Earthsea follows Ged, the greatest sorcerer in the realm of Earthsea. Beginning when Ged was a young child and known as Sparrowhawk, a child from a poor and rural background but gifted with rare and powerful magic. After performing powerful feats of magic, Sparrowhawk is is apprenticed to the travelling wizard Ogion. But Sparrowhawk is ambitious and not content with the humble existence Ogion offers. Instead, Sparrowhawk gains entrance to the greatest school for wizards on the Island of Roke. Once there, ambition governs Sparrowhawk and his personality clashes with both the wealthy and less-talented students. Resentment grows and soon Sparrowhawk has only one student to call his friend. In a effort to prove himself the better of the others, Sparrowhawk conducts a magic that breaches the boundary of life and death, accidentally summoning a Shadow that haunts Sparrowhawk and pursues him relentlessly across Earthsea. Throughout his battles with the Shadow, Sparrowhawk loses any chance of gaining social standing and begins to learn his powerful talent with magic has destroyed much he hoped to gain in becoming a wizard at Roke. Cast adrift from the school and the Island of Roke, Sparrowhawk begins to master his talent and learn humility as Master Ogion had tried to teach him before he went to Roke. In summoning the Shadow and breaking the fundamental laws of magic, Sparrowhawk proved that despite possessing great power, he lacked the maturity to make decisions worthy of such power. While I might be late discovering A Wizard of Earthsea, it was was unlike any young adult book I had read. Most uniquely, the themes were subtly done and told in a narrative quality that reminds with great power, comes a greater responsibility which made this a wonderful read for any age group.

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The Copper Promise

I recently read The Copper Promise, the first novel in The Copper Cat Trilogy by UK author Jen Williams. The Copper Promise follows the unlikely group of adventurers, the female mercenary Wydrin of Crosshaven (the infamous Copper Cat), Sir Sebastian Carverson (an exiled knight) and Lord Frith (a crippled nobleman, dispossessed of his lands). Lord Frith survived near-fatal torture for a secret he did not know and now intent reclaiming his lands, he hires Wydrin and Sebastian to help him break into the ancient Citadel, a monument where the former mages secured treasures and imprisoned gods.Wydrin and Sebastian succeed in gaining access to the impenetrable Citadel, escorting Lord Frith into the centre of the labyrinthine structure. Once there, both Wydrin and Sebastian realise Lord Frith is more than he appears and so are his intentions. The three come under immediate attack from the only surviving god imprisoned by the mages. In a single moment that changes the outcome of all their lives, Sebastian is inevitably linked to the god and a deeper darkness while Frith absorbs the magic of the mages. Unwittingly, the three adventurers become responsible for releasing an ancient darkness on the land and awakening powers no one alive fully remembers.
The Copper Promise is an exciting first instalment in a trilogy that holds much potential. Although it is affected by many flaws common in debut novels and first volumes with uncertainty surrounding plot and motivation, the characters are unique and well-drawn and the world-building is promising. I enjoyed The Copper Promise and look forward to more.

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The City of Brass

The City of Brass is the first installment in the debut fantasy series The Daevabad Trilogy by American author S. A. Chakraborty based on early Islamic folklore and legends. The City of Brass follows female protagonist Nahri, a con-woman and thief who grew up an orphan on the Cairo streets during Ottoman-French occupation. Nahri has never believed in magic, thinking her unusually accurate abilities to sense illness and talent for languages an extension of her ability to deceive and read a mark. When Nahri attempts a risky healing, she uses a language remembered only from her childhood and accidentally summons Dara, a legendary but mysterious and dangerous warrior djin. In summoning Dara, Nahri also attracts the attention of the deadly ghouls controlled by the destructive ifrit. Fighting for their lives, Dara takes Nahri and flees across the vast expanse of desert, certain the ifrit search for her. In flight across the endless desert landscape, Dara tells Nahri of the legendary city of Daevabad, the tall gilded brass walls of the legendary djinn fortress. Nahri follows Dara, the haunting memories of ghouls and ifrit spurring her to trust Dara even though it has been centuries since he had been within Daevabad and the inconsistencies of his story worry Nahri at the reception they might receive.
The City of Brass was a powerful fantasy debut with the unique Islamic folklore and legends providing an adventurous flair that can only become stronger with the continuing installments in the series.

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Heart’s Blood

Heart’s Blood is a Historical Fantasy by Australian-New Zealand author Juliet Marillier, following the young female scribe Caitrin, who after fleeing her own dark past, takes a commission at the derelict ruins of Whistling Tor in the household of the mysterious Chieftain, Anluan.Caitrin soon earns Anluan’s trust and that of his odd household retainers, a mixture of loyal but bound ghosts. While Caitrin translates records from Anluan’s ancestors, she learns the history behind the dark stories of Whistling Tor and the challenges facing the physically weakened Anluan. Yet the darkest but most important horrific secret resides in one of Anluan’s ancestors and past Chieftan of Whistling Tor, a sorcerer who bound the Host – the capricious army ghosts to Whistling Tor and to the will of its Chieftain. Despite the Host being an unbeatable army, the Chieftain must always reside at Whistling Tor to control the Host. For past attempts to lead the Host to battle away from the control of Whistling Tor led to calamitous and fatal consequences for the Chieftain. While committed to her translations for Anluan, Caitrin is soon determined and consumed by the mystery and plight of the Host. Caitrin promises to release the Host by finding a counter-spell to the one Anluan’s ancestor had used to bind the restless ghosts into an army. The promise Caitrin makes to the Host embodies her own love for Anluan. Parallel to the plight of the Host is the personal battles within Caitrin and Anluan to heal the injuries of their own past and confront the fears that have always constrained them.
Heart’s Blood is a beautiful story, emphasising hope and courage and creating genuine characters. Infused in every facet of the story, the half-seen eldritch world continues as a signature theme for Juliet Marillier.

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Den of Wolves

Den of Wolves is the final volume in the Fantasy series Blackthorn & Grim by Juliet Marillier. After the events in Tower of Thorns, Blackthorn and Grim return to Winterfalls hoping the familiar routine will help regain trust with each other and reconcile some of the emotional upheavals. Despite this, they find themselves bound more firmly to each other after all they have endured. When Mathuan of Laois captures the ancestral lands of Lady Flidas, wife to crown-prince Oran, Blackthorn begins to hope, and dread, final justice for all wrongs Mathuan had ever committed. War threatens the stability of the lands and Blackthorn and Grim live in fear that Mathuan will discover their identity and hiding place. As the past, present and future roads begin to converge, Blackthorn suspects the true identity of her Fey benefactor, Lord Conmael, who orchestrated her escape from Mathuan’s prison but the one who now binds her to his rules. Crown Prince Oran leaves Winterfalls for the High Court amid the escalating threat of war, leaving Blackthorn under the ever-present guard of the mysterious but elite warriors from Swan Island. Despite this, Blackthorn is soon occupied by the unexpected arrival of Cara, the daughter of the nearby remote holding of Wolf Glen. Meanwhile, Grim is hired at Wolf Glen to assist in a mysterious building project after the sudden re-emergence of Bardan, a crippled master-builder. Sworn to secrecy about the building, Grim’s suspicion deepens when it becomes clear the crippled builder Bardan is poorly treated and fears for his life. Soon, Cara’s stay at Winterfalls and the sudden arrival of Bardan combines to weave a story of tragic loss and betrayal coupled with the terrible magic of the Fey.
Den of Wolves is a compelling and dark story of the other-worldly machinations of the Fey. A fitting conclusion to the powerful Blackthorn & Grim series of redemption and resurrection. A must-read series!

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Dreamer’s Pool

In the most recent trilogy by Juliet Marillier, Blackthorn & Grim begins with Dreamer’s Pool, the first volume following two emotionally scarred protagonists, healer and wise-woman, Blackthorn and the mysterious Grim, escapees from a prison and injustices of Mathuin of Laois. The unlikely rescuing of Blackthorn, and incidentally Grim, is orchestrated by Conmael, a member of the Fey. Conmael places strict conditions on Blackthorn’s freedom: for seven years, she must not return to Laois to confront Mathuin but must reside in Dalriada and accept all requests made of her. Blackthorn travels to Winterfalls in Dalriada with Grim, who has made himself Blackthorn’s protector. The pair settle at Dreamer’s Wood on the estate of crown-prince Oran of Dalriada. Soon, Blackthorn and Grim are drawn into solving a mystery involving Dreamer’s Pool, a well-known local area for the Fey and uncanny transformations. While solving the mystery closely involving Prince Oran and his new bride, Lady Flidas, Blackthorn and Grim begin to heal from the traumas of prison and torture, deeply bound together by trust and friendship. ​​Dreamer’s Pool is a retelling of the classic tales of the Fey and physical transformations but a dark under-current pervades the story in which the Fey are neither just nor unjust and the human world is as perilous.