Welcome or welcome back to my new column here on Just Love where I talk a little more about my personal reactions to books (or whatever strikes my fancy, I guess).
This time I’ll be talking about Shades of Magic, this cool high fantasy series by V.E. Schwab I am reading right now and its wonderful female and bisexual representation.
This series was recommended to me some time ago, and because it’s neither a romance nor, I thought, had any queer characters, there was always some other book that looked more appealing to me.
On the one hand, I could kick myself for not reading these books earlier, because not only were they a joy to read, they also have two great bisexual characters and the most amazing female protagonist I’ve ever encountered.
On the other hand, A Gathering of Shadows, which is book #2, ends on the worst (THE WORST) cliffhanger and I think I would have died had I not known that book #3 was coming out this week. So if you have yet to read this series, good for you! You are all set now.
What I found to be very lovely is that bisexuality is something completely accepted in the society of Red London – no idea about the other Londons (if that confuses you, look at the blurbs I put in this post at the end). It is not mentioned with any word, there is not even the idea of it being a problem or something special whatsoever. That is such a joy.
I only came to terms with my own bisexuality some time ago and while no one, besides some religious fanatics in my family whose opinions I don’t care about, would probably give me crap about it, I still feel like it’s something unusual, something people don’t expect – especially since I’m married to a guy. To read about a society in which your sexual identity basically doesn’t matter is really wonderful and feels freeing.
I’m in my mid thirties and I don’t think I grew up in a way that was oppressive or anything for a girl or women, but I was and still find myself in the cage of stereotypes and roles and expectations. I often only realise that, however, when I read about female characters that do not abide by those limitations, and Lila, aka Delilah Bard, is one of them.
When Kell thought of her, she was not one girl, but three: the too-skinny street thief who’d robbed him in an alley, the blood-streaked partner who’d fought beside him, and the impossible girl who’d walked away and never looked back.
The reason I chose this quote is that it shows us something unusual in a very compressed way. Lila is a thief and a partner and a fighter. She’s too skinny, blood streaked, and impossible. And the thing I love the most, she walked away and didn’t look back.
I have a thing for thieves – um, I mean, not in real life but in fiction, heh. I think it’s because I really love that, for once, in this fictional world, it is not a huge problem if moral or ethics are thrown over board. I like the stealth, the cunning, the ruthlessness. And those are not attributes usually written for women, so imagine my glee when I first met Lila in this book.
To be a partner and completely equal to a man, in all circumstances, and not only in most or some, is amazing and so very validating. Lila fights and kills, she’s evasive and very private, she has issues and she takes no shit from anybody. And even when another guy or feelings are involved, she holds on to her independency. She does not suddenly keel over and let the man take the lead.
In this context, I absolutely love that, at the end of book #1, Lila does what she has always dreamed of. She gets on a ship and finds her adventure, without looking back. She could have stayed in Red London with Kell, whom she likes and who likes her, and who knows what could have happened? Love, babies, the stuff that dreams are made of? 😉
Adding some thoughts on Lila’s appearance here at the end. She’s gender non-conforming and prefers to wear male clothes and often passes as a guy. She also is skinny and doesn’t have huge breasts. But she’s a woman and doesn’t resent it and is totally comfortable in her own skin, and I love that she is a female character that differs from the norm in that as well.
Apart from cool women (yes, there are actually more than one) and bisexual characters, the series so far has been highly entertaining. The first book surprised me so many times because stuff kept happening that I didn’t expect and it was really suspenseful and especially in the second half a total page turner. The second book starts out very slow and I would say it suffers from the second book in a trilogy syndrome, but since I really love all of the characters and generally just like spending time with them, this didn’t bother me all that much. Now I can’t wait to dive into the last book, which I will hopefully be able to do next week.
STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS.
Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.
In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games-an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries-a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again-and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall…in V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows.
Londons fall and kingdoms rise while darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire, and the fraught balance of magic blossoms into dangerous territory while heroes struggle. The direct sequel to A Gathering of Shadows, and the final book in the Shades of Magic epic fantasy series, A Conjuring of Light sees the newly minted New York Times bestselling author V. E. Schwab reach a thrilling conclusion concerning the fate of beloved protagonists—and old foes.
V. E. SCHWAB’s first adult novel, Vicious, debuted to critical praise and reader accolades. Schwab is the author of YA novels, including the acclaimed The Near Witch, along with writing Middle Grade for Scholastic. The Independent calls Schwab “the natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and someone who has “an enviable, almost Gaiman-esque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”