Reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic

Reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (Part 3)

What’s up, magic friends? (Can we do that? Call each other magic friends? It seems just as good of a name as any.) If you’re back here, that means that it’s time for another Shades of Magic Read! It’s a short one this week, but that’s all good because we’re gearing up for the meatier chapters. This week, we meet someone new—Lila Ward.

Link to the index of posts is here so you can check back on other reads.

Three: Grey Thief

I

Summary

We meet a thief named Lila Bard, who steals because she enjoys it and also to keep herself out of the poorhouse. She has just nicked a silver pocketwatch off of a man, and soon after, a constable asks her for the time. She gives it to him and helps him light his pipe; she can pass for a boy if people don’t look too closely. He warns her to be careful of pickpockets, pulling out a wanted poster for a masked figure—the figure is her, her mask stored inside the top hat she’s wearing. She promises the constable that she will be careful, and he leaves her be.

Commentary

New character! And she’s from Grey London, and she’s a thief. In this brief introduction, we see her flirt very close to the law intent on catching her, just an average constable who thinks that she’s a young man who’s not being careful enough at night. The pocketwatch that she’s taken gives me an echo of Kell’s music box—made of a nice material, delicate and precisely tuned to do its job. So that probably means something.

The idea of “girl who can pass for a boy in the right outfit” is a favorite in fiction, and it comes with a set of very particular drawbacks. I’m interested to learn a little more about Lila and how that figures into her everyday life, and if it’s really how she wants to be seen. There’s also a mention of how she goes looking for trouble, and a dialogue that she has with Barron, so she clearly goes to the Stone’s Throw. I imagine we’ll hear something about that soon enough too.

II

Summary

Lila heads to the docks, where the Sea King sits, rotting away, though someone named Powell still claimed that the old wreck was still seaworthy. Lila lives on the Sea King in a dank cabin, dreaming of collecting enough to buy her own ship and become a pirate. She heads down to her cabin and divests of all her things, including two weapons, a sharp knife and a flintlock revolver she calls Caster. Her desk is piled with maps, but she has a particular favorite, one where nothing is labeled.

Lila is only nineteen, and people don’t call her pretty. Powell owns the boat and she gives him a cut of her plunder every night for her room. Just as she’s falling asleep, Powell shows up drunk demanding his cut. She gives it to him, but he insists it’s not enough. He tries to rape her, but when he pushes her back onto her cot, Lila finds her knife and drives it into his guts. Powell dies, and Lila douses him with whiskey and set fire to him, after grabbing her map and the silver she had given to him previously. She exits the ship and watches it burn from the dock.

Commentary

There’s a thought Lila has when she boards the ship about how she feels safe on the Sea King, or not exactly safe, but familiar. Which is a very sharp reflection to have, as people do often mistake familiarity for feelings of safety. This is part of the reason most car crashes occur close to home; once you know the terrain, you think you’re fine.

We learn that Lila’s dream is to get her own ship and become a pirate, which is particularly hilarious if you know anything about how gross and unglamorous it was to be one. People have romanticized that life for a long time, but it’s still incredibly funny to think of all the excitement that awaits a pirate and none of the scurvy and so forth.

Lila also has a moment thinking about how no one calls her pretty anymore, but she doesn’t really want that, and how all the women she saw out and about feigned weakness around men, how they feigned weakness around her, making it easier to be robbed of their valuables. Lila can’t imagine ever choosing to appear weak, and thinks those women are fools. So this comes back to that “girl who can sometimes look like a boy” thing, and I’m curious as to whether any of Lila’s journey will be about coming to understand how hierarchy works in these arenas, or if she will simply continue as she always has. It makes sense that the real catch-22 of her ability hasn’t registered—that being able to “pass” as male is not something afforded to women with those stereotypical curves. That pretending to be weak can also be a form of protection.

On the other hand Lila seems like she’s kinda into the idea of women flirting with her, so the queer alarm is going off again. Not that these things are mutually exclusive because they’re obviously not. It just give us more than a few places where this can go, as we learn more about her and what she’s really looking for.

She has maps like Kell. Particularly one with no labels, which makes me think it’s magic. (You know, like Jack Sparrow’s compass that doesn’t point north, these objects are usually magic somehow.) And because she makes a point of keeping the map, we know that’s going to be important.

We get the attempted attack by Powell, who we don’t know much about, aside from his control of the boat and Lila’s safe haven as a result. I mean, if you’re going to include an attempted rape in a story, this is how I would prefer it to be handled; not very graphic, over quickly, and the perpetrator is dead. Lila makes it out unscathed and is able to walk away from the whole thing. I’ll take it. It does make me very curious about how she met Powell in the first place, and how he came to own the Sea King… if he does even actually own it, rather than claiming it as his own rotting territory. But also, hooray, that’s over, and now the real adventure can likely begin.

III

Summary

Lila arrives at the Stone’s Throw; Barron had kicked her out for stealing from patrons a year ago and she’d damned the place, but it’s truly the only tavern she likes, and finds herself pulled to. She tells Barron that the Sea King burned and that she needs a room, offering him the watch. Barron tells her to keep the watch as he knows she’s good for the money, and that no one in the tavern is a mark for her.

Commentary

And here she is at the Stone’s Throw, and there’s Barron (who I like more and more every time we meet, which I imagine is the point). This is the only tavern Lila claims to have a liking for, which… makes her seem a bit magic. If she can tell the significance the same way Kell can. I wonder if everyone who finds themselves dragged toward Stone’s Throw has a little bit of that in them.

And now Lila is staying there until she can figure out her next step, which also means that she’ll be there if Kell happens to show up again. So it looks like the gears are turning…

Emily Asher-Perrin learned too much about pirates, and now she has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to be one. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

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