Reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic

Reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (Part 5)

Let’s get our hands on a terrifying magical object! That’s probably a great idea right?

This never goes wrong for anyone else in the history of fiction. I’m certain of it.

Here is a link to the series index, for your convenience. Go there for previous entries!

Five: Black Stone

I

Summary

Lila has been doing some thievery during the day, which is dangerous, but she has to keep going if she means to rebuild what she lost. She thinks about all the pirate gear she’ll need before she sets sail. When she comes across a poor young boy, she tosses him a few coppers. Barron sees her do it, and suggests she might have a heart, which Lila isn’t interested in at the moment. She’s about to come in for some soup when she hears a scuffle amongst street rats, three boys hassling the one she’d just given coins to. They take the coins, and Lila tells Barron to hold her hat and look after the kid. He calls the boy over while Lila puts on her mask and runs off to confront the three boys.

Commentary

So this brief interlude is meant to let us know something about Lila’s heart—specifically that she has one and that she has a soft spot for helpless people who could use defending. I do think that Lila is a little overly cavalier about putting that mask on; most vigilantes like to put their outfits on with some privacy since anyone can always be hanging around outside. This is also clearly the start of some kind of collision; there’s a pick up in momentum here that suggests wheels are turning faster.

Aw, Barron. You’re great.

II

Summary

Kell sees the address on the letter he’s taken and decides to deliver it immediately, and drop the payment off in his hidden room before even heading back to the palace. When he reaches the street of the address, he senses something is very wrong. The place looks empty but it isn’t—it’s full up of magic and he’s not alone. Sure enough, a figure moves, someone hooded with a weapon. Kell decides to open the letter he’s meant to deliver and finds it’s blank. That means he was set up, and the “payment” he was given was what he was meant to transport. Kell looks up as the shadow charges. He turns on his heel and runs.

Commentary

Well, that went south fast.

Kell has a blank letter and something likely very dangerous in his pocket. Great job, Kell. Also, the instant people say dark-hooded figure, I think of Ringwraiths, so this is shaping up to be a banner night for our boy.

Again with the momentum—the rhythm of this section compared to the last matches up perfectly. It’s like the start of a rollercoaster, and we’re chugging toward the top of the first drop.

III

Summary

Lila follows the boys until they break off from one another, her sights on one in particular, the thin one who took the coins from the boy she’d given them to. She corners him in an alley and puts her knife to his throat, demanding that he empty his pockets. He tells her she’s making a mistake as the two other boys show up. They recognize her from the wanted poster, and they’re all armed. Lila knows she can’t take all three at once, and when the skinny one grabs hold of her, he realizes she’s a woman. She slams a foot down on his and runs.

Commentary

Well, that also went south fast.

Lila’s got some fabulous bravado, but it’s not doing her any favors at the moment. She’s street smart enough that I’m guessing she should have noticed that the other two boys didn’t really drop off. Maybe she was just so pissed off about them taking from the other kid that it’s got her off-balance. And now they know that the bandit from the posters is a woman. Hopefully they won’t give that information to anyone who could get those posters changed, but now I’m extra worried.

IV

Summary

Kell runs and run until he reaches Ruby Fields, heading up to his room. Kell takes the parcel from his pocket and finds a rough-cut stone that calls his power, amplifying it. He turns it over and finds a mark on it, a mark written in the language of magic, of the Antari. The language of magic hadn’t always belonged to the Antari alone; there are stories of a time when other people could also speak to magic, even if they didn’t have the ability to control it with their blood. Those were the people of Black London, and the language of magic was once theirs. Every relic from Black has been destroyed to cleanse the other worlds of anything that might bring their plague elsewhere. This is why there are no books written in Antari, and this stone doesn’t have a word on it, but a rune. It is the only rune Kell knows, taught to him by his tutor, a man named Tieren. He had a book with this symbol on the cover, a rune that is the word for magic: Vitari.

Kell hears footsteps and wonders how anyone could find him here. Then he notes the fabric wrapped around the stone, which has a tracing spell on it. Kell jumps out the window as someone comes crashing into his room. The figure follows him out the window—Kell is expecting two people, but there’s only one. Kell asks who the figure is, but it doesn’t answer. There is an X scarred onto its hand, the mark of traitors, and people who are for-hire. But when the figure raises its weapon, it turns out to be the half-sword of the royal guard with the royal family’s symbol on it. Kell had helped to enchant these swords, to put spells on them that dampened magical power with one cut. These swords were so powerful that guards were supposed to have theirs on them at all times, lest they potentially lose their lives.

The figure demands that Kell surrender, which surprises him, as that’s not the MO of knives-for-hire. Ken tries to get him to drop the weapon, but they are warded for precisely this purpose. The man demands surrender again, and Kell notes that he’s trying to use a compulsion spell, which is forbidden magic. Another figure arrives and demands his surrender. Kell creates a wall of street stones to block his way, focusing on the first attacker. The blade finally hits and Kell is struck across the ribs. He manages to embed his dagger in the attacker’s shoulder, but it doesn’t slow the man down. He demands the stone, but Kell knows that he can’t hand it over… and moreover, he doesn’t want to. The figure brings the sword down on Kell, and he shouts “stop”, and somehow it works to stop the blade. Time is slowing and the stone comes to life and exudes power, causing black smoke to pour from Kell’s hand and wrap up the attacker, freezing him in place. When time returns, Kell sees the man rooted to the spot, dead.

Kell remembers that the word for magic refers to existence and creation of magic as well. But there is no blood command for creating; magic cannot come from nothing. Kell thinks of his command: stop. The stone had interpreted and created what he needed. Kell wonders if this is how magic worked in Black London, without rules. He forces himself to put the stone back in his pocket, and when he does, he feels dizzy and drained. He knows he needs to heal his wound, but just then, the other attacker breaks through his barrier and demands surrender. Kell knows he cannot use the stone again without understanding how it works, so he takes up his knife and stabs the man in the chest. Thankfully, it works, and the man dies. Kell hears more footsteps in the distance and runs.

Commentary

Kell is also not operating with his usual smarts (this is why you don’t overdo it with the booze, kids), and he gets tracked all the way down to his special secret spot. Is this place totally blown now? Are all his wards ruined because those shady folks found it, and is that something he’s going to have to worry about later? I’m just very worried for his secret spot because, like I said, Little Mermaid. This place is begging to be discovered and destroyed, and he’ll get in big trouble if anyone important finds out.

And it’s magical object time! The magical object acts like a kind of channel for Kell’s magic, so sort of like wands in the Potterverse, something to help you focus power. I’m curious to see what it does in the hands of other magic-users because the fact that Kell is so drawn to it makes me wonder even more if he’s from Black London. Either that, or the stone just really hooks into Antari, I’m guessing.

Of course, Kell is particularly attracted to the thing, and it seems to be nagging at him to use it more, so my brain immediately goes oh good this is the One Ring, that’s probably fine. The words related to magic keep coming up, when they count and when they don’t and what language magic truly responds to. The fact that the word for magic refers to both existence and creation when the Antari language doesn’t have any commands for creation is clearly relevant as it pertains to power and what happened to Black London.

Pet peeve: Kell, I understand you are injured and wasted and pressed for time, but maybe pull down the hoods of the big scary people who are after you? Knowing a little more about what’s on your tail is probably important, and it’s such a easy thing to do.

Also, those swords Kell helped the royal family create to dampen magical ability… Uh, yeah. Not okay. The more I learn about Kell’s imposed family, the less I like them. The power disparity, and then asking or suggesting that Kell should help develop something that could be used against his person is horrifically abusive. And the fact that the scary people after him have those swords certainly suggests that someone in the royal household could be messing around.

Then again, this could all be down to something that Holland did to Rhy when they met, so who knows at this point.

V

Summary

Kell can’t stop the bleeding, and the footsteps are catching up to him. Knowing he needs to get somewhere he can’t be followed, he takes out his Grey London pendant and tries to travel, but nothing happens. Blood magic is supposed to be stronger than the shellwork of the royal blade cutting him off from his magic, but he’s not going anywhere. He says “please.” And then again: “Please let me through.” He almost gives in to using the stone again, but suddenly the wall gives and he’s in Grey London. He thinks of letting himself pass out, but instead he stands and ends up colliding with a man in a mask and hat. Then he realizes that it’s a woman, not a man, and that she has clearly been running too.

She asks if he’s okay, and he insists he will despite having to catch himself against the wall. Kell notes her smile, and thinks that in different circumstances they could have been friends. She notes that he’s bleeding and dabs at the blood on his face with a kerchief that she tells him to keep. Then she walks off. A moment later, Kell reaches into his pocket for the stone and realizes that it’s gone.

He realizes then that he’s been robbed.

Commentary

Huh. So again with the idea of words and how/when they have power—the transfer spell works when Kell pleads, which makes it seem as though words other than Antari can have an effect on magic. Whether this is new, or something that is emerging, or part of the stone’s affect on its surroundings, that has to be pretty important.

Kell is smart enough to know that the stone is probably bad news and that he shouldn’t use it at all until he understands it, which impresses me given Kell’s impulsiveness up until now. Then again, the stone did help him kill a man, so that probably is weighing on his mind.

He runs into Lila and immediately a) notices that she’s not a man and b) thinks they would probably be friends. That instant connection doesn’t surprise me, given how much the two have in common, but I do wonder about Kell instantly knowing that Lila is female. Is he just more observant, or does Red London perhaps have less strict gender roles and presentation? Also, Lila, don’t steal from people bleeding out on the sidewalk, it’s rude.

It’s just very rude.

Emily Asher-Perrin knows Lila can’t tell he’s bleeding out, but still. You can bug her/him on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her/his work here and elsewhere.

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