Reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic

Reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (Part 7)

Welp. You knew it was only a matter of time before someone showed up to nab the Terrifying Magical Object. Right?

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

Seven
The Follower

I

Summary

Lila goes for a walk, unable to stop thinking about magic and how it had made her feel to come into contact with it. She heads to The Barren Tide, a pub she goes to to disappear. She gets her hands on a pint, and a man asks if she’s frightened because she’s clutching it so tightly. She notices that the man has a strange accent and appears faded, and figures that he’s not from around there and then that he has something to do with magic. It’s Holland, and he introduces himself to her, and she notices his black eye, but he makes her uneasy, unlike Kell. She tries to leave, but he pins her wrist to the bar and asks where Kell is. She tells him that they met on bad terms and parted worse. Holland grabs her by the arm and drags her to the door. Once outside, she tries to shoot him with her revolver, but he moves too fast. Holland takes her by the throat and demands she get rid of her weapons.

Holland uses magic, and Lila notes that it smells different from Kell. He instructs her to scream, and suddenly she feels excruciating pain and complies. He tells her to say his name, but she refuses. On the third spike of pain she does. Holland threatens to use her revolver, though he’s never used one before, to kill her if she doesn’t call for him again. Lila can’t understand why he thinks Kell would come for her. There’s another rush of pain and Kell appears. Lila is shocked that he returned, but before she can ask why, he tells her to run.

Commentary

I’m finding myself wanting to map where all these sites are in Grey London. Having checked the map for Mariners Walk (where the Barren Tide is) I’ve found that it’s fairly east in the London area, but I’m not sure I’ve gotten a good indication of where Stone’s Throw is. I’ll have to keep my brain alert for that.

So Holland is all about being able to smell Kell’s magic in this chapter, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to really think about how incredibly erotic it is that magic is all about scent, that it’s something you can track by scent, that you can tell someone has been in the presence of a certain kind of magic-user by scent.

I’m trying to get a better read on Holland, and so far it’s incredibly difficult. I have to assume that’s intentional, that we’re meant to learn more and understand more as we go along, but he’s the kind of character that always really taps into my personal brand of intrigue, so I keep picking at all the specks of info that we get.

Kell turning up and telling Lila to run is a pretty classic marker. Lots of heroic figures use it, but for me, it’s irrevocably tied to the Doctor marking out companions by saying that one word. So clearly Lila and Kell are bound together in this for better or worse.

Right now it’s kinda worse.

II

Summary

Kell had been trying to figure out what to do when he smelled Holland’s magic. He was getting closer when he heard Lila scream. He realizes his error in thinking that no one could follow him—only Holland could. He knows it’s a trap, but he still runs toward it. He sees Lila, tells her to run, but Holland insists that she stay. He knows about the stone and Kell wonders why it was given to him. He realizes that it was likely sent away for fear of what the Danes could do with it in White London. He assumes the twins sent Holland to retrieve it. Kell insists that Holland can try to take the stone from him, but only after releasing Lila. He does, and Kell tells her to run again. She listens.

Holland assures Kell that whatever similarity he thinks there is between them, they are nothing alike. Kell knows that Holland is incredibly powerful, but he has the stone at least. He thinks of a cage, and the stone begins to work, but Holland doesn’t wait and attacks, slamming him into the wall so that he drops the stone. He pins him with the nails of a door, one stabbing him. He uses his own magic to get free, but by the time he does, Holland has taken the stone and uses it to freeze Kell in place. Holland explains that the stone works on conviction, that Kell thinks of it as equal, but the stone proves that you must be a master of magic, or you are its slave. Kell tells him that no good can come of the stone, but Holland has orders. Holland calls up smoke that forces its way into Kell’s body, then suddenly vanishes. He wonders if the magic failed, but suddenly feels and tastes blood everywhere.

As Kell is bleeding out on the street, he tells Holland that he could use the stone to break his seal. Holland points out that it’s not the seal itself holding him; the seal is a brand, unbreakable and burned into his soul. It cannot fade, but Athos reapplies it frequently all the same. Kell reaches for his coins to escape, but Holland snaps them from his neck and throws them down the alley. Kell begs him not to do this, still bleeding everywhere. Holland points out that he has no choice, then suddenly goes unconscious; Lila hit him over the head with an iron bar. The magic doesn’t stop trying to kill Kell, though, so Lila takes up the stone and tries to command it to stop. It doesn’t work, but without Holland’s will acting against him Kell is able to stop the spell. Lila uses the stone to bind Holland to the ground, a brief hold. She finds her gun and drags him away. Kell feels that if he stops fighting now, he will certainly die. He follows the thread of Lila’s voice until he knows he’s somewhere safe, Then he loses consciousness.

Commentary

Holland makes the comment about the stone proving that you can either be the master of magic or a slave to it, and it is depressing because this is an opinion entirely formed by his environment, by the world he’s bound to. Holland is from a London where everyone is master or slave to something or someone. He himself is the slave of a horrific person, so his ideas on this have been sharply colored by those experiences. It makes sense that this is how he views magic, though I think we can safely say that Kell’s way of thinking is more correct. Magic is basically a force of nature in this universe, and you don’t enslave nature. You work to understand it, or you will only ever fall prey to it.

But I’m curious about the soul brand. Can it really not be broken? That seems like a magic that shouldn’t exist, and it makes me wonder what it would take to undo. Holland tells Kell he doesn’t have a choice but to follow orders, yet still Kell demands that he make one. That is clearly a significant division. There’s a question of will here between the two Antari that is incredibly significant. Holland insists that his will is greater than Kell’s in every way, but his will is subject to the whims of Athos. So who truly has power here?

Kell is bleeding out, and still he thinks that he doesn’t want to die because Rhy would never forgive him. Honey. Sweetheart. My dear. Kell makes it very easy to tell who is important to him, between that thought, and the sound of Lila’s voice being such an anchor. Also, the way he’s bleeding kinda freaks me out because I’m just sort of imagining all this blood ultimately seeping out through his pores. Which is a great image that makes it real easy to fall asleep. Yup.

III

Summary

As Lila is dragging Kell back to the Stone’s Throw a downpour starts. She thinks that she should have kept running, but Kell had come back for her, and she wanted to know why. She tried to ask him on the way, but he couldn’t answer. She can smell his magic powerfully, and Holland’s, and the scent of the stone. Barron sees Lila come back in with a half-dead Kell and asks what the hell she’s doing, but she enlists his help all the same. They get Kell to her bed and strip off his bloody clothes. She looks for something to burn to cover their scent, but finds nothing so Barron helps with some herbs from the kitchen. She searches Kell’s coat (and learns that it’s many coats), but doesn’t find anything to help him heal.

Barron asks what she’s doing with him, knowing Kell from his deals in the bar. Lila admits that she stole something from him, and he came for it. She explains that someone else came after it, and Barron asks what he looks like, so he can keep an eye out. She tells him that he feels like Kell, and Barron finishes that he feels like magic. He knows the sorts his tavern attracts. He brings up a towel, more clothes, and a bowl of soup. Lila is annoyed as ever an Barron’s kindness, but she has the soup and passes out in a chair. Then she wakes, she looks at Kell and wonders still why he came back for her. She counts his scars, and burns more herbs, and every time she gets near to sleep she remembers Holland and keeps a grip on her Flintlock.

Commentary

Lila thinks to herself that she hasn’t lived this long by stopping to help others, which is hilarious because directly before all this went down that was exactly what she was doing. The trope of cold-hearted secret softies is a trope more commonly applied to men, and I have to say that I really enjoy seeing it applied here for a change. It makes Lila a much more interesting character because she has such clear room for growth.

She worries about Holland being able to smell them, so Barron bring her herbs to burn. But my really question is, does Kell’s blood smell like his magic? If those things are so tied, do they go together like that? If Kell bleeds more, can you smell more magic? Obviously it’s more complicated than that given Lila only being able to smell magic only a little but given the importance of scent, I keep coming back to questions like that.

Okay, so Barron knows about magic. And other stuff. I kind of figured. But is this more than just wise tavern-owner? Are we going to find out some weird crazy secret stuff from Barron’s past? Or is he just the one sane, collected guy in the midst of all this craziness?

Emily Asher-Perrin wonders what kind of flowers Kell smells like because some flowers are great and other flowers are ewwww. You can bug her/him on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her/his work here and elsewhere.

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