After blazing through to the end of V.E. Schwab’s first installment in the Shades of Magic series, there’s so much to think about. New twists are revealed, deaths and rebirths, and a number of surprising revelations. I came away with a few questions, as I’m betting most readers did upon completing the book.
How Does the Magic System Work When Elemental Magic is Only a Piece?
The magic in this universe is based in elements, and most magic users learn their power by finding which element they align most strongly with. But on the other hand, magic isn’t simply elemental—the magic that Kell wields can be commanded to do many things, most of them having nothing to do with elements. Is the point that Antari are the only people who can currently manipulate magic outside of an elemental state? Is there a reason for this focus on elements? There are other magical systems in fiction that rely on elements, but that’s usually the root of the entire system, and the only means of power. To have it act as only part of the system raises the question of why it’s so heavily relied upon. (Other than the fact that elemental magic battles are very cool, conceptually.)
What Does Lila’s Glass Eye Mean?
One of the latest reveals in the book is that Delilah Bard has one glass eye. There’s a lot to enjoy about that reveal; it’s unexpected because there’s never any pointed indication in the narrative that the lack of one eye causes any trouble for Lila. In other words, she’s not defined by that impediment, and the story doesn’t make the fact something pitiable or sad. It’s simply a fact about the character, and one that we didn’t know. Lila admits that she’s doesn’t know how she lost the eye, that she was told it was an accident in childhood. We know she lost her mother when she was ten years old and that her father was a horrible person, who tried to sell her to settle his bar tab. But the missing eye is even more important because of what we know about Antari: fewer of them are born all the time, to the point where there only appears to be Holland and Kell in this era. The mark of an Antari is their one black eye.
Grey London isn’t supposed to have magic, but Kell’s tutor Tieren, insists that magic is everywhere. Given that magic is less common in Grey London, it makes sense that someone who sees a child with a black eye might think of it as a sign of evil, and cut it out. And if that’s what happened, and Lila is a hidden Antari, that’s going to change a lot of things going forward.
How Do Binding Spells Pan Out?
Kell has to bind his life to Prince Rhy’s in order to bring him back from the dead. It’s typically a given that bringing someone back from the dead is bad news (though it’s rarely ever mentioned why, aside from the fact that we’re often told it’s not good to mess with “natural order”), but the spell that Kell uses twines their lives together to that end. This means that if one dies, the other does too. This has the effect of upping the stakes, of course; every time Kell wants to put his life in danger he’ll have to think of Rhy, and threatening Rhy’s life will effectively stop Kell as well. It is mentioned that they now feel each other’s pain, but is that the end of it? Once you feel someone’s pain, what’s to stop you from feeling their emotions? Reading their thoughts? How does this work, and how is it going to change their relationship… neverminding the very obvious ways?
What Does It Mean to Kill Someone Who Wants to Die?
This isn’t a question that fiction often asks, particularly not where magic and mayhem are concerned. But Kell’s fight with Holland ends when Holland essentially hesitates long enough for Kell to land a lucky almost-lethal blow. And Kell knows that Holland welcomed that possibility because he’s been enslaved by Athos Dane for so long. The same is true for the boy Beloc who Lila has to dispatch in order to reach the White London throne room. He tells her that he would prefer to be murdered so that he can no longer be controlled by Athos, and Lila understands and obliges him. What does it mean to free someone by those means? How do we respect the desires of another when it requires such a terrible act. Kell and Lila talk about how killing changes a person, but this is not part of that conversation.
Of course, it’s likely that Holland isn’t dead, since Kell sent his body to Black London with the stone in tow. This will probably spell out some serious problems later on, but does Holland owe anything to Kell for essentially freeing him from servitude? Will that be important to the nature of their bond moving forward?
How Does the Hierarchy of Magic Effect Red London?
We get a vague idea from Kell about how magic, and the ability to wield it, affects his world. In this manner, magic is a lot like wealth in our own world; while everyone claims that people benefit equally from it, people who are less inclined to magic are looked down upon. There is an implicit belief that if magic doesn’t come naturally to you, it must be because you as a person are lacking, the same way it is often claimed in our own world that people without money “just don’t work hard enough,” that they are somehow too lazy to improve their situation. Knowing that this is a state of Kell’s world gives us a better idea of the shape of it, of what it means to be lower class and looked down on. Now that Lila is a part of this world, what will that mean for her own abilities? How will she navigate this hierarchy—or will her abilities grow so quickly that she never needs to concern herself with it?