I didn’t have the easiest childhood. I suppose being a kid, then a teenager, is never really easy, but when you throw religion into the mix, well, things don’t seem to pan out in the same manner. There are just too many twists and turns to deal with. But childhood is a very long story for another day.
I learned how to read at a very early age, probably at 3 or 4, and books became my constant companions. In a world that I didn’t understand of constant religious pressure, I escaped into books and created my own universes. Today I don’t have to escape, of course, but the pleasure of escape has never grown old. Some people love to travel, I do as well, but I can travel whenever, right at home from my comfy sofa.
My biggest complaint is not finding enough books that tick all the right boxes, those that truly achieve that perfect, heady balance for escape. I never understand how people set reading goals per year or read several books at a time. I need to read, every day, but I don’t care how many books I read a year. It makes no difference. Reading is a need for me, like eating or breathing. I don’t set goals to take a certain amount of breaths per year or eat a certain amount of dishes per year.
Why on earth would I do that with books? And I find it such a lack of respect to read several books at once. Each book is a unique thing, there is an author that has worked hours, sweating blood, shedding tears, suffering, enjoying. Each book stroppily demands my full attention, it feels dishonest to spread affection between various.
So enough about personal preferences and dislikes… I just finished one of the best escape experiences I have had the pleasure to embark on in recent years. Epic and satisfying. This is not a book review, there is already so much out there on this story and author Victoria Schwab’s work. I’m reticent about book reviews. Is it possible to be unbiased? How much influence does the critic’s knowledge incur? Without forgetting general opinions of “loved it / hated it”. We are all so different and we have such varied outlooks, perspectives and feelings. I would be strongly suspicious of anything that everyone “loved”.
In any case, I loved A Darker Shade of Magic. Every second of it. You know when you get that wolfish feeling? When two hours and too many pages have flown by? You come out of the trance and realise you have to slow down. That you have a miracle within your hands and it has to be savoured. Because there will be an end, it will come faster than you think and then there is just the sense of loss to wrap yourself in. When I read a book, I dream about it at night, I think about the characters at odd moments in the day. I am so immersed in the experience that I feel like the events unfolding are happening to me. And that is what a really good book is all about.
I especially love that the book is gritty. Magic is not all Harry Potter (see, quite obvious I’m not that impressed. But to appease the crazy masses, I think Harry Potter is very entertaining but I wouldn’t read the books a second time). Magic is not Disney and prettiness. If there is good magic, there has to be evil magic. (Residual elements from all that religious pressure in childhood!) Magic has to be gritty, there has to be a battle, a growth, a learning curve, an emotional component, blood shed.
Which leads me to the second component that I loved so much in A Darker Shade of Magic, that elusive element that elevates a book from good to epic. It is emotional. In the descriptive blurb about the book, grey London is mentioned as boring. Logically, our Earth contains “grey London”. But I believe that our magic lies in our emotions, what we feel throughout the day and how we are moved. That emotional component is weaved throughout the entire book. I learned things about myself as I followed the characters on their adventures, and that is magic and that is epic.