A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5

This is the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy, following A Darker Shade of Magic. I previously spoke highly of the first novel, and saying that, this one is even better! The unique and quirky characters are back, with some new characters entering the fray. This novel is better paced than the first, a heart-pounding adventure leading into an exciting magic tournament.

Lila and Kell are no longer partners in crime, but they sure are busy with their lives. Lila, using her crafty methods, finds herself aboard a ship with a captain who has a connection to the royal family. Alucard, captain of the Night Spire, not only enjoys blundering pirate ships with Lila’s help, but finds her company and potential affinity for magic to be interesting and fun as well.

Meanwhile, Kell is busy keeping Rhy out of trouble. The prince tends to enjoy going out for a drink and the occasional tryst, and thanks to their life/death bond, Kell can feel what Rhy feels, and is the best protection the prince can have. Despite this, the country seems to be wary of Kell, thinking that he was somehow the one responsible for the tragic and devastatingly dangerous events four months ago. Because of their bond, Rhy can tell that Kell needs to use his magic, to blow off steam, so Rhy enlists Kell into the Essen Tasch under the guise of the name Kamerov Loste. If Kell, an Antari, were found competing in the Magic Tournament, he would disgrace his country and possibly face execution by the king.

The Essen Tasch is a tournament where magic users from the three main neighboring countries come together to demonstrate their skill and is used as a bonding scheme for the three countries that already have some growing tensions between them. Kell must choose only one or two elements to use, rather than all five, because triads (users of three elements) are already extremely rare.

When Lila finds out that Alucard will be going back to London for the magic tournament, Lila knows inherently that she must somehow enter as well. Since all the competitors wear masks, it is a matter of displacing someone in order to take their place in the tournament. After moving the ocean, Lila knows she is powerful, and she finds that she may be even more powerful than she first thought. She continues to use her power despite the risk of it destroying her from the inside.

Reunited, both Kell and Lila find each other as a huge surprise in the tournament, not to mention the minor detail that Rhy and Alucard were once (are still?) lovers!

While all this is going on, Holland finds himself awake and free in Black London, where he meets a dark being of magic. This magical being offers to give Holland his freedom if he can give another Antari to him as a host body, and of course, Holland plans to offer up Kell for his own freedom.

Vastly more exciting and enjoyable than the first novel, this book was fast-paced and fun. Getting to learn more about Lila as a character and seeing her magic develop was an enriching quality, and the tournament itself offered the same kind of excitement you see in fighting tournaments across the various media types, but with a risk. The reader reads in anticipation, wondering when Kell and Lila will cross paths again and if Kell will be found out in the tournament. The twists and turns that the characters must take to keep stable is ever-enticing. Now with Kell being sought out by Holland, readers greatly anticipate reading the next book. If you couldn’t get into the first novel, try again, because it is worth it to get to this excellently crafted second book of the series!

Highlight: Short Stories From Hogwarts

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Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

So far, these three short stories are e-book exclusives ($2.99 each on Amazon).

The three short collections have a basic theme within the collection and add just a bit extra to the world of Harry Potter.

Individual Rating: 4/5

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies has four chapters with a total of 7 short works therein.

  • “Minerva McGonagall” is a more extensive piece (compared to the rest within the series of short stories) and features her parentage, childhood, schooling, and placement at Hogwarts. Some detail going into Animagi’s, which leads into the next short. We also learn about her love life and marriage.
  • “Animagi” goes into minor detail about what Animagi are and what restrictions there are to registering. It also details the (complicated) steps in becoming an Animagus and the misfortune of having to start over if you mess up.
  • “Remus Lupin” is the second major piece in this set or stories (with McGonagall being the first). It depicts Remus’s childhood and how he became a werewolf, what his parents thought of his lycanthropy, and his acceptance to Hogwarts when Dumbledore offers a solution. It also details his first and second time in the Order of the Phoenix, his marriage to Tonks, and his worry about passing on lycanthropy to the child. We also revisit his death, which is hard for us as well as Rowling. Rowling discusses Remus’s metaphor to incurable (but manageable) diseases today, as well as his patronus and feelings towards wolves that we never get to see in the novels.
  • “Werewolves” branches off of Lupin’s story and talks about their worldwide mythos. The history of werewolf registration and discrimination is discussed here, as well as the Ministry of Magic’s policies and how they have changed for werewolves over time.
  • “Sybill Trelawney” has a very vague depiction of how she came to be at Hogwarts as well as her character in opposition to the traits of McGonagall. She does not spend much time with the other teachers, but is descended from a great prophetess, which she tends to use to her advantage. Rowling reflects on the origins of Trelawney’s name, as well as mentioning that she is a character who Rowling has not developed a full background for, unlike many of her other characters.
  • “Naming Seers” briefly describes how wizarding families used to have their children named based on their future readings. If they will do great things, they must have a great name.
  • “Silvanus Kettleburn” is a very short piece, but discusses his enthusiasm as the previous Care of Magical Creatures teacher before Hagrid, as well as his (extremely) minor involvement in the Wizarding War.

Individual Rating: 3/5

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists has five chapters with a total of nine short works therein.

  • “Dolores Umbridge” gives some background to the character including her family, jobs, and interests. Rather than a story, it is more like a background profile (no dialogue or added story elements). The end of this part features commentary by J.K. Rowling and her inspirations for the character as well as name origins and meanings.
  • “Ministers for Magic” is more of a timeline than a story, featuring the origins of the Ministry and dating all Ministers for Magic from the origin, their length in office, and the reasons for their falling out of office. These reasons add a small historical element to the events of the Wizarding World.
  • “Azkaban” tells us the origins of the prison as well as the only times anyone has escaped. Rowling also shares her ideas about the prison and where the name came from.
  • “Horace Slughorn” features the early life of Slughorn and how he was a teacher to Voldemort. Slughorn, at times, has felt guilty for teaching Voldemort how to make the Horcruxes, but still finds his pupil astounding. He also has interests in other students of merit, such as Harry and Neville. Rowling talks about the name origins and inspirations for the character.
  • “Potions” briefly discusses some of the merits of using potions and that sometimes using a potion is the only way to accomplish a task, since there may not be a spell counterpart. Rowling highlights her inspiration and connection to potions in relation to doing chemistry in school.
  • “Polyjuice Potion” is a specific potion that can change ones appearance depending on the potency.  It is a potion that requires a lot of skill and hard-to-find ingredients. Rowling discusses how carefully thought out the specific ingredients are for the potion that relate to what the potion is meant to do.
  • “Cauldrons” are a widely known and widely used item by many cultures, and it makes sense for witches and wizards to have cauldrons even at a portable level.
  • “Quirinus Quirrel” was an interesting short highlighting a bit about his character and school life. Rowling shares thoughts about his name origins and how they relate to some of his more noticeable traits, such as fidgeting and stuttering.
  • “Peeves the Poltergeist” highlights the history of Peeves and his haunting’s. It mentions the type of people he tends to enjoy being around, and his ghostly enemy, the Bloody Baron. The differences between poltergeists and ghosts is also discussed.

Individual Rating: 4/5

Hogwarts: An Incomplete Unreliable Guide has six chapters with 19 short works therein.

  • “The Journey to Hogwarts: Platform 9 3/4” features the short stories “King’s Cross Station,” “Platform Nine and Three-Quarters,” and “The Hogwarts Express.” These short stories feature the history and contemporary means of traveling to Hogwarts. Rowling shares her thoughts and ideas for these things based on the real King’s Cross Station in London and where further inspirations came from.
  • “The Sorting Hat” features the short stories “”The Sorting Hat” and “Hatstall.” It explains the origin and history of the Sorting Hat and the rare event of Hatstall, where the Sorting Hat may take an unusually long time to place someone in a house. We learn about some of the Hatstall students as well as Rowling’s thoughts and ideas for sorting before the Sorting Hat became the final way to sort students.
  • “The Castle and Grounds” features the short stories “Hufflepuff Common Room,” “The Marauder’s Map,”and  “The Great Lake.” Learning about the Hufflepuff common room was interesting. While it was never in the books, Rowling still knew behind the scenes just how her Hufflepuff’s get in and out of their common room. She also mentions the methods of entering the other three common rooms in comparison. Some history is added about the Marauder’s Map as well as some previous owners and contemporary uses. The Great Lake is a bit of a mystery, but Rowling has it developed for when she thought there would be more use of it in the novels, such as a magic gateway (I mean, how else did Durmstrang’s ship come out of the lake?)
  • “Lessons at Hogwarts” has short stories that shed light on “Hogwarts School Subjects” and “Time-Turner[s].” Rowling gives more definitive information on the various school subjects that students can take based on what year they are in, as well as comparing Hogwarts subjects to Muggle school subjects. The time-turner information is interesting in that it shares the history, uses, and precautions of time-turners, and Rowling explains the eradication of time-turners to avoid plot implications in the novels.
  • “Castle Residents” features the stories “Hogwarts Ghosts,” “Ghosts,” “The Ballad of Nearly Headless Nick,” “Hogwarts Portraits,” and “Sir Cadogan.” Rowling depicts the traits of specific ghosts who are permanent residents of Hogwarts in comparison to ghosts in general. The ballad is a song by Nearly Headless Nick that was removed from the final publication of the novels, but it is rather humorous if you can laugh with darker humor. Rowling explains how the portraits are crafted and how they work, not being actual people, merely imitated bits. Sir Cadogan is a knight in one of the more famous Hogwarts portraits and is given a more thorough background and history here.
  • “Secrets of the Castle is the last chapter of this series of short stories and contains “Mirror or Erised,” “Pensieve,” “The Philosopher’s Stone,” “The Sword of Gryffendor,” and “The Chamber of Secrets.” Rowling goes into more detail into these magical objects and places, including origins and relation to real historical myth and legend. These were very interesting and well worth the read.

All in all, these stories are worth the read for any Harry Potter fan. They add just a bit more magic to the world that readers already know and love. Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies and Unreliable Guide are the best of the three, but Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists has its interesting merits as well. Despite not being actual stories with dialogue and new adventures for the characters we love, it was a fun intellectual read that I would go back to again, as well as hope for more from Rowling.

Lord of Shadows (Dark Artifices #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 5/5

The second book in The Dark Artifices trilogy (following Lady Midnight), this book does not disappoint. It is paced much better than the first novel and gives a lot of time to character development. (I would highly recommend reading Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy BEFORE reading this book; it adds a lot of information to what is unfolded in this volume).

The first half of the book mostly takes place in Faerie, when Gwyn shows up at the institute begging Mark to save Kieran, who is going to be murdered by the Unseelie King. Of course, Emma, Julian, and Christina cannot let Mark go alone. By going with Mark, the four must each give up something to enter Faerie, and in return learn of something they will gain or encounter in the fae land.

Meanwhile, Clare spends an exorbitant amount of time developing Tiberius and Livia Blackthorn, and their friend Kit (Christopher) Herondale, the newest edition to the Los Angeles Institute. The relationship that Ty has with both his sister and Kit greatly develops his character, and the fact that he has autism makes him even more interesting and unique, and their relationship may develop to something brotherly…or more?

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Gwyn and Diana are also more developed in this book, which greatly adds to their characters, and makes me want to see more of what they will be doing.

When Malcom Fade returns from the dead to wreak havoc on the institute while the four Shadowhunters are in Faerie, the Centurions that are there to investigate battle him, and Zara Dearbourn takes credit for his death, when Julian sees Malcom’s true death in Faerie. Malcom Fade successfully resurrects Annabel Blackthorn with the sacrifice of Blackthorn blood, and Annabel returns the favor by murdering her once-lover.

Now the Seelie Queen wants the Black Volume to take down the Unseelie King, and she wants the Shadowhunter’s help. The second half of the book takes place in London, where the Blackthorn children have fled to for their own safety. Kit, Ty, and Livvy investigate Annabel’s past. Emma and Julian’s rough relationship brings them to find some way around the parabatai curse, all while looking for Annabel and the Black volume. But they are not the only ones seeking the Black volume. The Unseelie Kings Riders of Mannon seek the Black Volume, and predict the Blackthorns have it. Saved by an unexpected ally, the Blackthorns meet Annabel and ask her to swear upon the Mortal Sword that Zara did not kill Malcom, but rather, that she did.

All the while while this is going on, Zara Dearborn is taking credit for Malcom’s death, among other events of heroism, is prejudiced against Downworlders, and is aiming to take the Lost Angeles Institute from the Blackthorn Family.

This book leave us wondering: What will happen to Emma and Julian? What about Ty, Livvy, and Kit? Will Julian be separated from his family?

This book was exciting, and I am ITCHING for the last one! Obviously, the answer is YES, you should read this book!

Some side notes:

The first edition of Lord of Shadows comes with a reverse jacket featuring a number of different Shadowhunter runes.

The Target edition has a map of Alicante, the Barnes and Noble edition comes with an exclusive short 7-page scene between Emma and Julian, and the Costco edition comes with a beautiful poster of Emma drawn by Cassandra Jean:

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Also, be on the lookout for the City of Bones 10th Anniversary edition (with exclusive art by Cassandra Jean) coming out this November, as well as the City of Bones graphic novel, published by Yen Press:

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King’s Cage (Red Queen 3)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

This is the third book in the Red Queen series. Following the ending events of Glass Sword, Mare is imprisoned by king Maven. The book title comes from her experience of feeling that she is constantly in a cage created by the king.

With Mare having Silent Stone shackles at all times, her powers are useless. She becomes weak, a pawn in Maven’s game. Maven forces Mare to enlighten Newbloods to come to his side and fight for him, that they will be duly rewarded.

One of the interesting aspects about this novel compared to the previous one is that we get Cameron’s point of view, a Newblood girl from the group rescued at Corvium Prison. When we get her perspective, we see what is going on with the Scarlet Guard, Cal, and the Newbloods during Mare’s imprisonment. This addition gives the reader a new perspective on Mare and Cal as people.

While Mare is imprisoned, she can tell that Maven must still have feelings for her. She uses that to her advantage, until he declared his engagement to the Lakeland Princess. During the wedding ceremony of Maven and the princess, Mare makes a daring escape with the help of someone the reader would not have expected, but her helper has their own goals in mind.

The whole first half of the book involves Mare’s imprisonment, but does not mean it it lacking. We learn a lot about the other nations and their opposition to Maven as king, as well as some of the high houses of Norta who think likewise.

The second half of the book involves taking Corvium, helping Newbloods, and making a bunch of political alliances in the Scarlet Guard’s plans to take over Norta. It also features a nice spotlight on Cal and Mare’s relationship, but when Cal is being put forth to be the king to take over Norta, Mare is furious, since he previously stated he did not want to be king again. This leads to an interesting cliffhanger in regards to there own romance.

Mare is also reunited with her family and becomes and auntie. She also meets a bunch of interesting Newbloods who want to see a world undiscriminating by blood, just like Mare.

This book was not quite as good as the first one, but it was better than the second, despite the fact that Mare is imprisoned for a huge chunk of the novel. If you thought the second one was a bit meh, fear not! This book more than makes up for the slow bits, leaves the reader with a lot of questions, as well as itching for more!

Crewe Chase and the Pearl Defender (Crewe Chase #2)-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5

Picking up right where Crewe Chase and the Jet Reapers left off, this book is much better than the first one! While the writing is simple and there are still a number of written redundancies that the reader does not need, the plot pick up, and the book had a leading promise for the adventures (and battles?) that await Crewe in the future.

In this second installment, we know Crewe has been admitted to the Jet Reapers, and that Cheyenne wants him out, but we do not know why.

Crewe gets his personal training from his favorite teacher at the castle, Professor Abernathy, who gruel’s Crewe down with physical force to help him become stronger. When Crewe finally sees that Abernathy has his best interests in mind, despite her treatment of him, he finally grows as a character.

Fans of the gravedigger scorpion, Rockcave, will not be dissapointed by this second book. One of the main subplots involves Crewe finding a way to create a portal on his own so that he may allow Rockcave a short vacation with the Scorpion Queen and to mingle among his own kind. The steps Crewe must take to satisfy his paired animal involve a whole assortment of people who Crewe is not so fond of–including Cheyenne.

While Crewe becomes stronger and proves his worth to learn how to make a portal, he learns a number of things about the Jet Reapers, including that they have a holding area for Cados. when Crewe finds a Cados leader and his wife and son in detainment being treated poorly, he begins to question the motives of the Jet Reapers.

Among the Jet Reapers is a Pearl Defender, someone who does not think all Cados are bad, and that not all wizards are good (and where have we heard this before? The dream of his mother as well as from Cheyenne–what could their connection be?)

The end leaves promise of a more exciting battle to come. If you can move past the set up and installment of the first novel, this one surpasses it greatly and shows promise for future installments in the series, so at least give this second book a try before you give up on Crewe Chase!

Crewe Chase and the Jet Reapers-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3.5/5

I was an advanced reader for this book, and to be honest, it is pretty hard to rate. I dived in knowing nothing about the book (I didn’t read a description or anything). All I knew was that “fans of Harry Potter” would love this book and that it is a fantasy book.

To begin with, yes, it is very reminiscent of Harry Potter, but it deviates from that pretty quickly.

The prologue is mysterious and interesting and is actually forgotten for the most part as the story goes on. The premise is that wizards are 1% of the global population and dropping due to their being hunted by the envious Cados humans who are jealous of wizarding powers.

Crewe  Chase is orphaned at birth, but his uncle kindly takes him in. When the Cados find out about their wizardry, Crewe is then orphaned at the age of 8 once again. A time skip brings us to 18-year-old Crewe and his hopes of getting accepted into Barbota University, a secluded school where wizards can practice magic and re-cultivate the magical culture. All Crewe wants is vengeance against the Cados.

Most of the characters are kind of plain and dry, but when Rockcave was introduced, I was in love! He’s my favorite and the animal linking is definitely one of the most interesting elements of the book. The plot was slow at first, but once Crewe arrives at the university, the pace picks up and the mystery of the Jet Reapers, as well as whoever is behind Crewe’s demise, keeps the plot fresh and moving forward. Overall I enjoyed the plot and would like to read the second one, but the thing that brings the book down is the writing.

The writing is very simple and there are many rewritten redundancies that I have learned to avoid in my own writing by numerous professors and writers when I edit my work (yes, we know the girl has green eyes and she is hot, and wasn’t it stated that Liam grew up on a farm when Crewe says later, “I didn’t know that,” wait what?) so that was a bit throwing. There are also a number of typos that were a bit irksome. Normally as an advanced reader, I send in to the editor the typo’s or redundancies that i notice, but with my digital copy I have location numbers, rather than page numbers, making it a bit hard to cite, and there were too many, just too many.

Despite all this, the question lies here: should you read it? Overall it was an enjoyable read and the simplistic writing made the story move fast, which I like. After the beginning and the very Harry Potter-esque qualities, the story picks up. The characters are a bit meh, but the plot is interesting enough to have me curious as to what comes next. The writing does not reflect the age of the character very well, and at the same time, it does. When I was 18, I was excited about college and had some end-goal in mind, and I even had a bunch of the same people in my classes once I was in my major. The ideals of the character match his age, but the language Crewe uses is very simplistic, but this leaves potential room for character development, which is good.

All in all, I would say that if you were or are one of those Harry Potter fans, give this books a chance. If you have never read Harry Potter, even better, because this story will be more fresh! I was interesting growing up with Harry, who was school age, and not being older having Crewe to continue the tale of magic for an older version of me and an older audience in general. Also, if you are a contemporary fantasy fan, I would say give this book a chance. It is for a somewhat selective audience, but I will be recommending it to those I know would appreciate and love this sort of tale.

A Darker Shade of Magic-Should You Read It?

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Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5

I dived into this book not really knowing much about it or what to expect. The beginning was a bit slow in that it took a few chapters to get into the mechanics of the worlds and how the main character travels between, but once it picked up, it really picked up! A great first book for a series that keeps the reader itching for more, something we need more of in today’s fantasy publishing’s.

While there are characters that are relatively young in age, this is not a young adult novel, it is a fantasy novel (also confirmed by the author, depending on which name she uses on the book will determine the target audience).

Kell is one of the last Antari, a magic user that can travel between worlds. There are four worlds, although one has been seemingly destroyed by dark magic. The remaining three worlds exist like sheets of paper, one placed on top of the other, and they have absolutely nothing in common save for all the worlds have a city named London in a similar place geographically: Grey London, Red London, White London, and the no longer existent Black London. Each of the London’s has its own unique features. Grey London is just that: grey, boring, and lacking magic (somewhat reminiscent of the London we know in our reality). Red London, Kell’s London, is bursting with festivity and magic and the ruling empire is flourishing, while White London is controlled by whoever is the strongest, whoever can kill and murder their way to the throne.

When Kell is given a package to deliver to another London, he is nearly killed in the process. Opening it to find a half jagged and half smooth black stone, Kell recognizes it as an implement of black magic, a relic from Black London that must go back. When his stone is pick-pocketed by a young thief, Delilah Bard, he must get it back, and expose the secret of magic to the citizen of Grey London.

Lila seeks adventure. She would love to have her own pirate ship one day, but when magic is introduced to her world, she aims to follow Kell in his trek to return the black magic stone to Black London. Kell can only travel between worlds if he has a relic from the world he is traveling to, a piece of that world that will allow him to connect. Black London is at the bottom of the stack, and getting there means moving through each of the London’s.

When the rulers or White London are found to be responsible for harboring the black magic stone in the first place, Kell and Lila must join forces to bring down the evils of White London and to get the stone back to the destroyed Black London from whence it came.

After starting this book and not knowing what to expect, I was drawn by the craft and characters that Schwab lays forth in her novel. Kell and Lila are both vastly interesting and unique characters that make me want to follow their adventures into the next book. The chapters are written episodically with a title for each section to get the reader thinking about what might be coming next. I would highly recommend this book for not only fantasy readers, but readers who enjoy a fast-paced adventure with great characters, so yes, you SHOULD read this book! I am looking forward to following Kell and Lila in the next part of their adventure in A Gathering of Shadows, the second book in the trilogy.

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