Tuesday, July 12, 2016


by V. E. Schwab

Story summary: A tale of dark superheroes and broken friendship, of great intelligence and great arrogance and great temptations.

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Intense relationships
  • Grittiness
  • Brilliantly intelligent people
  • Atmosphere
  • A lovely cover.

And Why You Might Not:
  • It can get pretty dark and bloody.
  • The protagonist is a definitive antihero (my cup of tea, but not everyone's)
  • Some of the several point-of-view characters aren't used to their full potential.

Thoughts: I love books about enemies becoming friends and friends becoming enemies and all those relationships that are intense and strong no matter what specific feeling is involved. I also love reading about arrogant, brilliant people who experiment with Science. I love superheros. And finally, I love twists on old tropes, and seeing a common story from a different perspective. So I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I first heard of it.

And indeed, all these elements were very enjoyable. I very much liked this book.
Yet... somehow I found it missing the impact I thought it would have. It's distinctly possible that it's my fault--there have actually been quite a few books recently with this problem, and I know that mood and stress and all kinds of other things can affect my enjoyment. But I'd still like to figure out which aspects didn't impress me, for whatever particular reason. So here goes:

I'm thinking the fault may be with the "Present" part of the book. The book goes back and forth between different times in the characters' lives, and the part taking place in the present day is darker in a more urban noir-ish sense. So maybe the cause is simply that I like reading about arrogant boys experimenting with weird science waaaay better than mobster killing noir stories? Though I could see another possible cause for dislike in the lack of character development for everyone who is not Victor or Eli, the two main characters. Well, maybe "lack of character development" isn't quite the right phrase... I'm not exactly sure what the problem was, but I just found that Sydney and Mitch especially didn't grip me nearly as much as I expected to. They are both the kind of characters I should love, and the point-of-view characters as well! Perhaps it would have made more sense to lessen the number of view-points. Stick with Eli and Victor, with maybe a bit of Mitch to see Victor from a stranger's perspective.

But I want to try more V. E. Schwab, for sure. A Darker Shade of Magic looks pretty darn cool.
(I might not actually read the sequel to this book, however. It was a complete enough story by itself, and I have too many other amazing books to read. I have been learning recently that life short and I will never read all the books I want to read. So prioritizing is important.)

Now a quick note on Eli's Christianity, since I find it interesting to compare to the recently reviewed A Certain Slant of Light. Eli's Christianity was a bit annoying, but only because he ended up (but didn't start out) being one of those "spouting Scripture while killing people" villains. They are such a cliche, and has anyone like that ever actually existed? Maybe that type of thing happens more in America or something, but here it seems like, even if you're going to do evil in the name of Christianity, you won't do it while spouting Scripture passages left and right.
But, other than that, I didn't really have a problem with it. It felt a lot better than A Certain Slant. For one thing, it wasn't a whole group of people who were ALL bad, it was a single individual. It also didn't seem to portray Eli's Christianity as a cause for his evilness, while the group in A Certain Slant seemed judgmental and horrible because they were Christians. And finally, having an atheistic protagonist who was also pretty evil seemed to make it more about the interesting dynamic between them and their faiths, rather than pointing a finger at the evils of religion.

And a final note: the cover! Not only is it a representation of a great scene from the book, but the character looks right and it gives a feeling for the atmosphere of the book very well. Plus it's just beautiful to look at. I really love my paperback version of this book--it looks and feels so, so lovely.

Grade: 4 stars

If You Like This, You Might Also Like:
  • Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson: Because becoming a superhero does something to the soul and it is nearly impossible to be Good.
  • Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow (and its sequels): Because it's yet another darker take on superheros. In fact, it's probably darker than Steelheart because it's more adult and less movie-like, like Vicious.
  • Now I'm trying to think of "friends become enemies" or brotherly rivalry books, but it's proving difficult. Jacob Have I Loved, maybe? I don't remember it well, and I didn't like it all that much, but it still made an impression and it's a classic. And there's always the great "X-Men: First Class" movie, with Charles Xavier and Magneto, but that's a movie and I haven't read the comics. Gah, this is too hard. If something comes to mind later, I'll edit this and add it.

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