Finding a favorite author is like striking gold—rare, and something to be celebrated. So Geek Girl Riot’s Sam Devotta is throwing a party, and you’re all invited: listen in as she tells you all about one of her favorite authors, V.E. Schwab. Hear the lowdown on Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, her other works, and just why she would be cool to hang out with (Victoria, if you’re listening, Sam is patiently awaiting your
invite to have tea next book.)
(Note: Sam refers to the Shades of Magic series incorrectly as the Shades of London series. Please excuse her mistake, we’re putting it down to her getting far too excited to geek out over her favorite author AND her favorite city of London all in one go.)
Hello friends, it’s Sam with your monthly Samantha Report for Geek Girl Riot on idobi Radio. In my real life (i.e. when I’m not working retail or at a concert), I’m trying to break into the publishing industry, both as a career path but also as a writer. So you can imagine that I spend a lot of my time reading and worshipping the people who are living my dream of writing for money.
I have a lot of favorite authors. Authors I’ve looked up to since childhood like J.K. Rowling and Gail Carson Levine, or authors I’ve only really started appreciating in the past few years like Neil Gaiman, or even classic writers like Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen. One of my recent faves is Victoria—or V.E.—Schwab. In fact, I only started reading her books this year, but since barrelling my way through A Darker Shade of Magic in February, I’ve read nearly everything she’s put out. Despite a self-imposed book buying ban (I have a slight problem), I’ve even invested money in a hard-to-find used copy of her first book, The Near Witch, and am just waiting for it to be delivered.
What is it about Victoria Schwab that I like? Well, her stories are definitely a big thing. As I said, the first V.E. Schwab book I picked up was A Darker Shade of Magic, and it had literally everything I wanted in a book. It takes place in a world of multiple Londons—and since London is my favorite city, I was already sold before I even finished reading the jacket copy. Add in a guy with a cool coat, a cross-dressing lady who wants to be a pirate and is fascinated by knives, a bisexual prince who oozes charisma, and magic galore, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for the perfect story. Of course, sometimes books will have fantastic concepts but the execution is subpar; not so with Victoria Schwab. Her writing has been compared to Neil Gaiman and it’s a well deserved compliment. She has a way of making her words count—nothing superfluous or unnecessary, only the things you need to know delivered in tight, elegant prose.
The second book in the Shades of London (correction: Shades of Magic) trilogy, A Gathering of Shadows, is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year. It continues the story of Kell and Lila—the guy with the coat and the cross-dressing lady pirate I mentioned earlier—and if you don’t ship them by the last page, then it’s probably because you were distracted by Kell’s foster brother, Prince Rhy, who is one of the sassiest scene-stealers I’ve ever come across. Basically, when it comes to the Shades of London (correction: Shades of Magic), you pick up the book for the plot but end up staying for the characters. Also—spoiler alert—it ends on one heck of a cliffhanger, and if you speed-read it as fast as I did, waiting for the third book, A Conjuring of Light, is torture. It comes out next February, but I don’t know if I can last that long.
Other Victoria Schwab books include Vicious, her take on a traditional superhero origin story told from the point of view of the villain. In a world where people gain powers after surviving a near death experience, Victor and Eli start experimenting to see just what they can accomplish with these newfound abilities. While Eli is technically the hero of the piece and Victor is the villain, both characters exist in such a huge grey area, it’s hard to determine who is actually good and who isn’t.
A couple of months ago, Victoria came under fire on Twitter when she described Vicious as being very “white” and mentioned how she was learning how to create a more diverse cast of characters. I missed where and when the conflict first started so it’s hard for me to make an informed decision when it comes to talking about who was right and who was wrong, or even take sides, so I’ll just say this: I think it’s great that authors are actually taking ownership of their mistakes. Sure, acknowledging that a book that’s been out for a couple of years wasn’t diverse isn’t that helpful since you can’t retroactively change the plot, but admitting that you did your fans a disservice by ignoring diversity is a good first step—and something Tim Burton really needs to learn, but that’s a discussion for another day. I think, since Vicious, Victoria’s really stepped up her game and her characters in subsequent novels are a lot more well rounded in all areas.
While the Shades of London (correction: Shades of Magic) series and Vicious are technically “adult” books that can be considered crossover reads, she does have a YA series, The Archived. Basically, there’s a library of dead people who sometimes escape and have to be banished back into the netherworlds by keepers like Mackenzie Bishop who has been training with her grandfather for years. Mac isn’t alone in this, though; she eventually meets a fellow keeper named Wesley who is all suave and charming and wears guyliner. I’m not even joking when I tell you I’ve been waiting years to read about a YA hero who wears guyliner. As someone who entered the pop punk scene in 2007, most of my ideal men have worn makeup at some point in their musical careers, and I’m so there for Mac’s fascination with her eyeliner and black nail polish wearing friend-turned-love-interest. The concept, like all of Victoria Schwab’s books, is fascinating, and it’s interesting to see how her writing style has developed over the years.
I also made it a point to check out her middle grade Everyday Angel series, which features a guardian angel, Aria, who has to help three young girls before she can earn her wings. Because it’s written with a younger audience in mind, the structure is a lot simpler, but Victoria’s words are employed just as skillfully. She weaves Aria’s story with those of Gabby, Caroline, and Mikayla, three twelve year olds who come from different backgrounds—racially and in terms of their family—as the girls learn more about themselves and, with Aria’s help, overcome the obstacles that hang around them like smoke, preventing them from being happy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost cried during the first one, despite being at least double the age of the target audience.
Victoria’s most recent novel, This Savage Song, sees her return to the world of YA. It’s a weird book of monsters and magic, and even if I didn’t love it as much as I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, it’s still remarkably well-written. You could call it a dystopia but it’s a more than just wastelands and a dying human race. August is a violin playing monster, born out of tragedy, who just wants to be human and not worry about accidentally obliterating everyone when he loses control of his powers. Kate is a human girl from the other side of town, heir to the most powerful man in the city. I wouldn’t call Kate monstrous but she definitely has a cruel streak. The story is told through dual perspectives, each one compelling in its own way, and you’ll see parallels to our real world tragedies along the way. By the time it ends…well, you’ll be scrambling for the sequel, Our Dark Duet, which comes out next summer. It’s also interesting to note that there’s no romance in the story between our two protagonists and I don’t really think their friendship will develop into something more in the sequel, but Victoria Schwab can be tricky and hard to predict, so we’ll see.
It should be pretty obvious by now that I’m into her books, but I also think she’d be a cool person to hang out with. Like me, she drinks a lot of tea, though unlike me, she has a weird thing against Earl Grey, which is actually my favorite flavor. She also tweets about mental health and sexuality, describing her own struggles with anxiety as well as the fact that she’s bisexual, and I think it’s really important that she’s so open. She has such a huge platform to reach young adults who may be dealing with similar issues, and I think it’s awesome that they can relate to one of their heroes. And, being a music nerd, it’s cool to see that she has a similar taste in music to me. She tweets about what she’s listening to and when it’s bands like twenty one pilots or Royal Blood, I get weirdly excited, knowing that I could at least count on getting a good music recommendation from her. Actually, I met her at the end of October at her first ever event in Toronto and all I can say is “meet your heroes, kids”. She was sweet and funny and graciously signed a ridiculous amount of books for everyone in the audience—I alone had three. And she compared writing a first draft to navigating the Fire Swamp…as a writer and a fan of The Princess Bride, this comparison really stuck with me.
I’m not saying she’s everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t deny her talent—she’s hardworking and consistently puts out excellent material, and how many other authors have that many best-selling novels under their belts before turning 30? Give her a chance, and then let me know what you think—I’ll still be here, quietly weeping, until her next book comes out.
Sam Devotta is a proud Ravenclaw with a fondness for YA novels and pop-punk bands. If she’s not gushing about pop culture on her website, Mind the Gap Zine, she’s writing for idobi and/or scouring the internet for the perfect reaction GIF.