Spellbinding: A Darker Shade of Magic

When I read the Night Circus 5 years ago, I was enchanted by the storytelling and the magic that was entwined into each page. With this in mind, I didn’t think a magical world could really be created in the same way, with the element of mystery that keeps the reader hooked throughout. However, I was pleased to find that A Darker Shade of Magic sat in this same category, providing a world that is very familiar, with a twist of the fantastical.

And before all you Harry Potter fans cry out about overlooking Hogwarts, this genre of magic sits in its own category away from the adventures of the Chosen One.

I found the narrative descriptive enough to immerse you in the ritualistic performance of magic, whilst not weighing the reader down with description. This meant that you had plenty of capacity to imagine new characters, new worlds, and new adventures.

Following a soul who was born with magic running through his veins, we are transported between Grey, Red and White London, each with its own characteristics and traits.

As with most fictional stories, there is a fight between good and bad, with the all-consuming dark magic being cast as the villain of the tale. Although this is predictable, particularly with its character being cast in jet black, the childlike belief that good reigns supreme helps to justify your hope that the dark will be defeated.

Kell is not only the guide for the characters within the book, but for the reader, as he instructs how to use magic in these differing worlds. And as in most texts, he is a flawed protagonist, who can’t help but feed a dark trait to smuggle artifacts between the worlds, only serving to land him in an unwanted situation; he’s a perfect example of how there’s good and bad in us all.

Sometimes, particularly in times of crisis in our very real world, it’s nice to enter a magical one within the pages of a great book and to see how in the end it is the good that wins the battle.

A Darker Shade of Magic: V. E. Schwab


Running in Circles; End of the World Running Club

Apocalyptic books often have your heart racing and adrenaline pumping as you scramble for logical conclusions of what you would do at the end of the world. And although End Of The World Running Club delivered this at times, the vast majority of the book left me feeling fairly indifferent.

I think this is largely down to the author making the characters fairly unlikable; rather than encouraging the reader to will for their survival. I found myself wondering whether I really cared what happened to the group.

Usually I am easily able to paint a picture of a character in my head and they quickly take shape as I turn from page to page. However right to the last sentence, I wouldn’t have been able to describe the protagonist, nor can I recall his name even now. I believe this was probably why I felt unconnected to the story and the direction it took.

Yes the story was interesting and came from a new angle in a very crowded category, but no it didn’t deliver an electrifying read. Although it was the end of the world, it certainly didn’t feel like it once I reached the book’s conclusion.

The End of the World Running Club: Adrian J Walker

Running Like Clockwork: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

The Watchmaker at Filigree Street has been on my shelf for well over a year and I’ve been waiting for the opportune moment to read it. And finally, that time has come (no pun intended).

Set in Victorian London, an era I can soon become weary of, the narration painted a fantastic picture of this steampunk world. I found that rather than becoming tiresome of the intricate details that can often be associated with period drama pieces, these flourishes of character added to the atmosphere that was being created.

The magical nature of Mori pulls you into his world of intricate and mystical clockwork, whilst remaining an enigma and mysterious force. In addition, Katsu, a mechanical octopus, becomes a welcome friend as he appears sporadically throughout the tale.

With it being a mixture of both mystery and magic, love and suspense, this book would be enjoyed by a variety of different people; what more could you ask for?

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street: Natasha Pulley

Game On: Ready Player One

I don’t know how I missed the hype on this, but I thought I’d somehow uncovered a hidden gem once I started reading Ready Player One. Of course I had, but what I didn’t appreciate was the immense following the book had already built.

Working in marketing, I am constantly challenged to look at the new trends and fads that are taking hold, which at the moment of course is virtual reality – there’s no escaping it.

Therefore I was taken aback at how relevant this book is, even for the year 2017. With no distinction between reality and the virtual one, this book takes a glance to our future and makes a very justifiable stab at how we may be living.

This in itself is quite a terrifying thought. We are awestruck by the virtual worlds we can create in 2017, and it only takes a couple more leaps-and-bounds before Ready Player One is no longer a sci-fi novel but a factual text.

The fantastic entwining of the past in 1980 and the not-so-distant future of 2044 perfectly shapes the novel. We are able to look back in history and nod at these details, whilst dreaming about the paths we may take in 30 years time.

Having grown up in the 90s, although the references are firmly rooted in the disco decade, I see parts of my childhood creeping into the pages; the etch-a-sketch, Ferris Bueller’s Big Day Off, and a DeLorean with a Ghostbusters logo printed on its famous winged doors.

Ready Player One is an enticing sci-fi adventure, with (geeky) wit, a lot of pop-culture references, plenty of action, and a climatic finale. So it comes as no surprise that we’ll soon be seeing trailers for the Steven Spielberg adaptation, which will no doubt take the world by storm.

Ready Player One: Ernest Cline

Tension Builder: Bird Box

To give a sense of how I felt reading the climatic Bird Box, I want you to close your eyes and listen. What are those sounds that you can hear? Do you feel yourself listening for the unknown?

Bird Box is a classic cat and mouse tale, where humans are prey to a mysterious force that if seen turns a person insane. The protagonist, unable to open her eyes, too afraid to glimpse the beast, must guide herself and her children to safety. And the reader is invited to join them on this terrifying journey into unknown territory. We cannot comprehend what will come of the characters as we flick from page to page.

Bird Box is an easy read and therefore perfect for this time of year when you don’t want to find yourself too challenged from the comfort of your sun lounger. There is a slight disappointment for me in its lack of conclusion; though I guess some things are best left unknown.

I must keep my review short and sweet, as part of its magic and intrigue comes from the lack of knowledge from the reader.

Although I both loved and enjoyed Bird Box, I must admit to having an urgency to reach its conclusion. I was nervous that if I turned out the light too soon, without having finished the book, I would fall prey to the creature myself.

Bird Box: Josh Malerman

Suspenseful: Station Eleven

I love that feeling when you’re in a bookshop and one of the store assistants wanders over when you have a book in your hand, deliberating on the purchase, and nods in approval. This is what happened when I picked up Station Eleven in Waterstones in Piccadilly Circus.

When I wander into the sci-fi and fantasy areas of the bookshop I sometimes wonder if I’ll emerge with my street cred in tatters. Yet I would happily risk this to recommend this book to you.

This book is more than your average zombie apocalypse story; for one thing there’s no zombies. But there is plenty of apocalypse. I found myself panicking and my heart racing as I turned each page, wondering what I would do if a deadly strain of virus had picked off the majority of this world’s population. Would I lock myself away? Head for the countryside? Seek comfort with others and risk infection?

I now act as an ambassador for Station Eleven, and when I see a deliberator in Waterstones in Piccadilly Circus, I’ll be there nodding in approval.

Station Eleven: Emily St John Mandel