Phoenix Comicon has become a well-known convention for many genre authors to attend, perhaps even more so than most comic conventions. This year, the author guest list was rounded out with such genre greats as Terry Brooks, Timothy Zahn, and Diana Gabadon. We had the opportunity to meet lesser known fantasy author V.E. Schwab, whose work we had been eyeing for some time, but had never gotten around to actually reading it. We were first introduced to V.E. Schwab’s work through an excerpt of her book, A Darker Shade of Magic, in a sci-fi/fantasy magazine. We enjoyed the Gaiman-esque style of her writing style. The story did not feel heavy or overly involved as many epic fantasies do, but still drew us in and kept us interested. She treats the concept of magic as something close to home rather than being otherworldly as many fantasies represent it.

Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in the “Shades of Magic” trilogy that just completed its release this year. It follows the adventures of Kell, one of the last travelers i.e. magicians who can travel through different dimensions. Kell is a messenger who passes information between the three Londons (Red London, Gray London, and White London) which all exist in different universes. Although the story takes place in London, the only London that would be familiar to the reader is Gray London which is reminiscent of Victorian London. The other Londons are vastly different and have varied relationships with magic. Gray London is largely magic-less and reflects a real world London that most readers know. Red London, the homeland of Kell, is vibrant and rich with magic and wealth. White London is a brutal land where the people are magic-starved. It is ruled by ruthless twin monarchs who seek to subjugate all citizens of magical ability and consume magic for themselves. There was also a Black London, but no one talks about Black London anymore as it was devoured by magic sometime ago and no longer exists.

V.E. Schwab’s writing style is elegant and relaxed, allowing the reader to easily slip into her setting, without overly verbose descriptions to overwhelm the reader. At her panel at Phoenix Comicon, Schwab described her definition of door writers and window writers. She explains that some authors give you a door and they let you step inside and see every detail. She is a window writer. She lets you see just enough detail to get an understanding of the setting, but keeps everything else just out of view so that the reader has to make up their own conclusions about the rest of the world.

Schwab also gave us some insight into being a female writer in the male dominated field of fantasy writing. She revealed that although she has a few young adult novels under the name Victoria Schwab, she felt the need to go by her gender-neutral initials V.E. (Victoria Elizabeth) as a way to court male readers who would otherwise be put off by a female author. In fact, one fan even told her that he was glad he didn’t know she was a woman when he picked up her book, otherwise he would not have read it. Sadly, this sort of prejudice is still quite common in the book industry. Even J.K. Rowling chose to go with her initials to avoid putting off male readers. Can you imagine if a whole generation of boys never got to know the amazing Harry Potter series, because they didn’t want to read a book written by a female author?

If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and are looking for an interesting take on a magical multiverse of London as a setting, give A Darker Shade of Magic a try. It’s a fast read and a nice break from weighty epic fantasy like Game of Thrones.