Fantasy, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Magical worlds

Goodness me I started this post ages ago and then ran out of steam because I thought I didn’t have enough books to talk about and got distracted before I read any more. But hey I’ve got here at last…

Shades of Magic by VE Schwab

Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

This is a trilogy set in three parallel Londons in the Regency era.  Kell is from Red London and is one of the rare people who can travel between the worlds and he does so as an ambassador for the Red King, but also as a smuggler, moving articles between one world and another.  White London is violent and enchanted, with frequent bloody regime changes, but its magic is disappearing. Grey London has Mad King George and no magic at all, and that’s where Kell escapes to early in the first book of the series (A Darker Shade of Magic), when one of his transactions goes awry, and where he meets Delilah after she picks his pocket.  I made the final book in the trilogy a BotW, so if you want to follow the madcap duo escaping mortal peril, rocketing through the three different worlds facing enemies and discovering the secrets of magic and trying to work out what happened to Black London.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern

Cover of the Night Circus

There’s only one book in this world, but what a world it is.  This is another former BotW (but that was years ago, so it’s over the statue of limitations for repeats!), so I don’t need to write too much about it here because you can read more of my thoughts there. The Night Circus has been so successful, it already has a Vintage Classics Edition – as you can see.  For a slightly more spoiler-y summary than I was prepared to give back in the day, I’ll tell you that Le Cirque de Reves appears and disappears in towns without warning.  Inside is a wonderful world of marvels – but only at night.  Behind the scenes two magicians, Celia and Marco, are competing against each other in a duel, but what they don’t know is that it is a duel to the death.  When they meet, they fall in love but once a duel is started, it has to play out. Morgernstern’s second book The Starless Sea, also features a magical world – with a main character who finds an authorless book which seems to be telling a story from his own past and starts a trail that leads him to an ancient library.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett

If you’ve been here a while, you’ll be aware of my love of Terry Pratchett, but new readers may have missed out because because I’ve already read pretty much all of his writing, I haven’t had an opportunity to talk about him recently.  I adore the Discworld.  I listen to at least one of the books set there on audio book pretty much every month, but because I’m a bit picky about my narrators (once you’ve heard Stephen Briggs you can’t go back) then they’re all from the later end of the saga.  I think my favourite book is Going Postal, but it’s tough to chose – especially as there are so many that are so good.  Unusually for me, I never tell people to start at the beginning of the series – but to go for either Mort, Wyrd Sisters or Guards, Guards as a starting point.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Rincewind and I want a Luggage of my own, but they’re not the most accessible of the series.  But what’s not to love about Death’s Apprentice (Mort), Granny Weatherwax and her Coven (Wyrd Sisters) or Vimes and the Watch (Guards, Guards) and they give you a starting point into some of the series’ big themes as well as the running threads.  And if you’ve got middle grade children, the Tiffany Aching books are perfect too.

The Last Dragon Slayer by Jasper Fforde

This is the most “Normal” of all of Jasper Fforde’s books, but don’t let the TV tie-in edition cover fool you, his middle grade series is just as mad and freewheeling as his adult stuff – just for kids. The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world where magic is disappearing. Jennifer Strange runs an employment agency for magicians, but then the visions start and they predict the death of the last dragon in the world and that it will be killed by an unknown dragonslayer. And well, you’ll have to read it. There are four in the series, and the last only came out in 2021. I’ve only read the first one, but I want to read the others – I just haven’t got to it yet, because, well you’ve seen the star of my to-read pile. Anyway, if you want a magical book for young readers that doesn’t involve a school, then take a look.

And finally, a couple of other books that feature magical worlds but that are still within the statute of limitations for me writing about them, there is The House in the Cerulean Sea, and although not strictly magical but because of the feeling that it creates while you read it The Circus of Wonders.

Now you’ll notice that all these books are set in the past – there are a few magical books that I love that are set in the present – but mostly you’d’ve got me wittering on about Peter Grant and how much I love the Rivers of London series – and I’ve already done that plenty!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical

Book of the Week: Sorcerer to the Crown

After that run of (excellent) murder mysteries a few weeks back, I’m trying to make sure there’s a bit of variety in the BotW posts – obviously reading material permitting – and this week we have some magical historical fiction action for a change, with Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, which you may have spotted on the Week in Books lists just a few times.  This was mostly because I started reading it and then it got buried in a pile and a bit forgotten about because I didn’t want to make it all battered by putting it in my work bag.  But as you can see, in the end I found a way of dealing with it and it made it to work and back a couple of times while I read it and is still in fairly pristine nick…

Copy of Sorcerer to the Crown
It’s been a while since we had a Reading-on-the-Train photo…

Sorcerer to the Crown is the story of Zacharias, the new Sorcerer to the British king and his new apprentice, Prunella.  Now women are only allowed to be witches, and grudgingly at that, but Prunella seems to have more magic at her untrained fingertips than she knows what to do with and Zacharias thinks she might be able to help him work out what has happened to England’s supply of magic, and at the same time help him reform English Magick in general.  Prunella has other plans though.  She’s trying to find out where she came from and what the mysterious gift is that her father seems to have left her.  On top of all that, Zacharias is a freed slave and despite the fact that he was the adopted son of the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, his skin colour means that the other magicians are disinclined to follow his lead – especially given the rumours surrounding the circumstances of the death of his predecessor.  That plus an impulsive and impetuous young girl makes for a fairly explosive combination.

I found the story is a little slow to get going, but once it does there is plenty of adventure and action.  I wanted to know a more about the world that we were and how it worked sooner, but a lot of information is held back from the reader for a long time.  This makes it very hard for you to get a sense of where you are and to get your bearings early on.  Prunella is a great character, full of derring-do and get up and go, but I didn’t find her very likeable.  Zacharias is more promising, but because he’s so caught up in rules and problems and on top of that is a bit wet, so I found it a bit hard to find some one to like and root for.  But he was definitely on the side of right, and Prunella probably was, so that helped!

I had heard a lot of talk about Sorcerer to the Crown and lots of recommendations from bookish people, but in the end I liked rather that loved it.  A sequel is coming I believe and I’ll probably look for that at the library rather than buying it outright.  That said, this was still the best book that I read last week, and so for that reason it’s a merited BotW.  It’s also inspired me to write a post about magical worlds, so you can expect to see that at some point in the near future, once I’ve done a little bit more reading!

My copy of Sorcerer to the Crown came from Big Green Bookshop, but you should be able get from any good bookshop with a reasonable fiction section.  Or you can get it online from Amazon or in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!