Cw: mention of abuse, assault, sexual violence, self harm
There are some books so bad you wish you could scrub from your memory. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
A darker shade of magic was painful, if I hadn’t read children of blood and bone it would have been the worst book I read so far this year.
Everything about this book from the writing, to the characters, to the plot, to the world was such a massive disappointment.
The writing was the least bad thing but it still bothered me. It was passable and even beautiful at time but it felt like she was using flowery language to add a whimsical, magic atmosphere to her story to distract from the poor world building and nothing plot. Not to mention a lot of the times the metaphors and similies made no sense. I distinctly remember a line that went along the lines of, “Holland made a sound, half way between a laugh and a smile.”
Now read that line and really think about how much nonsense it is. A smile isn’t a sound and the first sound one would associate with a smile is laughing.
Schwab would also go on and on about how black and dark things were, which on top of often being redundant they were sometimes so hyperbolic they made no sense. I get wanting to use flowery writing, and I don’t dislike flowery writing but if your metaphors make it harder for me to visualise what you are talking about you’ve messed up.
There were so many good ideas and so much potential but Schwab didn’t explore, develope and handle them well enough.
There was a lot of dark concepts, like abuse, mind control and assault in this story that was mostly glossed over. I found this so problematic, because not only were they often simply plot points or to show how “strong” the protagonist was, or how evil the antagonists were, the trauma and any emotional repercussion were ignored and the whole experience was trivialised. The story starts with Lila almost being raped by her landlord and her killing him! Yet it is brushed off and never comes up again. Lula barely even thinks about such a traumatic thing or feels remorse at killing someone! This not only made me uncomfortable by how it was handled but it made Lila unrelatable. I wished more people gave trigger/content warnings when they recommend this book so enthusiastically.
The characters were either incredibly boring (Kell), uncomfortable stereotypes (Rhy) and just plain hateful and annoying (Lila). I can’t even put into words how much I detest Lila so I’m going to focus on Rhy. Rhy was a fun likable character, but the only character trait/personality he was given that he was a promiscuous bisexal. As a bisexal myself, I felt so deeply uncomfortable by how completely he was defined by who he wanted to sleep with. Not to mention because he was given this one personality trait, all the characters around him defined him by his flippant behaviour/promiscuity so it read like every one including his brother and his guards were sexualizing him.
Kell had no personality beyond powerful Antari who is a bit of a whiny rich boy who is bored with his job and is a bit of a bro con. I also find it hilarious that he had more romantic tension with Rhy than Lila.
The villains were literal cartoon characters. They were so over the top evil I remember laughing while I read there sections. I also hate how Schwab coded Athos so explicitly as a gay rapist to show how terrible he was. Astrid also was a creep in the way she behaved and talked about Holland and Kell. Athos and Astrid have compulsion magic which they use to make Holland self harm so they could drink his blood for lols. It was lazy and over the top.
Pretty much a fetch magic item, carry magic item to certain place and defeat the dark Lord quest. Like LOTR but not as good.
There wasn’t anything special about the plot which was troubling since it’s a plot driven story. Everything felt a bit forced and way the characters got pulled into it was contrived.
(spoilers) we learn in the end that Kelly was given the black stone on the orders of the Dane twins. But my question is why was it necessary? They said it was so the black stone couldn’t be traced back to Holland and then to the twins but surely once they open a permanent door to the other London surely it wouldn’t matter? Besides wouldn’t Rhy’s mind control necklace be traced back to Holland anyway so not like they were being subtle about it. Plus, in then end the was Kell defeated the magic trying to take over his body was so simple I was annoyed why he didn’t think of it earlier. (spoilers over)
The main reason I found ADSOM so disappointing was how bare and uncreative the worlds were. Schwab has good ideas but insisted on not developing it at all. I read it because I wanted to see how she handled the multiple worlds because I’m writing a book with parallel worlds and omfg this book had so little world building.
Schwab distracts the reader by making the story very atmospheric but if you try and actually think about it everything falls apart. Why does Kell need to go to grey London? I don’t want the books reason, think of a reason why the royal family would want to send their precious Antari to a world they don’t care about, they don’t trade with, they don’t war with, they have no need or want or gain any advantage by communicating with them, so why send Kell to Grey London? To bring Lila into the story, that’s why.
Red London lacked any character or uniqueness. The only thing that distinguished it from any other generic European fantasy city was it smelled of flowers and had a magic glowing River. Why do they sell vials of the water from the Isle in the Red London market when the Isle is close by! I’m not sure the exact distances but it felt like it was barely a mile away. I know these are small nit picks but there were so many things that sounds good but don’t fit into the world or simply don’t make sense. It was all style over substance.
How the magic was used also bothered me so much. Kell and Holland are Antari and trained to wield magic. Why was it then, that people with so much magic were so uncreative with how they used it? Not to mention when they got the stone they could do literally anything but still the things they made were so boring. Why not make giant gollems, or ships made of ice? Why didn’t they turn castles into dust and raise armies made of smoke and fire? Why were there not intricate illusions? No cages made of sound and heat? Why not create sink holes and tornadoes? Schwab never made is clear what the limits of the Antari were, she only made it clear her over powered magic users were boring.
I think, I would have enjoyed this book more (or at least hated it less) if I didn’t have any expectations going in. I was so hyped for this story, so ready to love it and Stan it but… It was so much nothing. It was pretty on the outside but filled with hot air. It’s biggest failing was its characters and my detachment from the characters was probably why I noticed so many other flaws with the story.
It’s not a bad book. A solid 3/5 but it’s not a good book. I wish I never read it and only had this idea of it being this wonderful, incredible, magic dream and not a bad memory.
Soon after I read this I read children of blood and bone which I hate so much more. And after two bad fantasy books in a row it honestly made me question whether I even like fantasy and if I should stop writing it since what’s considered good fantasy, made me so miserable. It put me into a reading slump I just got out of. I didn’t even write a review on goodreads because my experience reading it was so unpleasant.
If you liked ADSOM great! I wish I could say the same.