I started reading The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith simply because I didn’t have any other books at hand and it was lying untouched on my sisters bookshelf. It’s a fairly short book at 252 pages and I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I picked it up. So, its major plot point hit me quite unexpectedly. If you look it up on the all-knowing, ever so useful wikipedia, its classified as a psychological thriller, which is quite accurate. Highsmith wrote five books following the life of Mr. Tom Ripley and quite honestly I don’t know that I will read any of the next ones. I can’t decide if I like this book or hate it, mostly due to the narrator, Mr. Ripley himself. The writing is excellent and the plot is fascinating, keeping you at the edge of your seat to find out what happens next. But Tom Ripley is despicable and frankly I do not like him one bit.
I’ve run into a fair amount of people who love stories ending in a twist, perhaps the hero doesn’t survive or the quest isn’t fully completed. They’re seen as more realistic and are praised for breaking from the norm. For myself though, I love happy endings. I don’t read books because they accurately reflect real life. I read them for the stories, for the adventures, for the outcomes. Real life can already be difficult and not have happy endings and I don’t necessarily want that in every story I read. I do occasionally like those darker books with a twist but for whatever reason, I have been in the need lately for some happy resolutions. So, as I neared the end of A Conjuring of Light, I was filled with nervous anticipation. Would all my beloved characters make it through???
Before I get too much further, I want to give a quick background of the world V. E. Schwab creates. Or more accurately, worlds. Basically there are four different worlds but each have the same city, London, that generally have the same geographic markers (such as a large river running through it) as real life London.
That is the only similarity and each of the worlds are categorized by the magic that exists within each of them: Grey London has no magic, Red London is filled to the brim with magic, White London is slowly dying and losing its magic, and Black London has been overtaken by magic. The majority of the series focuses on the balance between the people and magic which, if given enough freedom, has a mind and force of its own. While travel between the worlds used to be more abundant, before the fall of Black London, now only a select few have the magic to do such. These people, called Antari, are who the story follows. For the most part, Red London is the center point for the series. It is the most vibrant of the worlds and thus also has the most to lose should the people, and the Antari, allow magic to run rampant. Now, with that background, back to how A Conjuring of Light, the final book in the series, went.
Schwab got me so thoroughly invested in each character, down to the point I even wanted the anti-hero, Holland, to succeed. Holland, the Antari from White London, was a mystery for much of the first two books. In fact, in the first he was one of the antagonists and ended up supposedly dead. Well, surprise! He survived. At first, I was a bit annoyed by this fact. Here my seemingly happy ending in the first book was shattered and the villain returned. However, Schwab completely erases the mystery behind Holland in the finale. We get snippets of his past and his memories, leading up to where we find him in A Darker Shade of Magic. My opinion of him did nearly a 180. I can’t completely absolve him of all of his deeds as some were quite
atrocious, but his motivations become much clearer. White London is a dark place where the need for magic rules and violence is rampant. All Holland wants is for his world to thrive and he struggles every step of the way. He is a perfect counter to Kell, the Antari of lively Red London, who rarely wants for anything. Their different lives are expertly played out throughout A Conjuring of Light and give a depth to each of the characters that was not there in the previous two books. So, despite my initial impressions, Holland grew on me and I found myself sympathizing with him. He was still could be insufferable, but I liked the contrast he brought to the story and wanted him to find his peace. Without giving too much away, I believe he did by the end. Of all the characters, his story was the least happy and yet I left satisfied with where it ended up.
So, for the rest of the book. It was great. The penultimate book ended in a huge cliffhanger and A Conjuring of Light picks up right where it left off. Adventure begins from the get go and Schwab doesn’t shy away from the realities of such adventures. A lot of fantastic, well-loved characters don’t make it to the end, but their deaths make sense. She doesn’t go around senselessly killing characters just for shock or a twist. We also get to see more of Red London’s world as new major players come from different countries within the world and the main characters’ quest takes them literally out to sea. In terms of life lessons and what not, the book does do a good job of demonstrating how a selfish desire for power can lead to ultimate destruction. In fact, I could argue that the entire series revolves around the consequences from a few, selfish acts by well intentioned people. In the end though, as cheesy as it sounds, it is the heroes and anti-heroes coming together in the end that saves the day. Schwab left me incredibly satisfied with a happy ending and promises of adventures to come for my favorite characters without making it cliche.
Once again, I can’t leave all this be without mentioning the fantastic female character, Lila Bard. She comes from Grey London in the first book but manages to trick the supposedly clever Kell into a ride to Red London. From there, she is integral part of each book and I love her. Rough and tough from the start, Lila is far from perfect and isn’t afraid of taking a life or three. Her flaws give her so much depth and she is not a typical, need to be saved, female character. Even her romantic interests are subtle and don’t over shadow the rest of her tale. While each of the main characters have great character building, Lila’s is still my favorite, and not just because she is the main female. She goes from a street thief barely surviving to an accomplished magician who helps save the day. In the beginning all Lila wants is a way out and an adventure. She gets just that while gaining both lifelong friends and a new home. Her adventurous spirit is not quelled though and in the end we get to see her once again sailing away towards more adventures, this time though, the captain of her own ship.
Just to wrap everything up and state the obvious, I love A Conjuring of Light and the entire Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab. It is a great fantasy series and I highly recommend it to all readers. The separate worlds meld marvelously together and the characters are well written with thorough character arcs. And the best part? Its finished! No agonizing wait for the next book (seriously George R.R. Martin, get on that please). It was one of those series I was sad to finish and one I will definitely return to.
4 books down and slightly behind but I’m going to tackle a smaller book next I think, just to give myself a quick, easy read. Happy Reading!
Happy (Belated) International Women’s Day!
Growing up I hated all things pink. As the only girl on the boys ice hockey team, I just wanted to fit in. I despised being the outcast. And then, in middle school, I finally had a teammate who was also a girl. Lo and behold, she loved pink! I didn’t get it, for years really, but I began to realize that I didn’t have to forgo my femininity to still be tough and rough and keep up with all the boys. Today, I am once again, as my male coworkers say, the ‘token female’, the only lady in our group at work. This time however, I am proud of that fact. I love it and embrace it. So, while pink is still not quite my favorite color I don’t hate it. The older I get the more I have come to appreciate how awesome women can be and how underrepresented such women are, even in good ol’ books. So, when I do come across strong, well-rounded female characters, I rejoice and make a mental note to NEVER forget them. In honor of International Women’s Day, I thought I would take a small break from my book challenge writings to share some of my favorite woman characters.
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling:
I can’t not start with Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter universe. In fact, I could probably write an entire novel myself on how amazing she is.
J.K Rowling, a real life, strong female role model, does such a fantastic job with Hermione. What I love the most though is how relatable Hermione can be. While she is way smarter than the average person, she is also so incredibly human. Rowling manages to balance her exceptional traits with being an otherwise normal teenage girl, showing her losing control and being emotional. Hermione isn’t just some alien brainiac. Young girls can look up to her and not feel like her success is unobtainable. For me, one of the defining characteristics of a strong, well-rounded female character is how well not just myself can relate, but also how younger generations of girls will relate to the character as they grow. Hermione does just this. She evolves and grows throughout the series into an incredibly successful adult with a career and a family. Women of all generations can look up to her and how she manages to embrace her identity as an intelligent, driven, and human woman.
Ella from Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine:
Around middle school I discovered I could not sing on key despite how hard I worked. Nor was I particularly skilled at dancing or any other respectable traits that were common to the typical Disney Princesses that I idolized growing up.So when I read
Ella Enchanted, it quickly became a favorite and remains, to this day, a book I will read over and over and over. The book is basically a retelling of Cinderella but Ella, the main character, is nothing like Cinderella. For one, she can’t sing or dance very well, which was an immediate draw for my young self. From the get go Ella takes control of her own destiny despite having a curse on her. She does everything from just surviving the cruelty of finishing school girls to fighting off ogres and traveling the country solo. She is the twist on the classic Disney Princess that I was searching for way back when and I still adore and admire her to this day.
Isabelle from The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah:
Vianne and Isabelle are sisters living in occupied France during World War II but each have very different experiences throughout the war. Both are incredible. As a historical fiction novel it is inspired by real people, specifically real women, who lived during the war. While both sisters have incredible strength,
I was struck most by the story of Isabelle. A young, single eighteen-year-old woman, she chooses to join the Resistance against the Nazis. Her resilience is remarkable as she constantly puts her life at risk to not only resist the Nazi regime but to also save others again and again. What is most inspiring to me about Isabelle is that although she is fictional, her character is based off of real historical figures. We hear countless stories of WWII heroics and while I never want to take away from those, I would love to hear more about the heroics of the many women who stayed behind and did what had to be done to resist and survive. WWII would not have been won without such amazing women fighting in the background. Isabelle and Vianne are great characters to remind us of that and show that while women may not fight on the front lines, they definitely do not shy away from the dangers of war and they have much more strength than they are given credit for.
Alanna Trebond from The Song of the Lioness Series by Tamora Pierce:
If you have not read Tamora Pierce, I would highly highly recommend it. Every single one of her books has female characters shattering the glass ceiling over and over. Of them all though, I hold Alanna Trebond closest to my heart. Based in a medieval world, Alanna Trebond is a girl who wants to become a knight, something that just is not done.
Well, she doesn’t care what the establishment says. She doesn’t want to go to some silly finishing school just to get married off to some noble.So, instead, she takes control, switches places with her brother, and pretends to be a boy for a remarkable eight years. It is amazing. She may be the smallest ‘boy’ but she is definitely the fiercest and most determined. Throughout the novels she grows up and embraces who she is, as both a knight of the realm and as a woman. As a young girl myself participating in sports where I was one of very few females, Alanna was the perfect character that I could have come across. Nothing, from difficult work to societal expectations, can stop Alanna. She truly becomes the change she wants to see in the world.
I could go on and on. Nothing gets me quite as excited as seeing amazing women represented in literature. I realize the majority of these books would be considered both fantasy and young adult. Growing up, all I read was fantasy so these stories really stuck with me and helped shaped who I am today as a woman. They are characters I continue to resonant with and am constantly returning to nearly every year. Fear not though, I will definitely come back and reflect on more fabulous characters that I adore. Strong female representation is so important to me especially since I know I would not be where I am without having some incredible women to look up to.
Back to reading!
The nature of my job at times requires minute amounts of brain power and I found that the best way to make it through was with audio books. Many, many audio books. Thank goodness our library has an extensive amount to choose from or I don’t know how I would have survived on some days. One of these days I’ll write about how amazing libraries are in general for so many reasons. But back to the audio books. Generally, I like to listen to books that I have already read. Why? Because then when my mind inevitable gets distracted, by a coworkers coming in or more interesting work that requires my full attention, I won’t be as miffed about missing parts of the book when I forget to pause it. Plus, there’s just something different about reading a new book versus listening to it and I prefer to discover new stories directly on paper. That being said, there are only so many audio books I can find of books that I have read. More recently I began to foray into audio books that were less familiar to me and I must say I have been enjoying it. Browsing the library online in their Available Now section, I lighted upon The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I remember my mom recommending it to me aaages ago and I definitely read it but at the time it must not have made too much of an impression because I only had faint memories of it. So, after browsing around and not finding much else available, I went for it. Oh boy, was it the right choice.