Hello y’all, and welcome back to Weekly Reads!
It’s sweet to actually be able to provide you with an actual fresh take on some new books. The official release date for A Conjuring of Light was February 21st, and The Hate U Give will be releasing February 28th. I’m reading what’s new and hot? What is happening.
Also: buckle up for a long one today, friends.
A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Premise: This is the third and final book in a trilogy, so I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s go with: the Shades of Magic series is set in a fantasy multiverse where Kell, a blood mage, travels between versions of London and tangles with others grasping for power. One of these individuals, a quick-witted thief named Lila from a London without magic, ends up travelling with and without him.
The Good: A Conjuring of Light delivered satisfying conclusions for all of its major characters, from my point of view, except in one instance where I felt satisfied by the character’s development/choice, but not with the narrative decision to not get more from that backstory (I wanted to know, agh).
It also delivered some great banter, some great worldbuilding (as the author hinted, there’s another sea journey, and it adds more texture and depth to the setting), some compelling backstory (especially for Holland, which I was so interested in!), and some development for Rhy, which I think was needed. Also, lots of shipping moments, with a few racy ones, too.
I’m going to go off here, but the good does outweigh the bad by far. It’s just that given the first two books in this trilogy, this conclusion had a lot to live up to. So again, there were some great endings. But.
The Bad: …but I actually had some real issues with this final book. The first is that it feels like it suffers from some narrative bloat.
Previously, I’ve talked briefly about how one of the weaknesses of The Lunar Chronicles was the unfocused feeling it got as it moved towards the climax, because it started from a tight focus (on Cinder) and expanded out to focus on a huge cast of characters. To some extent, I could see how it was necessary for the scope of the author’s intended culmination, but because there was definite imbalance in the development of characters/time we were given to start caring about them, it often felt like I was just waiting for the story to wheel back around to someone I wanted to hear about (also see: that part in the combined ASoIaF Feast/Dance order where it’s all Greyjoys and I lose faith in humankind).
Such is life in A Conjuring of Light. Schwab has done (and does) well to include the perspectives of minor characters to witness meaningful events so that we can see what’s creeping up on the protagonists. However, here there’s also a bunch of secondary characters grabbing perspective moments so we can get their motivations and feelings. And since we already had perspectives of that type that we gained in A Gathering of Shadows, and we only lose maybe one here, that’s…a lot of people to give a heck about, and sometimes, I just don’t want to. (Especially if I could be hearing about Holland’s backstory instead.) Sometimes, this is an issue where I just don’t feel the character’s thoughts are necessary for us to know about; in some cases, I feel like their actions could use that clarification (or we need their eyes to see what they’re doing), but we could do with less.
Another issue is that one of these perspectives is that of the villain, and just…for this villain, this doesn’t work for me. The threat of this villain feels entirely diminished by dwelling inside his head, and there are many other ways we could be receiving information about what he’s doing and what his motivations might be. (And it’s way scarier if we don’t know for sure.)
I’m also going to say that thing I always say: pacing. This book starts off with a bang, then stalls midway through until it takes off on a quest, then the climax is so quick it feels anticlimactic (I quite enjoy Schwab’s dialogue and worldbuilding but I’m a bit more ehhh about the fight scenes), then it’s a fast-paced wrap-up. (Also, I feel like this book rivals the Bleach anime re: ridiculous amounts of blood loss without anyone dying or slowing down. Which also felt like a pacing concern.)
Between this and the sometimes-unnecessary-feeling perspectives, I was a bit flummoxed since it felt like the book often went left when I expected it to go right—not in a cool plot twist way, but in terms of what it focused on. I didn’t care at all what the villain was thinking. But I did care to learn more about Red London-world politics, which factored into this book, and didn’t really (so when they come up, it was like, “Okay, here’s a plot contrivance someone has to deal with” rather than a feeling like, “Yes, now shit is going down!”). I needed basically 0% of what I got from inside the queen’s head (her actions spoke well enough), but I would’ve really liked to know more about what Holland knew that other Antari didn’t, or had more time for the people in ships to find their way (back) together.
Overall: What a rant, huh? Anyway all of that said, I…don’t know. I loved the first book of this trilogy, I really enjoyed the second, and this one was…a fitting wrap-up. But it alternately made me feel like “YESSS” or “…can we get back to the other thing?” or “Wait, why is this happening with no preamble?” So like, this is still a high rating from me, but I know it’ll come off as savage. Sorry. I told you why, though.
Okay so that’s already a lot and now for something completely different…
The Hate u Give by Angie Thomas
Premise: Starr is a young black teen caught between two versions of herself: suburban (white) prep school Starr by day, Mav’s daughter who works at the store in her poor (black) neighbourhood the rest of the time. And on one awful day, she’s the sole witness when a cop shoots one of her best friends.
A Review Attempt: I don’t feel particularly qualified to speak to this book (because I’m hella white). Keep that in mind and grain-of-salt me if necessary, since my voice is definitely less important here. But I’m a book reviewing blog, so here goes:
This book is a very timely and important one. It is very much about the Black Lives Matter movement and what drives it—the deaths of black people, and particularly young black boys, at the hands of police.
Personally, I feel like the book took me there with it. There are very strong threads in this book: the way police seek to justify murder, the way the media looks to vilify those killed, the anger from the communities affected by the violence, and more. Those are all ideas that many of us outside those communities know or feel we can understand, but The Hate U Give takes us to the centre of it: with the protagonist and her family and their community, people who readers get to know and who are directly affected by what happens. And the person who was murdered has to matter to a reader because he really matters to Starr. It’s beyond feeling sad at a hashtag; it takes the reader to ground zero.
If I had to review this book mechanically, here it is: I found the connections between Starr and her family members really compelling, and the sense of community and place this book built were tangible. I found it very easy to feel Starr’s feelings and the fear, anger, and sadness that she went through every step of the way. So in terms of what I think this book set out to do, it achieved it admirably.
I did feel, though, that this book did a fair bit of telling rather than showing (or allowing Starr to find her own way). In some ways, it worked; Starr’s parents were there to talk her through things and give her advice, and while it felt very lesson-y (for the reader as well), they were definitely the type of parents who would want to help Starr in that way. And they were definitely important lessons. (One of few times I wasn’t entirely peeved with a book for being obviously teacher-y.)
However, this telling also went on in Starr’s head and coming from characters at many times: we’d find out who people were not through their words or actions (or lack thereof), but through what Starr said they were in her head, or through what other people said about them.
This cut back on the emotional resonance of some character relationships, like Starr’s with Hailey, for example. She tells us how they related before, she tells us how they interact now—but we get to see very little of it; a bit of the bad, almost none of the good. So it’s hard to invest in their friendship and how it’ll turn out, because we’re not a witness to it and can’t form our own readerly opinions. (We get even less of Maya, which I was sad about. Chris…was okay, but could’ve had more personality for sure.) And characters like Seven, who are often spoken about but don’t take a lot of their own actions (and thus come off more as their archetype: protective older brother), don’t hit as hard when they come out with their feelings. (I still cared about Seven’s feelings, of course, because he went through a lot, but I could’ve known him better and cared more about him. I was more drawn to Kenya, who definitely spoke for herself.)
(That said, this book had a lot of characters and ground to cover, and I’m not 100% sure what I’d cut, other than some internal monologue, to create space for all of that development.)
Overall: This book hit hard when it intended to and had a boatload of important messages carried on a cargo ship built of real, raw feelings and crewed by a cast of likeable characters. I’d like to just five-star it because obviously I cried and I do really want people to read this, but…okay. Look, if you’ve been here a while, you know I don’t five-star things. Because even if I like something a lot, I can generally see the flaws in it, so.
This book isn’t writing-wise perfect. (Chris seems really important to Starr but also like he has no self? There either wasn’t room to give justice to everything this book wanted to do, I think, or it didn’t prioritize taking the time to do it.) Some character relationships will come off as shallow/underdeveloped and some moments it’ll feel like a feeling or conclusion cropped up out of nowhere because now is when Starr is telling you/is being told.
There are flaws, but so it goes with any book. Read it; it’s still very good and important.
That’s all for today, folks. Sorry I just have a lot of feelings, okay. (Would you prefer point-form reviews? I mean, I can try.) I’ll talk to you again soon!