It’s been six years since Kell, Lilah, Rhy, Holland, and Alucard graced our shelves. In that time, V.E. Schwab has continued to craft the work she does best: mysterious and alluring, magical and captivating, beautiful and bittersweet, and everything in between. But all the while, she was carefully weaving, bit by bit, the threads that would make a new trilogy after Shades of Magic. The Fragile Threads of Power is the start of a new series, and new story, within Schwab’s iconic four Londons–one not of magic’s growing, but of magic’s waning, not just within people but across worlds as well. Meant to thread the needle between series one and this new one, Schwab deftly maneuvers her way through bringing new readers up to speed, while also balancing the introduction of new characters and reintroductions of old ones like the magician she really is.
Seven years after the defeat of the consumptive, magical force known as Osaron, life has changed for the Antari across the three remaining Londons. Holland went home to usher in a new chapter for White London, though all has not gone according to plan. Lila Bard took Alucard’s ship, renamed it, and is now sailing the world as a privateer, while secretly working for Rhy Maresh, King of Red London. And Kell, original Red London Antari, brother to the king, and lover of Captain Bard, works to relearn everything he ever knew, his magic unable to be used without extreme pain. As our magicians abroad begin to uncover threats domestic and otherworldly, at home tensions bubble and boil between the royal family and the peoples of Red London, many of whom are calling for an end to the monarchy. For there have been fewer and fewer children born with magic in their veins in the last seven years; the innate flow of magic is weakening in Red London, and who makes a better target of blame than the magicless King himself? And through all these narrative threads, two new lives are added to the tapestry: a mysterious Queen of White London named Kosika, who will bleed herself and her country dry to keep what magic they’ve recovered, and a young girl named Tes who can do more than see spellwork; she can manipulate the very strands of magic itself.
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The Fragile Threads of Power
If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry, it is! But Schwab never overwhelms the reader, doling out information, lore, action, plot, and more in smooth, beautiful prose that glides across the heart and mind, bringing you step by step back into a world she knows and loves so well. The book’s six hundred plus page count never feels daunting and by the end, it didn’t even matter; I was so thoroughly engaged with these characters and these worlds again, I could’ve read another six hundred pages, easily.
Part of the sheer fun of this book alone is seeing what changes have come about for these beloved characters after the end of A Conjuring of Light. Some of these ripples are massive, setting off chain after chain of consequence, while others are more intimate and explore the natural growth of emotions, relationships, and politics. In a lot of ways, the shoe is on the other foot for our main pairs; Lila is the trained magician watching over a newcomer to her world of blades and ferocity, while Alucard takes care of a lover riddled with guilt, whose death wish it seems cannot be granted. In some ways, this is the brothers’ book, Kell and Rhy, each of whom now has a shattered sense of identity, and whose pain cannot be healed by the turning of a page, but only through time, temerity, and trust in those that love them.
And while our original characters have grown and changed, our new characters are just as interesting and just as complicated. Kosika, our main perspective in once-vicious White London, is a delicious mystery to unravel throughout the book, her arc informing not just what happened to Holland, but also hints at the larger conflict to emerge throughout the rest of this new series. Saying anything would spoil the journey she goes on, but suffice to say, her hunger for stability, power, and control certainly reminds readers of another from her world, and where she ends book one is delicious, making the wait for book two even harder. Likewise, our new beating heart is the talented, capable, and flighty Tes, whose gift of magic sight is even more powerful when combined with her ability to touch, manipulate, destroy, and bend the very threads of magic itself. Through her, the plot kicks into high gear, and we see a wonderful character bloom in her own right, as we learn what happens when you realize you have to stop running and fight for what you believe in.
With The Fragile Threads of Power, Schwab has done it again, and I’m really no longer surprised when she continues to craft books like this with such heart, such beauty, and such joy. For that is what is most present on the page: the joy of returning to a beloved world with beloved characters, pushing the envelope in terms of plot, stakes, and pay-off, and asking readers once more to take her hand as she leaps into the unknown with you. While this new series opener resolves many of the questions it asks from its start, there is definitely a sense that this new set of mysteries has only just begun, as we end on cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Having jumped with enthusiasm back into this world, I once again give my trust to Schwab’s more-than-capable hands, and can’t wait to jump again when the next book arrives.
Martin Cahill is a writer living in Queens who works as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Erewhon Books. He has fiction work forthcoming in 2021 at Serial Box, as well as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. Martin has also written book reviews and essays for Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and the Barnes and Noble SF&F Blog. Follow him online at @mcflycahill90 and his new Substack newsletter, Weathervane, for thoughts on books, gaming, and other wonderfully nerdy whatnots.