Tag Archives: London (U.K.)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab ’s A Darker Shade of Magic had been on my to-read shelf for quite some time, but imagesmy current graphic novel obsession has prevented me from picking it up. Just this past weekend, I decided I was ready for some adult science fiction again, so I picked up the first in her trilogy of three books. I was instantly hooked after the first couple chapters and finished it in a couple of nights.

A Darker Shade of Magic takes place in London, but it’s not the London that you or I are familiar with. Think if your world had three parallel levels that were stacked on top of each other and were only accessible by a few select people in the world. This is the London of A Darker Shade of Magic. We immediately meet Kell, who is our main character, and find out that he is one of very few called the Antari. He was born with magic in his blood, and this allows him to access the other Londons. He refers to them by color: his London is the Red London which is full of magic, the Grey London is a place like our own world where magic is scarce, and the White London is a world that has been ravaged by war. Kell is often called on by his king to deliver messages from world to world, but he may have a side job or two as well while visiting the other Londons.

Schwab takes her time in developing a plot, but this doesn’t cause the novel to drag at all. In the meantime, she is creating a beautiful world (or worlds in this case) and making sure that all of her characters are intriguing as well. The reader truly can visualize the world that Kell lives in and the worlds that he travels too before the action even gets started.

Almost halfway through the book, we begin to get into our plot which introduces our other main character, Lila. Lila is a pickpocket in Grey London, but quickly finds herself thrown into a parallel world battle for a stone that may allow an Antari to access a London that no longer is accessible. We also meet Holland at this point who is another Antari, but he is employed by the monarchy of White London. Kell and Lila embark on a journey that will take them through many worlds and many close calls as they try and keep the stone out of the hold of the evil king and queen of White London.

This book is a wild roller coaster ride and I’m looking forward to where the next two books lead. The next book, A Gathering of Shadows is already available and the last book will be out next February. If you like your science fiction with only small amounts of fantasy mixed in, I highly recommend this as your next book!

Formats Available:  Book, Audiobook, E-book

Reviewed by Sara, Okolona Branch

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson


In 1854, an outbreak of cholera struck the Soho district of London, killing over 600 people. Steven Johnson ’s The Ghost Map paints a vivid and engaging portrait of a community struck by a disease it does not understand and cannot control, and the struggle to develop the knowledge and means to stem the tide of mortality. Even if non-fiction is usually not to your taste, this account of Dr. John Snow’s investigation of the outbreak and the struggles of families and individuals gripped by the disease is engagingly written and well worth a read.

Dr. Snow’s investigation of the cholera epidemic of 1854 became the seed for modern epidemiology. While the story of his plotting cholera cases on a map of the district and targeting a public water pump as the source of the outbreak – ultimately resulting in the removal of the handle of the pump – is well known, it’s not the complete story, and Johnson does an admirable job bringing the sights – and smells of mid-19th Century London to life.


Dramatized narratives of Soho residents’ lives during the outbreak serve for more than background nuance and flavor. Small details – a splash of gin added to water unwittingly killing the bacteria – hint at the much larger developments that the 1854 outbreak led to. Dr. Snow’s struggle to find the focus of the epidemic and then convey his ideas about the pump as the common source to authorities convinced that disease was spread by foul smells, not by water, foreshadows the use of maps and charts to illustrate data and convince the public and policy setters. The use of the map was at the cutting edge of the time: Florence Nightingale used charts and maps to push for the need for sanitation. The field of data visualization, then in its infancy, is an important part of scientific research and public service.

Given the impact of the 1854 Soho cholera epidemic on today’s world, and how the concerns of infectious disease and public health are still with us, the central dramas of The Ghost Map are well worth thinking about. In the final chapters, the author attempts to integrate the lessons of the epidemic with more modern concerns, and although some of his points are worthwhile, others seem like over-reaching attempts at relevancy, when the story of the outbreak, and the impact epidemiology has on our lives is a gripping story in itself. Some of this poorly-integrated theorizing feels like it belongs to another book, and isn’t given enough time for a good, mature argument.

All in all, however, despite the problems of the last chapters, The Ghost Map is a must-read for history buffs, or even fans of historical fiction, to get a feel for the urban atmosphere of the time. At his best describing the Soho outbreak, Johnson strikes a fine balance between exploring the scientific and historical significance of the events and the very human drama of families and individuals in the grip of a deadly disease.

Formats Available:  Book, eBook

Reviewed by Katherine, Highlands-Shelby Park Branch