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Book review: V.E. Schwab weaves magic, comfort into ‘The Fragile Threads of Power’

The cover of “The Fragile Threads of Power” is pictured. V.E. Schwab’s latest novel takes place in the same world as the “Shades of Magic” series. (Courtesy of Tor Books)

"The Fragile Threads of Power"

V.E. Schwab

Sept. 26

By Kaycie Rippe

Oct. 4, 2023 5:54 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 5 at 8:41 p.m.

V.E. Schwab’s latest novel reopens the door to Red London and welcomes readers home from seven years lost at sea.

Published Sept. 26, “The Fragile Threads of Power” returns to not just one but four worlds, each varying in its levels of power and kept separate by thin walls. As established by the “Shades of Magic” series, Antari, a dying race of blood magicians, are the few capable of traveling between these worlds – but this novel makes readers wonder if that power truly belongs to Antari alone.

The New York Times bestselling author’s newest release is like receiving a care package smelling of roses, starting the trilogy with love, loss and rebellion. Seven years after the Tide, when Red London was consumed by an omnipotent plague, readers are given the chance to catch up with their comfort characters and connect with personalities new to the realm.

The beloved “Shades of Magic” cast has matured over the last seven years with a series of flashbacks showing Rhy Maresh taking his father’s place on the throne as the Unkillable King with his love, Alucard Emery, standing by his side. In the midst of loss, the king has taken a queen, Nadiya Loreni, and an heir to the throne, Ren Maresh, whose heart will make even the most child-averse smile.

The Tide’s devastation has left Red London’s magic waning, with many turning to the king for blame. Kell Maresh and Delilah Bard have embraced their newfound freedom from the palace. But throughout the years, Kell has struggled with the loss of his power – once his sole source of value and identity. A stolen treasure from the seabound black market prompts Kell and Lila to return home in hopes of finding the lost object and saving the royal family.

The original cast takes up more space in this adventure than a reader may expect and, although unanticipated, revisiting these characters is as welcome as it is healing. The ribbon-wrapped ending of the previous novel, “A Conjuring of Light,” is only extended in these pages. Fans get to see Lila find uncharacteristic comfort in company, Kell taste freedom outside the palace walls and Rhy and Alucard settle into a relationship worthy of kicking one’s feet in the air. Nevertheless, the amount of pages these familiar faces take up make this novel feel more like a fourth book in the original series rather than the start of a new trilogy. The series is rumored to shift from old perspectives to new ones, but it’s unclear how much readers will see of Lila and Kell going forward.

In a parallel world, White London has a new queen in the absence of Holland Vosijk – but she didn’t seize the throne by force. Around the age of seven, Kosika was the first to find the king dead, and soon after was blessed with his Antari power. Once her gift was recognized, Kosika was given a place on the throne and built a blind religious faith in Holland as her predecessor and saint. This direct transfer of magic is completely unprecedented in the universe and may make audience members question their knowledge about the magic system entirely.

In Red London, Kosika’s mirror is Tesali Ranek – an adolescent girl who keeps her power hidden, fearful that once exposed, her free will may be at jeopardy. Tes is gifted with Alucard’s sight, seeing the magic of Red London as a tapestry of light. But her power differs in one way – she can manipulate the threads. The girl becomes an ingenious inventor, tampering with the very structure of the universe. No matter their benevolent intentions, the girls’ rare abilities may prove dire under the wrong influences. Pushing the boundaries of their powers, both Tes and Kosika tread the line between restoration and destruction.

These new personas come to life on the page and will no doubt find home in the hearts of “A Darker Shade of Magic” fans, but their descriptions lack variance. The main pairs are meant to parallel each other in age, power and backstory, but their surface-level attributes also bear an uncanny resemblance. Schwab prefers brunette female leads with an affinity for solitude and their lanky male shadows – accurately describing Lila and Kell, Tes and Nero, and Kosika and Lark. With obvious intention to connect these couplings, Schwab may have overemphasized their point and caused the characters to fall slightly flat. Still, the new personalities hold their own and make readers long for the day that Tes and Kosika finally meet.

Schwab’s true talent is in their composition of words – threads of magic in their own right – braided through this book like a spell. This novel is written for the lovers of language, so readers who connect to more straightforward writing styles may not fully appreciate her prose. Whether sentences are in the midst of action or detailed description, Schwab paints with their words. Nonetheless, the language continues to be accessible, forming a masterpiece that all readers can enjoy.

Fans may not come back from this story with magic of their own, but the unforeseen lessons of power and family will follow them. Through their characters’ relationships, Schwab argues that the title of family goes beyond blood and can present itself in beautifully nontraditional ways. Furthermore, the titular concept of power, both political and magical, is explored throughout the novel. Questions are presented about the finitude of London’s magic and what may happen when the legal and natural boundaries of that power are crossed. This novel is only the beginning, and readers’ queries are sure to be answered in time.

Even though Tes’ sight shows the world in full color, this series may bring an even darker shade of magic.

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Kaycie Rippe
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