V.E. Schwab and the Power of Storytelling

Edited by Olivia Spahn-Vieira  

“For the ones who dream of stranger worlds.”

So begins the dedication of A Darker Shade of Magic, setting the tone for the prose waiting ahead. It’s a quote that’s grown synonymous with wonder: one imbued with wanderlust, adventure. 

It’s the line that got me hooked on V.E. Schwab. 

A vivid dreamer and lifelong literary connoisseur, Victoria “V.E.” Schwab grew up surrounded by stories. Yet her “big break” didn’t arrive until February 2015, eight published novels down the line, with the release of A Darker Shade of Magic.

The first chapter in (what would become) a worldwide fantasy phenomenon, A Darker Shade of Magic took readers on a journey through not one, not two, but four parallel Londons. It introduced us to spunky-and-fearless Lila: a strong female lead, whose curiosity and courageousness ran abound. It helped readers fall in love with Kell: the quiet mage, the Royal Family’s right hand man, and the catalyst for the (mis)adventures of the trilogy.

Almost overnight, Schwab became a sensation. By 2016, I was one of dozens of kids at my school who had read — and loved — her dimension-hopping tale. 

Perhaps it was the writing: the words that intertwine like vines, weaving a tapestry of exquisite descriptions.

Perhaps it was the diversity: the fierce heroines, almost unheard of in mainstream adult fantasy, or the (*spoilers!*) relationship between Alucard and Rhy that blossoms in the second book.

Perhaps it was the way in which Schwab weaved our world in with her own: the land without magic, or, in her terms, “Grey London.” A world familiar to readers, yet fantastical nonetheless. A place to tether our souls, while simultaneously adding a burst of fantasy, of longing: after all, if our world subtly exists in her story, what’s to say that Red London, White London and Black London aren't hidden beneath the surface of our reality?

Regardless of the rationale, A Darker Shade of Magic swept the world by storm. Before one could mutter “As Travars,” there was a sequel — and a threequel. It has been optioned for a film adaptation, and an entire sequel series, set several years down the line, is in the works.

With the trilogy’s success came greater recognition of Schwab’s other works. Vicious, an adult fantasy first published in 2013, garnered critical acclaim: the tale of a morally-grey college duo, utilizing biology to give themselves superpowers, blurring the line between what makes a “hero” so different from a "villain": it was unique. Twisted, yes; dark, absolutely...  yet unequivocally brilliant

Vicious instantly became my go-to literary recommendation. And five years later, when its sequel was released… well, I devoured that title in less than a day.

Schwab recently released a new book, one that just came out this year. Her magnum opus, you could say. A labour of love, ten years in the making. A passion project, taken flight, finding a home: on shelves in shops, in readers' homes. 

It’s the story of a girl who is forgotten — and a life that’s unforgettable. It’s about the power of life, and love, and music: art, and dreams, and legacy. It’s a reflection on the past, and a look towards the future.

And it’s glorious.

This novel, of course, is The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: instant New York Times bestseller, 4.41-star hit on Goodreads, masterpiece of epic proportions. 

I was privileged to have been able to read this book over the summer, months before its scheduled release. Instantly, I was drawn in by its allure, enthralled by its whimsical world.

Addie’s story is an epic for the ages. Touching upon life and love, hope and fear, pain and loss, it asks what it means to truly be alive — questioning whether there’s a difference between living and simply existing. It’s a love letter to art, an homage to literature, and even dabbles in fashion at points along the way. It speaks of a boy with a hole in his heart, a mischievous God who answers after dark, and a girl who’s cursed to be forgotten. And, to me, it struck a chord: its themes ruminating in my mind, for days and weeks and months to come.

Perhaps the novel’s strongest power lies in its metacognitive nature. Burdened with the curse of drifting through the world, able to look but never to touch, Addie is but a ghost in a human shell. Forgotten by everyone and everything, her words are left unspoken, her writings turned to dust. In her narrative, she cannot leave a mark upon the world.

Yet in the “real world,” her life story exists: bound in print, shining through phone screens and held in readers’ loving hands. Throughout the pages, she’s cursed to be forgotten — but beyond the cover jacket, she lives on in readers’ minds.

“It is an amazing gift,” Schwab wrote on October 4th, two days before the novel’s scheduled release, “to be able to hand off [Addie’s] story and say to readers, ‘here, now you can help me remember.’”

Being forgotten: is that not the fear of all humanity? Is that not why the heart craves fame and success? Not for the instant notoriety, but for long-term immortality: to know your name will be sung from the heavens, inscribed in the pages of history books. To leave a legacy — to become an echo, to leave an impression upon this world.

What is a life, if not its impact? Is there meaning without legacy?

Perhaps that's why I — and thousands of readers around the globe — have felt so touched, so seen, by Addie's story. Incredibly, the story touches upon all this.... and more.

I think that’s what I love so much, about the works of V.E. Schwab. The way she writes about the world's wondrous light, without diminishing the importance of embracing its shadows. The way she weaves settings so unlike our own, whimsical and escapist, without losing that spark of realism, of relatability and life. The complexities of her characters, well-developed and unique, who grow and thrive — yet whose flaws are out on full display. Her villains, whose morals still shine through; and her heroes, who aren’t afraid to do what’s right — even if it’s not what's good

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue has been confirmed for a cinematic adaptation, with a script penned by none other than Schwab herself. In the meantime, that aforementioned A Darker Shade of Magic sequel trilogy, entitled Threads of Power, is on its way, and a third installment in the Vicious series is currently in production. The final book in her middle-grade trilogy is set to be released next March, and additional comics and short stories will be peppered in throughout the coming months.

There's no doubt that Schwab has found her stride, nor that she has a gilded and well-lit path ahead of her. Her future is as bright as the sun in Red London’s blissful sky, her dreams as rich as Addie’s long for legacy. Her success is only continuing to blossom -- and I cannot wait to lose myself in her next phenomenal world.

After all, in the words of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue… "What is a person, if not the marks" — the stories, the legacy — "they leave behind?"