Nerd Culture

Author V.E. Schwab on Following Up the Success of A Darker Shade of Magic

The book tour is starting, and Victoria "V.E." Schwab is nervous.

“I’m in a daze. I’ve been counting down for about 50 or 60 days,” the Nashville-based fantasy author says. “I’ve had signings at local bookstores and done convention appearances where I picked the places I’d go, but this is the first time I’ve been on a national tour sponsored by my publisher, where
I spend two weeks visiting different cities across the country.”

Schwab is visiting the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale on Thursday, March 3, to promote her new novel, A Gathering of Shadows. Joining her at the event are YA bestseller Rae Carson and local fantasy fave Sam Sykes.

“Wherever we can, I wanted to have my friends join me because more authors is always better. It’s a great way to introduce my fans to authors I like and introduce their fans to me,” she says. “Rae covers the YA side and Sam covers the adult side, with me sort of bridging between the two. We’ll have a Q&A and giveaways, sign books, and chat with everybody.”

A Gathering of Shadows is the sequel to Schwab’s acclaimed 2015 novel, A Darker Shade of Magic. Set in London, the novel follows Kell, a magician and smuggler who is able to travel between parallel worlds, and Lila, an ambitious young thief who picks his pocket and gets swept into his adventures. The ancient British city’s inherent magic made it the perfect springboard for Schwab’s inventive parallel worlds.

“Any big city with bright streets and dark alleys is great for playing with liminal space, but when you deal with a city like London, there is something about the antiquity of it. It’s been built and torn down and built again to where there are hundreds of years of architectural history layered. You can be walking down a modern street and turn a corner and find yourself in an alley that hasn’t changed since Elizabethan times.”

The catch is that Schwab’s London actually is four different cities, the link between four different worlds, each with its own unique version of the city. The only commonality among them is their name. 

“I wanted to pay tribute to the tradition of London as a setting for portal fantasy. But I also wanted to tweak it — only one of my Londons is actually based on our London, Grey London. Red London is more Turkish or Russian and White London is more Scandinavian. Nobody knows what Black London is like, yet,” she says slyly.

A sleeper hit, Darker Shade surprised fantasy readers when it finished second in last year’s Goodreads’ Reader’s Choice Awards, beating such fantasy bestsellers as Brandon Sanderson and Jim Butcher. Ultimately, however, Darker Shade was unable to surpass Neil Gaiman’s latest short story collection, Trigger Warnings.

“I lost by 3,000 votes. That seems like a lot until you realize there were almost 200,000 votes cast,” she says. “It came out of nowhere and caught me off guard. I knew it had been selling well and I knew it
had been getting good reviews. But book reviews can be a giant echo chamber, so you can’t always tell how many people are actually reading something just by the reviews. The Goodreads Awards drove home just how much it had resonated.”

Now, Schwab is being touted as a new author and overnight sensation, something she finds a bit surprising.

“I’ve always had sort of a cult following, and A Darker Shade of Magic has resonated with a wider audience readers. But my success doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere,” she says. “From my angle, it’s a strange thing. I started as a YA author; actually, I’m still a YA author. I have several books for children and teens. I also have one other adult novel, Vicious, which is a super-villain origin story. I’m getting called an overnight success, but I’ve been doing this for six years.”

Still, it’s hard to not see that her profile has risen significantly with the success of A Darker Shade of Magic. In January, Schwab announced that she had sold the TV rights for a possible miniseries. She is actively involved in the process as well, writing the pilot episode.

 “It was a new experience — I’d never written a script before. Fortunately, I have a great producer who was able to help me through the process. He held my hand for six months while I tried and failed then tried again,” she says. “I had to rethink the way I wrote. I focus a lot on making my characters very detailed and specific, with TV you can’t do that. Everything has to be more general, to give them greater options for casting.”

The producers are currently shopping the program, looking for a potential showrunner. And with fantasy properties like Terry Brooks’ Shannara Chronicles, Lev Grossman’s Magicians and Gaiman’s American Gods getting snapped up in the wake of Game of Thrones’ success, there is a decent chance we’ll see Kell and Lila on TV. But until the potential TV show makes her a household name like George R.R. Martin, however, she’s still nervous.

“I worry that nobody will actually show up,” the fantasy author said in an interview last month, shortly before her latest novel, A Gathering of Shadows, hit shelves. “Writing is such a solitary profession so much of the time. You work on a book for so long and you read the interactions on the Internet, then you have to go out and meet people. It’s the best part of the job outside of writing, but I’m always
afraid I’ll be there alone, talking to my books.”

A Gathering of Shadows is available in hardcover for $25.99. Schwab will be signing at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale  from 7 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, with Rae Carson and Sam Sykes.