V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series swept readers away to a world of alternate Londons, a powerful and intriguing magic system, and deadly adventures. Now, nearly seven years after the trilogy concluded, Schwab is inviting readers back into the Shades of Magic universe for a new adventure. The Fragile Threads of Power is the first in a new series—picking up years after A Conjuring of Light ended—and reunites readers with beloved characters from the original trilogy, while also introducing a fascinating new cast. Here we chat with Schwab about the role of power in the series, the character she was most excited to return to, and what she’s working on next.
Note this interview does contain spoilers for the Shades of Magic series.
The cover of The Fragile Threads of Power (designed by Will Staehle) feels like a dawn—it’s the start of a new series, but also the start of all of these individual monarchies—and it’s beautifully reflective of the story in the book. Is there any other symbolism that you see in this cover?
It is a new dawn! It’s the beginning of a new era and it’s deeply symbolic. In the original series, the colors on the cover reflect how Kell sees the world. He creates the London monikers to keep them straight in his own mind.
In this book, we meet Tes. She’s a character who can not only see but manipulate all of the fabric of magic in the world. Because magic is in everything, the result is this cacophony of color around her all of the time. The vibrancy on The Fragile Threads of Power is absolutely a nod to the fact that this is how Tes perceives the world.
Something I really love about the new covers—both Threads and the Shades of Magic rerelease—is how pop culture they feel. They’re like movie posters. I love that because I think it really speaks to the accessibility of the books. I’ve been really proud over the course of my career to be an author for readers who think they don’t like fantasy. You don’t need a map or glossary or primer. You can pick them up and immediately fall into it.
You’ve said you write for an audience of one first. When writing Threads, what was the most important thing you wanted to write for yourself?
Oh, that’s a hard question. I wanted it to be, at its core, a love letter. I wanted it to feel like coming home, but also to feel essential. I’m notorious for challenging myself, and I needed to know that I could come back and do something new. The question was: Could I take this beloved series and carve new space in it and have it move in a new direction—while avoiding falling into the trap of simply making more of what I knew people loved?
It’s terrifying when you have something that’s successful and loved and you return to break it open. I was excited to do it, but I was also scared shitless. As unpleasant as it makes existence for me, that fear drives me to truly make every single story the absolute best that it can be. I will never rest on my laurels, I will never settle for good enough. I’m constantly searching for ways to be stronger.
It’s been nearly seven years since Shades of Magic concluded. Have your experiences as a writer and as a person over those years changed how you see or approach any of the characters you’re returning to writing?
One of the reasons I don’t read my books after they’re published is because they become static and I continue to change. It can make it daunting to return to a series. I’m really grateful for the time jump that I built into Threads because it allowed me to grow, as well as my characters. They’re moving seven years forward and it gave me a bit of freedom for my own process and style and voice to grow with them and to use the way my writing has changed to my advantage, instead of feeling like I needed to do a mimicry of who I was then.
Giving myself that time jump also allowed me to test this theory that I have, which is that with all of my books, I want the reader to believe that the characters continue to live, even though readers aren’t privy to witnessing it. I don’t ever want my characters’ existence to feel contingent on your attention. I want it to feel like they’ve been living and we have to catch up.
The ending of Conjuring felt like such a victory, and Threads delivers an immediate hit of reality–that in some ways the hardest parts are what comes next for these characters and their world. What were you most interested in exploring about the aftermath of Conjuring’s ending?
I was really looking forward to exploring Kell and his identity and this sense of who we are without the thing that makes us. His arc takes him to his lowest point. If his magic had been severed entirely he could make peace with it, instead, it’s continually right in front of him, like it’s waiting to be touched. It was brutal. He probably would’ve ended his own life if he weren’t also holding Rhy’s. Rhy is an anchor for him and he’s an anchor for Rhy. In some ways, it’s my own little nod—just like in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue with Henry and Addie—to the idea that you just have to make it one more day. Kell didn’t give up on himself and the people around him didn’t give up on him.
In Threads, we see the impact of Holland’s death on his world. What was it like to get to explore the mythos and legacy surrounding him in this book?
I love it. When it comes to worldbuilding, mythos is often something we plant as backstory or foundation. One of the things I was most looking forward to with Threads was this ability to have some of the events of Shades become myths. I honestly got to geek out. Holland’s my favorite character, so I loved getting to turn him into a legend and give him this legacy.
Honestly, getting to make Kosika an acolyte is a really powerful thing. Faith is an issue that comes up in Shades and again here in a world where some see magic as god form. Lila Bard only believes in herself, Kell has a very conflicted relationship with magic, so to be able to give Kosika faith and, specifically, blind faith was a thing I really loved because I think that leads to error.
It’s interesting to pair this theme of faith with power, specifically the idea of who deserves power in the book, and the way they both can have similar trains of thought where if you do x then you deserve the reward of y.
Yes, you’re right, a thread running through the entire book is this idea of who deserves power. And to your point, that’s the thing that Queen Nadiya has a massive issue with: Who gets to choose who has power, why are we beholden to who is born with it, and why shouldn’t we be able to change it? The whole faith in Red London is that magic chooses you, you don’t choose. You’re given what you’re given and that’s all there is. Nadiya doesn’t buy it.
We think that fantasy is all dragons, witches, and big world-conquering or world-ending things. But for me, the thing about power I have always found so interesting is the smallness. How does it affect us in the small ways? How does it serve us or hinder us?
Rhy’s relationship with all of it is really interesting—being in a position of power but without magic, and he becomes a target for that.
Yeah, you have the people who are straw manning and saying ‘Magic is failing, let’s blame Rhy. A magicless person is on the throne and it is a weakness.’
What’s so interesting is readers could make a counterargument nobody in-world can make—because nobody outside of the royal family knows what’s happened to Rhy—but you could make a counterargument that magic is actually punishing Rhy for being alive when he’s not supposed to be. He has gone counter to the current.
Power is clearly a major theme in this book and series—what people will do for it, what happens when you lose it, how people wield it. Has your perception of power changed at all as you explored it?
That’s a really interesting question. I’ve long held this belief that power makes us worse. This is kind of the operating thesis in Shades of Magic and Vicious (in some ways in Addie)—power enables us in a bad way. Power enables us to act without consideration and power tends to bring out our weaknesses instead of shoring up our strengths. Yet in Threads, I look at Kosika and Tes—these two adolescent girls who have an extraordinary amount of power and are not corrupted by it. Kosika has a lot of flaws but she’s a product of her world. She’s not corrupted by her power, in fact, she has this incredible organic connection to magic where she learns the words she needs as she needs them.
And Tes is completely uncorrupted by her power. People try to use Tes’ power for ill, but she uses it for good, and not for moral good, she’s an artist. When you think about what she’s building with magic—taking things apart, putting them back together, animating them—it’s pure creativity. That is so different from Osaron in Shades of Magic, which was this force of infinite potential that was also like infinite destruction. Tes is being hunted for her power, but she’s an uncorrupted force.
They give me hope, these two girls, in very different ways because so much of my exploration of power in my books has been that we are always better without it. In my previous series, power leads to destruction and here it’s about the potential for corruption and those who are keeping that corruption at bay through their own strength. I never set out to write a book about two teenage girls yet somehow it became about the manifestation of a 14 and a 15-year-old girl and their relationship to the almost unbridled potential for magic.
Queer identity and experiences are woven into the Shades of Magic series, as well as your other works. Is there anything about queerness that you haven’t explored in the past that you’re looking forward to in Threads?
With Tes, Kosika, and Nadiya in Threads, I want these characters to take up space on the page and not because they’re being used as a plot device. I really want to normalize it.
For me, queerness is so much about found family, support systems, friendships, and allyship. Thematically found family—who we decide our people are—is a huge part of my narratives and that feels to me like the kind of queer theme where queer readers see it and that’s important to me.
Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
I’m currently writing a standalone novel. It’s my toxic lesbian vampires book. The thing I’ll say about it is I like it as a spiritual successor to Addie. If Addie is a book about optimism and hope, this book is about hunger and rage and, specifically, being insatiable as a woman and feeling like society is telling you to dampen your hunger. It’s also about toxicity and collateral damage. I have to get it all down before I can start Threads two.
Speaking of Threads two… is there anything you can tease or tell us about the next Threads of Power book?
You have already met the next main character but it was brief.
VICTORIA “V. E.” SCHWAB is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books, including the acclaimed Shades of Magic series, the Villains series, the Cassidy Blake series and the international bestseller The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. Her work has received critical acclaim, translated into over two dozen languages, and optioned for television and film. When not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, she lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.