A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Publication: February 27th 2015 by Titan Books
Format: Paperback Pages: 400
Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.
Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly
correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped. – Goodreads
A Darker Shade of Magic is set on a premise of multiple cities of London existing simultaneously as if layered over one another, like a stack of paper (or think slinky). Magic seeps through this multi-layered world, it’s a living thing and possibly a ‘character’ in its own right.
The protagonist, Kell, is an Antari from Red London, he is one of the only remaining beings in existence who can travel through this novel’s parallel worlds, it’s a lonely life for our magical buddy Kell. The reader is spared confusion as each London is different and is allocated a colour characterising it. There’s Red London, White London, Grey London and Black London; the role that magic plays in each of the cities determines their colour. If the title hasn’t given it away already, colour and magic play a significant role in this novel and Black London is in deep shit.
Now, I’ve described Kell as ‘magical’ but interestingly, Kell isn’t magical, he has the ability to use magic. Magic is an entity, it’s a complicated thing that appears to have a mind of its own and, in some parts of the novel, it even speaks for itself. As the ‘adopted’ son of Red London’s King and Queen, Kell’s job is to use magic to act as a kind of royal messenger, so he spends a lot of time travelling, in Londons. Imagine having the ability to travel through worlds but only seeing London due to work commitments. Suckish. His backstory hasn’t been revealed in this novel but we’re given some clues suggesting more will be revealed as the series progresses. My guess is that Kell isn’t really from Red London, we’ll see when I get my hands on the next book.
A Darker Shade of Magic made me realise how hard it is to shake off the ideas you’ve been conditioned to associate with some words, like colours. It took me a while to get to grips with not associating Red London with violence and bloodshed and White London with serenity and goodness. On the topic of worlds, Schwab’s were crafted with expertise and sprinkled with genius; it was easy to follow Kell’s journey from one London to the other.
If Schwab is a genius at weaving fantastical worlds, she’s some kind of goddess at creating AH-MAZING characters. Notorious Lila Bard was my favourite of all the characters. If you’re looking for an intriguing, strong, ass-kicking female character, you’re going to love Lila. Lila cross-dresses, she wields weapons, she survives and, to my delight, she’s into the whole adventure thing. The characters are realistic; they’re thoroughly complex and varied. I didn’t ‘connect’ with them at first (despite liking them) but the feels definitely cropped up halfway through the novel and I appreciated the lack of romance between characters, although there were some hints here and there that something might happen somewhere along the series.
I loved this book; the storyline was alluring and I’m definitely hooked enough to want to read A Gathering of Shadows like now. If you’re into fantasy with a splash of sci-fi and complicated characters, give this series a spin.
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