A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Adventure
Publishers: Titan Books, Tor Books
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.
“Aren't you afraid of dying?" he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. "Death comes for everyone," she said simply. "I'm not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here." She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. "I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
This is easily one of the best books I've read this year.
It might be THE best book I read this year, apart from The Lunar Chronicles books. Or at least, I enjoyed it a lot.
Fantasy is my favorite genre, but A Darker Shade of Magic might be the most elegant fantasy novel I've ever read. The world building and the plot are beautifully constructed, the characters are unique and the premise is unusual. The story is clear, straightforward and completely original.
While I love fantasy themed book series and television shows such as Heroes of Olympus and Game of Thrones, they are often so epic and complicated. That isn't a bad thing, but it just seems to be the way we perceive the fantasy genre as a whole. As something that has to have dragons and deities and a lot of betrayal, to work. This novel really unravels that perception for me, because although this is the first of a book series, ADSOM could've worked as a simple standalone. That being said, I'm glad it isn't a standalone because I really want to read more.
The book starts off and we are introduced to young Kell, who is a mysterious, powerful magician/ adopted prince of Red London, capable of traveling through different worlds. He was raised in a magical, thriving Empire alongside the heir to the throne, and is of a special class of magician called Antari, of which there are only two left in all the worlds. Antari are the only ones capable of traveling between worlds.The one thing the three worlds Kell frequents have in common, is that they all share a capitol city called London. Kell is pretty interesting enough, with his magic, multisided coat and one of his eyes that is fully black, but he also seems to have a taste for trouble as he smuggles trinkets between worlds, selling things to people hoping to possess pieces of worlds they won't ever see. Kell really isn't the reckless, thrill-seeking type, so this hobby of his comes across as quite intriguing.
Our other main character is Lila Bard, a brave and ruthless crossdressing thief living in 'Grey London', our very own London, back in the 19th century. Lila has big dreams of seeing the world and being a pirate captain on her very own ship. They cross paths when Kell makes a huge mistake and jeopardizes the fate of all Londons, falling into real trouble.
“What are you?" she asked. "A monster," said Kell hoarsely. "You'd better let me go." The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. "Monsters don't faint in the presence of ladies." "Ladies don't dress like men and pick pockets," retorted Kell. Her smile only sharpened. "What are you really?" "Tied to your bed," said Kell matter-of-factly. "And?" His brow furrowed. "And in trouble.”
The Londons, which are all different and magical in varying degrees are nicknamed Grey London, Red London, White London and Black London by Kell. As for the differences between them, Lila sums that up nicely:
Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”
White (Creepy) London is ruled over by the ruthless Dane twins, who, like everyone else in that London, fight to control magic as it fades away from their world.This is also where the other Antari, Holland resides.
The world building is pretty intricate, and despite the farfetched concept of multiple worlds, Schwab never strays from the elegance and conciseness of her storytelling. The plot is woven with respect to the world building and is fast paced and mysterious. I did however, have trouble in the start because the pace was a bit slow for me right at the beginning, and I might've stopped reading this book for a while because I really wanted to read Cress (Lunar Chronicles #3).
I adore Kell and Lila, they're so unusual and lovable, but believable enough to root for. They have a pretty unique dynamic, mostly because I don't think they share much in common apart from a fondness of adventure and a little heroism. Lila almost never listens to Kell when he tries to tell her to stay away from all the magic and Lila can genuinely be infuriatingly stubborn but she is too well characterized to not be lovable.
Also, bless the writer for not adding any unnecessary, frustrating love triangles in this book! These days it seems to be an unspoken law amongst fantasy fiction writers to focus on a love triangle, god knows why. Oh, I do have ships I won't disclose, but A Darker Shade of Magic is delightfully free of angsty romantic complications.
This book is just really good, and even though it took me a while to get into it, I'm so glad I read it. ADSOM was at the top of my wish list for so, so long, it was such a relief to finally get my hands on a copy. Now, I need to buy the sequel, immediately!
My Rating: 5 Butterflies
(Originally posted on my blog, thebookishbutterfly.wordpress.com)
Published by Trisha Jain