Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab
Blogmas Day 15
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Author: V. E. Schwab
Published: February 24th, 2015 (Tor Books)
Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
Centuries ago, four Londons existed side by side, sharing the name but essentially in very different worlds. When a massive magical accident occurred in the place known as Black London, the doors between the worlds were sealed and all magical travel restricted. Since then, the only people who can travel back and forth are the Antari, or blood magicians, who act as messengers between the rulers. Kell is the Antari in service to the King and Queen of Red London, and on one of his travels to the notoriously unstable court of White London, is tricked into bringing back a forbidden artifact that turns out to be from Black London (all of which were supposed to have been destroyed). This sets off a chain of events as Kell races to find a way to dispose of the item before anyone figures out he’s committed treason or the dangerous magic within it turns on him. Delilah Bard, a thief from magicless Grey London, has spent her entire life looking for adventure and a way out. When she stumbles into Kell and learns about his abilities and mission, she sees it as the perfect opportunity and makes him take her along. But the two are about to stumble into a much larger plot than Kell foresaw and if they don’t succeed in their aim, the doors between worlds could be torn down and corrupted magic unleashed once more.
The concept of multiple Londons, almost like parallel universes that diverged several centuries ago, was so fascinating. Red London, Kell’s home, is the peaceful world where magic flourishes. White London is ruled by despotic twins and magic is much crueller here. Grey London, probably most comparable to our own, is a completely magicless world and people are more reliant on technology. Black London, long sealed off, was consumed by corrupted magic. This was such a unique idea and it was very well executed alongside the plot with no info dumps. I love the world-building and what limited amounts of magic we did get to see, which appears to be of an elemental sort. This is an aspect I would love to see clarified more in the next books, such as what decides the magical affinity a person has.
“Bad magic, Kell had called it.
No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.”
Kell was a great protagonist, and a very likeable character. He has been raised in comparative luxury, almost as a member of the royal family, and has never had to face any real danger or conflict before, but realizes just how strong he can be when the occasion calls for it. What we get to know of his backstory was really intriguing. There are still several questions about his past that I’m looking forward to finding the answers to in the sequels. Kell and Lila, once they got past the initial hurdles, made great partners and worked so well as a team, and Lila’s stubborn personality is a perfect contrast to Kell’s more serious one. Holland, the Antari of White London, was such an interesting, although sad, character, and I’m curious to know more about his past. Rhy was another character I’d like to see more of in the sequel as we didn’t get to see much of him in this book.
Mild spoilers ahead. I was rather disappointed that we didn’t actually get to see Black London, even after it looked like Kell was going to have to travel there to get rid of the rock. Also, while there are clearly several threads still hanging, I kind of feel like this could have been turned into a standalone, since the major conflict was more or less resolved. This plot had the potential to be so much more complex, but none of the opportunities were taken – atleast so far. Still, I’m curious to see what the next books will be about.
Compared to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue which I read a few months ago, this book felt rather simplistic, but an entertaining read nonetheless. The pacing is excellent and steady throughout, ensuring that the reader will never be bored. Overall, this was a solid start to the series, and one I would recommend for fantasy fans, especially if you’re looking for something different in terms of world-building and magic.
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series: