A Darker Shade of Magic
By V.E. Schwab
Not My Edition:
Hardcover, 400 pages
2015, Tor Books
From Amazon: Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king, George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rogueish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell 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.
What I liked:
This book was just the dose of fantasy I needed after the heaviness of The Water Knife. I’ve yet to read any of Schwab’s work before this and I will definitely be back for more. A Darker Shade of Magic is fast-paced and fun and I loved Kell as a character. He was the right mix of witty, sarcastic, rebellious, but with a caring side as well – and anyone who read this book probably has serious envy for his magical coat. I know I do! I loved the world building and the idea of the three (er, well, four) Londons. Schwab touched enough on each of them that they all felt developed, and yet it’s clear there’s more to discover in the next books.
The magic system she’s created is maybe nothing groundbreaking, as it deals with magic users typically showing strength in one of the four elements, but she added the elements of blood and bone as well. When she went into detail about how the magic works in her world, it didn’t feel old or tired and the creation of doors and traveling points between the world kept it fresh.
The relationship between Kell and Lila was also not what I expected – once she was introduced I figured we were headed for the old insta-romance cliche, but thankfully that was avoided!
I also enjoyed the simplistic jacket design and lovely map pages that separated the different sections of the book:
What I didn’t like:
Lila. I just didn’t gel with her character. To be frank, she annoyed me and I spent most of the book wishing I could slap her. It’s nothing against the writing – it’s just her character trope. She’s the “tough as nails” loner girl who moonlights as a boy to steal and protect herself. She’s only looking out for number one, that is, until she has a reason to care about someone else, blah blah. Really, I’m just picky – I like “tough girl” characters, but not too tough or they become annoying! I also felt the villains were a little shallow – beyond being power-hungry, I didn’t understand their motivation and it’s always a bummer to see villains who are just bad for the sake of being bad.
I’m sad that I have to wait until next year for the sequel; I need more of Kell and his magical coat now! If you’re into gaslamp fantasy I think you’ll enjoy this book.