Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)
Series: Shades of Magic – Book 1
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 398 pages
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby 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 another world for her ‘proper adventure’.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.
I wasn’t entirely sure what took me so long to actually read this book, all I know is that I’m kicking myself mentally for not picking it up sooner. Parallel worlds! Interesting characters! An inventive magic system! Judging from that, A Darker Shade of Magic is right up my alley—and in fact, it’s pretty smack-dab in the middle of my alley.
The first thing you need to know about this book is that the first half is really, really slow. It takes ages for the plot to actually jump-start and the action to pick up, though in place, Schwab guides us through a journey of discovery—mostly through her characters, who tend to daydream, get nostalgic, and act as dumpers of information. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my experience; it’s just something I’ve noticed.
I love, and I mean LOVE, the idea of the four Londons. It was easily one of the highlights of ADSOM to me, and Schwab did a really good job explaining these four to the readers. For those who are confused, she conveniently has Lila, the second main character, summing it up quite nicely:
“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.”
Kell, the main character we meet first, is one of the last remaining Travellers in the world. For someone who holds such an incredible title, he’s got a lot more thirst for danger and a lot less respect for authority than he probably should. While he might not be 100% trustworthy and reliable at all times, though, he’s kind when it counts and willing to what it takes for the sake of others, particularly those he cares about.
Lila, our second protagonist, is a bit of a rebel and a free-spirit. Like Kell, she too has a thirst for danger—for adventure, really, and for freedom—and is even less bound by anything. Her story arc revolves around her wanting a better life, except not the traditional respectable job and house-and-kids way. She’s not emotionless, but she’s certainly extremely prideful and prone to hiding her feelings.
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
Despite their really different backgrounds, these two are actually remarkably alike, which makes them fast (though reluctant) friends. Kell trusts Lila in the way he hasn’t trusted anyone before, and Lila is at least willing to do the same for Kell, which is more than I can say about her and anyone else. Their banter is easy and fun, and they’re a suitable equal for one another.
The other characters in this book are vivid and interesting as well. I loved Holland, another Traveller who’s just plain tortured, and I loved Rhy, the Red Prince who presents himself as flamboyant and vain but is so much deeper than that. The latter’s relationship with Kell, especially, poses a unique situation that’s hopefully explored further in the sequel.
Apart from the slow pace in the first half of the book, the only other thing that bothered me was the use of (imagined) foreign languages. Admittedly, I’m bad at memorising foreign words and tend to glaze over anything I don’t understand, so whenever a character speaks in anything other than English and it’s not immediately translated, I kind of have to either search back for the meaning (thank god for e-books!) or just ignore it. Me being me, I tend to do the latter, which does sometimes impact my understanding of what’s happening on the page. 😛
A Darker Shade of Magic, in a word, was an adventure. Sure, the first half of the book was quite slow, but when it picked up, it picked up good. The world-building was solid, the characters fascinating, and the plot, overall, intriguing. If all of Schwab’s books are like this, she’s on-track to becoming an insta-read author for me.
“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.”
What do you think of this book? Where can I get Kell’s coat? Let me know in the comments or link me to your review! 🙂