“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.”
I walked into this book thinking it’d be what it ended up not being, and yet A Darker Shade of Magic still managed to ensnare.
Sometimes authors make locations starkly different just for clarity’s sake. City 1 is rich, city 2 is poor; city 1 is ruled by a monarchy, city 2 by a democracy. That might be the case for the three main Londons, but V. E. Schwab offers us a logical explanation as well: each world is the way it is because of its proximity (or lack thereof) to Black London. Schwab doesn’t stop there, either, in terms of world-building. She is very clear on the rules of magic, of its limitations and its mysteriousness, and she sticks carefully to those predefined rules.
Schwab gives the reader conflicting reports on whether or not magic is benevolent. All she IS clear on is that it has a mind of its own. I loved that she was willing to explore how magic isn’t always good. It isn’t always the answer to everything. It compels and ensnares, but in the end, especially in Kell’s world(s), magic really only destroys. She does this through two compelling characters: Kell, who has a good heart, and Lila, who thinks she wants to be a pirate but who is terrible at thinking like a criminal… example: she needs a boat but doesn’t bother to try and steal one. It’s an endearing trait rather than an annoying one, though, because for all of Lila’s bravado, I think she really is a good person.
One of the few things I didn’t like about Lila’s character is that, towards the end, someone mentions something about her physical health that should have been foreshadowed but wasn’t. At the time of revelation, then, I found it hard to believe that Lila wasn’t anything but completely whole.
What I also found i1nteresting was how Schwab formatted the book. Written in fourteen parts, each part has anywhere from three to five chapters in each. I couldn’t say exactly what the effects of the format was, other than it made it feel like a fast read, but I liked how it wasn’t set up the way it normally is.
While speaking of technicalities, though, there were two things I didn’t particularly care for. For one thing, Schwab sometimes wrote in fragments, for I believe pace and emotional impact, and while I think that some of it was done well, there were several places where it instead came off as choppy.
With all of this in mind, I’m going to give A Darker Shade of Magic four stars. I loved reading it, and would recommend it to fantasy lovers, and I look forward to reading the sequel. I’m not sure if it’s a book I would choose to reread unless I was bored or in the mood for it, but I still found the novel’s world and characters endearing.
Looking for trouble, he’d (Barron) say. You’re gonna look till you find it.
Trouble is the looker, she’d answer. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first.
Why do you want to die?
I don’t, she’d say. I just want to live.
— Part 3, chapter I; pg 62
It’s early and I have not written anything yet for my Camp NaNoWriMo project, but for those of you who are also participating in the challenge, I hope your writing day is productive!