A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Date Published: February 24th, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 400 pages
Synopsis: 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 Rhy Maresh, the roguish 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 robs him, 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.
This is a spoiler-free review.
This is, by far, one of the most hyped books I have on my shelves, which is something that would normally scare me off. However, this book beyond lived up to the hype. It promised action, thrilling adventures through parallel worlds, and of course, plenty of magic. Victoria Schwab once again proves herself to be one of the most brilliant and talented writers out there. She is resourceful and exceedingly unique in every detail that she writes. Between her beautiful writing, intricate descriptions, and skilled characterization, she has created a vivid and heart-pounding journey through the magic of London.
In this novel, we follow two main characters—a traveler named Kell and a thief named Delilah “Lila” Bard. Kell, hailing from Red London, is an Antari (one of two) who possess potent blood magic that allows him to cross through the doors between each of the three Londons—the regal and magical Red London, the dimmed and magic-less Grey London, and White London, rendered colorless and menacing by its abuse of magic.
Red London lives in harmony with its magic, respecting it as much as it does them. White London sees it as something to be controlled, turning it into something ugly and terrifying. However, this pales in comparison to the magic of Black London, the world that has been locked away, hidden and mute—that is, until a remaining piece of it’s dark past, in the form of a stone, unexpectedly falls into the hands of Kell. The only remnants of a history preferred to be forgotten, it sets off a chain of horrible events as Kell struggles to contain it and return it to its proper place, even if that means sacrificing himself in the process.
Along the way, he obtains an unusual companion, the tough and courageous Lila Bard, who becomes involved after she pickpockets the Black London stone off of Kell when they encounter each other in the streets of Grey London. Always seeking adventure, she forces Kell to take her along on his journey to return the stone and save the three remaining Londons from this all-consuming dark force. What starts for Kell as a reluctant pairing turns into a surprisingly strong partnership as they navigate treacherous obstacles on their quest.
Despite the complexity involved in the unique details of the various Londons, not once in this entire novel is it difficult to understand, nor will it leave the reader feeling lost. Schwab depicts each setting with such care and skill, sweeping her readers into the worlds. Rather than giving an information dump of all the necessary facts, she shows the reader by pulling them straight into the action, conjuring a clear picture through descriptions and tone. Not only is it easy to imagine what every feature of this narrative looks like, she also evokes the specific feelings of each setting in the reader.
One of the aspects of this novel that first caught my attention was how unique it sounded. I’ve read a lot of fantasy books and this one was unlike any I have encountered before. This is due in part to the highly unique magic system that is primarily demonstrated through our main character, Kell. The power of blood magic is a unique and intriguing system that I have not come across in any form before. That, combined with the specific language used by the Antari to conjure the power, had me completely hooked. It was—no pun intended—absolutely spellbinding.
This book was absolutely action-packed. The fight scenes were epic, magic-filled battles, featuring struggles involving both the characters that are advantageously powerful and the characters that fight simply using the strength and willpower they have inside them. I was fully caught up in every second, tearing through page after page.
Schwab is known for writing very character driven novels, and this one was no exception. From the very start, I completely fell in love with the characters she created for this story. Kell is an incredibly brave and selfless hero. He is willing to sacrifice himself to protect the three worlds and all those in them. Lila is headstrong and sassy; she is a skilled thief that has a certain distinctively human magic about her. Hilarious and strong-willed, she has definitely become one of my favorite female literary heroines.
As always, Schwab makes her characters vivid, realistic, and three-dimensional—loveable for both their strengths and their weaknesses. Kell and Lila together are one of the best pairings I have ever come across in literature. They are two halves of one amazing whole. Even the characters that lingered at the edges of the main plot were as equally three-dimensional as the protagonists.
The writing in this novel was absolutely enchanting. Schwab has a natural talent for weaving a complex storyline into a fluid narrative that easily carries her readers from page to page. The detailed world building and fleshing out of her characters are some of the most breathtaking elements of the story. She builds each world, each setting, right up around the reader, clearly defines the class system of the various Londons, and pulls the reader alongside Kell and Lila in their adventures. It is as if you are standing right in the middle of things, feeling the pull of the magic, which is both bright and foreboding.
At this point, I think the fact that I completely and utterly fell in love with this novel is fairly clear. This is basically the epitome of my literary-loving heart and soul. I would very highly recommend this story to everyone, especially if you love magic, parallel worlds, and magnificent writing. Victoria Schwab has an unbelievable amount of natural talent, and is a superb figure in the current literary world. There is no cliffhanger ending for this novel, but it will still leave you craving further installments.