Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Buy on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks
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.
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
The above quote pretty much sums up the cutthroat world in V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic. The story is a fantasy set in London, but not just one London, but several. There’s our London set during the reign of King George III, “Red” London where the protagonist Kell is from, and “White” London where people will kill for power. Once there was a “Black” London, but they were consumed by their magic, and the other Londons sealed the door between them and the dying world.
Kell is a magician, Antari, who has the ability to travel between the worlds. When he was five years old, Kell was taken in by the royal family and raised as a prince, and acts as their ambassador to the other worlds. However, Kell doesn’t just trade messages, but also smuggles in goods to sell to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, smuggling is illegal, and soon Kell finds himself running for his life. It is after he flees to our London where Kell meets a thief named Delilah Bard, and the two work to unravel the mystery of who set Kell up, and why they want him dead.
“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.”
I’ve been wanting to read this novel for years, so the anticipation of reading it was very high. I guess that’s why I struggled to get into this one a bit early on. My expectations were really high, and when the novel didn’t pull me in immediately I became a bit disappointed. Yet, Schwab’s writing is phenomenal, and her character development and world building kept my interest. This turned out to be a great thing, because once I was sucked in, I found it difficult to put the book down. The storyline was fascinating, and I found it to be pretty unpredictable. The other aspect of the novel I loved was Kell and Delilah. They are both complex characters, that are really strong, but likable.
Though I enjoyed the book, there are a few things I wished were different. For example, the beginning dragged a bit for me. It’s too bad the pace of the beginning wasn’t a bit faster. If I was someone who quit books easily, I might have put A Darker Shade of Magic down before things got really good. Another aspect of the book that I wish was different was how Rhy’s character was developed. I assume he’ll be better developed in future books, but I think it would have been helpful if his character was more developed in this novel due to storylines that take place towards the end of the book. There was a moment where I should have felt something, yet due to lack of development I just couldn’t feel. Overall, this is a pretty good start to a series, and now that I’m currently reading the sequel, I can say that things truly get better.