A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: February 24 2015
Source: Finished book from publisher
Note: With this review, I’ve decided to change my rating system from a five-star system to a ten-point system. It gives me more flexibility for the subtle nuances I find in books, and also gives me a reason to justify why I would normally give this book five stars, when I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Vicious.
The nitty-gritty: A unique world (or should I say worlds), a fascinating magic system, and characters I want to follow from world to world, and beyond.
“The bones are the same in every world,” he said, gesturing to the city, “but the rest of it will be different. As different as this world is from yours.” He pointed across the river, and toward the center of London. “Where we’re going, the castle is there. Athos and Astrid will be there, too. Once we cross through, stay close. Do not leave my side. It is night here, which means it is night in White London, too, and the city is full of shadows.” Kell looked at Lila. “You can still change your mind.”
Lila straightened and tugged up the collar of her coat. She smiled. “Not a chance.”
Schwab’s second novel for adults gave me everything I loved from Vicious (which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite books) and brought new wonders to the table as well. That being said, I subconsciously compared it to Vicious as I was reading, and I ended up enjoying A Darker Shade of Magic slightly less, which is to say I still loved it immensely! Because “slightly less” than perfect is still pretty damn good. I’ll get to my reasons for this later in the review, but first I want to assure you that this book is everything you hope it will be, if you are a V.E. Schwab fan like I am. Schwab’s imagination is endless, and even though the idea of creating doorways to other worlds has been done before, many times, she puts such an original spin on it that I was mesmerized.
One thing that Schwab does so well is that she knows how to construct a story. I’m not privy to her personal writing process, but I’m almost certain that she must do lots of outlining, either as a written outline or a visual one, because each element of the story is so perfectly placed. It’s something that only seasoned writers can pull off, and it’s hard to do. But she makes it seem easy, the way everything comes together, each element finding its place in the story. Her storylines are complex and intricate, but she manages to juggle each piece, seemingly effortlessly.
The story goes like this: Kell is an Antari, one of only two magicians in the world that has the ability to travel among the three different Londons: Red London is Kell’s home, a wondrous world where magic enhances lives and joy and beauty are everywhere; Grey London where magic is scarce and people live a hardscrabble existence, doing what they can to survive; and White London, a land of terror where bloodthirsty rulers wear the crown and punish anyone who uses magic. There is also a fourth London, Black London, that used to exist but doesn’t anymore, after the people who lived there let magic get so out of control that it destroyed them. Kell’s official job is to travel from London to London, through magical doors that only he knows about, and deliver messages between the rulers.
But Kell also has a secret business on the side, smuggling magic from Red London to Grey London in exchange for artifacts, which he collects and hides, since it’s illegal to transfer objects from one London to the next. One day he unwittingly takes a highly dangerous stone back to Red London and sets off a chain of events that will leave all the Londons in peril. He reluctantly accepts help from Lila, a thief from Grey London who only wants to escape her miserable life and go on an adventure. Both characters get more than they bargained for, and it will take all their wits to survive.
As usual, Schwab creates unforgettable characters that you’ll fall in love with. Kell is a man of mystery, one of the last of his kind. He’s an extremely powerful magician, and yet he yearns for a normal life with a loving family—which he mostly has, as he has been “adopted” by the royal court in Red London, and is as close to his “brother” Rhy that you can possibly get without being related by blood. He wears a most marvelous coat that can be turned inside out numerous times to become many different coats.
Lila is also a wonderful character (and she’s making an appearance in my Top Ten Tuesday tomorrow!), a scrappy, skinny fighter of a girl who lives by her wits and is hell on wheels with a weapon. She has big dreams and will do anything to break out of her miserable life. When she meets Kell—and I love the way they meet!—she begins to see what her life could be like. I also love that she doesn’t let a man stand in the way of what she wants. When Lila and Kell are together, their dialog practically crackles and sparks, it’s so good.
Rhy is the prince of Red London, and I adored him as well, although I wanted more of him in this story. He’s the opposite of Kell, and yet their bond was so special. And Holland! Oh how I felt for him, even though he’s evil, I just wanted to give him a hug!
Schwab’s Londons are glorious creations, similar to each other yet completely different. In Red London a river called the Isle runs through the city, a red river that is the city’s source of magic. But in Grey London it’s called the Thames, and in White London it’s something else entirely. Likewise, a tavern sits in the exact same spot in each London, even though each has a different name and appearance. All of this is described in Schwab’s lyrical writing, which has the rhythm of music about it that makes me want to read passages of the text aloud.
Where the story faltered a bit for me was the ending, which was not at all what I was expecting. (Nor should it be! Clearly Schwab did her job well by not going where readers expected her to go.) Because this is the first in a trilogy, I wanted to have something to carry me forward to the next book, some mystery that remained unsolved to puzzle over while book two is being written. And while she does give us small mysteries, like where Kell came from before he was part of the Royal Court of Red London, and why Lila has an artificial eye, the story mostly wraps up very cleanly with no cliffhangers whatsoever. I know many readers will be rejoicing over this fact, and I must say I’m usually relieved not to come face to face with a cliffhanger, but this time I predicted a certain ending that never came to pass, and I was just slightly disappointed.
And yet—the ending was actually perfect the way it was. Schwab concludes her story on a lovely beat that made me smile, and I am happy that I will get to meet these characters again very soon.
Final rating: 9/10
Cover Love: I love both the US and the UK covers! They both use the bold red, white and black color scheme that the story is base on. If I had to pick a favorite, I think I’d pick the UK cover, simply because it’s so graphically appealing. Which cover is your favorite?
Big thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy!
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