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.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is such a delightful piece of storytelling.
It is the rare book that seamlessly combines parallel universes with fantasy (a plus, since the former is more often located in science-fiction), and has all the thrills of fantastic worldbuilding, a protagonist who dons a coat with more than two sides, cross-dressing thieves, an extensive history steeped in violence, and deliciously dark magic.
Every good thing that readers have been saying about A Darker Shade of Magic is (probably) true. A particular highlight – one that is praised time and time again (with good reason!) – is the worldbuilding. The protagonist, Kell, is part of a race of magic users called the Antari, entailing a narrative filled with magic. Based on nature’s elements, the magic system is complex and is a feast for our senses, especially taste and smell, but also comes with the costs and consequences of magic use. And any book that has a magic system that has rules and adheres to them wins brownie points from me.
As well as being able to employ the elements at his will, Kell is also able to travel between the universes. Four universes, four Londons; A Darker Shade of Magic touches briefly on the parallels and similarities of each London, but invests a great deal of its storytelling exploring how each London has its own unique cultures, monarchies, atmospheres, languages, and (more interestingly) prevalence of magic. Schwab is an excellent storyteller, and she flawlessly paints a different London coloured by their personalities, their nuances, and their histories.
The joy of reading A Darker Shade of Magic lies in its vividly imaginative prose. Schwab’s writing expertly evokes a wide spectrum of colours and ambiences; the vibrancy and livelihood of a magical and flourishing Red London, the mundane, magic-less Grey London, the cutthroat and sterility of White London, and Black London – its fate both a mystery and unspeakable. This book will inspire a sense of awe, exercise your imagination and challenge its boundaries, reminding us of the power of storytelling and fantasy.
A Darker Shade of Magic also features a fantastic cast of characters. There’s aforementioned Kell; cross-dressing, sharp-tongued and mysterious Lila; tragic, broken-souled magicians; sadistic kings and queens; and spectacular banter. Although Kell is equal parts magic and angst, I found myself enjoying the latter, particularly since it was an endearing sort. Kell may be one of the last Travelers (and thus special), but the strength of his character was not because he was powerful or possessed abilities that would be otherwise lost. The strength of Kell was the depth of his character – he was kind and just, but also felt a hollowness left by the extinction of his people and was prone to vice and weakness. Lila, too, was a fantastic character that had plenty of wit, ambition, and satisfying character development. Though we don’t know too much about Lila’s past, I expect we will learn a great deal more in the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows.
The story of A Darker Shade of Magic is simple, but therein lies its beauty: an uncomplicated but exciting and thrilling adventure steered by its excellent characters and incredible worlds. Though the first of the series, A Darker Shade of Magic is a great story and book on its own, whilst has plenty of potential for more – more character development, more stories, and more of the Londons. An outstanding start to, what I believe will be, a fantastic series.
Book Name: A Darker Shade of Magic
Book Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books