A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
By: V.E. Schwab
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
Kell is one of the last Travelers: magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universesóas such, he can choose where he lands. There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there’s Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne–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, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, 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–a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a 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–and that is proving trickier than they hoped.
At long last, I am reading this book. For years I’ve heard seen this book around, heard great things about it, and wanted to read it myself. I guess I stalled on it because I was worried that it was just overhyped or something. But anyway…
What really blew me away about this book was the world building: the different Londons fascinated me, as did its respective cultures, the languages, the magic system that this world operates in. It’s eerie, it’s powerful, it’s dangerous, and the author does a wonderful job in explaining how it works and the consequences of using it is through the characters and the course of events. The different Londons were also really cool and fascinating; even without seeing Black London you really get a sense of the danger that’s associated with it. Even White London, whilst more habitual, also felt dangerous from the onset with its survival of the fittest society. The Antari were interesting as well, how they were different from the rest. Perhaps I was expecting a bit more in this regard–of seeing Black London, more about the Antari–but I guess that will be left for the rest of the trilogy.
The story itself was interesting, and ran at a good pace that I just could not put the book down once I started reading it. Admittedly I thought Rhy was going to play a larger role since the book community kept on talking about him, but the story was really about Kell and Lila and their reluctant partnership and mission together. I liked Kell; yeah, he’s a bit broody, but he’s level-headed. Lila…Sorry but for the most part she annoyed me. I think if I had read this book when I was growing up I would’ve totally loved her but reading it now…I get where she’s coming from and having grown up the way she did why she is the way she is, and of course that means conflict compared to Kell’s approach to things, but gahhh was she irritating at times. But I guess my irritation with her shows how flawed she and the other characters are (which is good!), that they are not perfect, that they have aspects to their character that are the way they are due to circumstance and opinion. But there were a few lines she said that drew my ire which I won’t say here lest you wish to read a whole treatise about it that made me realize on a personal note how much my opinions have changed over the years.
Nonetheless I really enjoyed reading A Darker Shade of Magic. The worldbuilding was fantastic and the characters were interesting and what drove them also drove the story. I was pleasantly surprised that the book ended on a definitive note: the present storyline wrapped up, with enough loose ends that I can see carrying forward to the rest of the trilogy. I’m in no rush to read the next two books as I have a lot of other books to read first (plus, I read there are pirates involved in the next book? Not big on pirates, sorry). But I’d be keen to revisit the world and these characters again in the future.