A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24, 2015
Genres: Fantasy / Pages: 400
Format: Book / Source: Purchased
Rating: 4 stars
“Pirates, thieves, sadist kings, and violent magic-y stuff.” In her acknowledgments, Schwab describes her book with this quote and it is SPOT ON!*
Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.
Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that 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 take her with him for her proper adventure.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.
*I LOVE Schwab’s This Savage Song with the burning passion of a phoenix roasting marshmallows in a volcano so I had ridiculously high expectations for this book!
The main characters
Kell is one of two Antari, Blood Magicians, who travels back and forth between Grey London, Red London, and White London in the employ of Red London’s royal family. He has a fabulous multi-sided coat that helps him blend in/smuggle things between worlds (and which I will like to steal for my own closet!) but when his illegal smuggling habit is used to send a stone from Black London (aka the land of all the evil magic things that NO ONE is allowed to go to) to his home in Red London, he has to flee and try to save the world from the magical takeovers that his smuggling has started. When I started the book, I was really worried that Kell would turn into one of those characters whose powers are so omnipotent that only HE could save the world – I’m extremely happy to report that wasn’t the case! Saving the world is definitely a team effort and I really felt for Kell as the decisions he makes (all primarily with good intentions) start to spiral out of control.
Delilah (Lila) Bard is a thief and cutthroat from Grey London who stumbles into Kell as he escapes from Holland (I’ll explain that in a second!). Being a thief, of course she picks his pocket and ends up with the magical black stone of doom (#smartlifedecisions). Kell isn’t so thrilled with that and as the plot rolls along, Lila convinces him to bring her along as he tries to stop all of the horribleness by returning the stone to Black London. Lila is fiercely independent and while she has no magic (YET, the ending leaves this open for interpretation), she still heavily influences what happens by using her smarts and street skills. She also has some awesome sassy quotes. J
Holland is the only other living Antari aside from Kell, but he works for the vicious, manipulative, power hungry White London throne. No one every rules in White London for long, but the Dane twins (the rulers while this book takes place) beat Holland in the fight for the throne by enslaving him with a soul seal. Basically, they can make him do anything they want NO MATTER WHAT. Holland’s not the only one they’ve done this to either. I was really torn about how to feel for Holland – he does some pretty horrible stuff throughout the book, but it was never super clear to me when he was being compelled to do something or when he did it because he wanted to. So how much of an evil antagonist is he? I have no idea how to answer that!
The good stuff
- The creativity of the world building was really refreshing. Yes, it is set in London, but it is not the standard medieval Europe faux setting that is common in fantasy. The amount of presence that magic has in each version of London HEAVILY influences how the world works and HOW THE CHARACTERS THINK/FEEL/ACT. I LOVED that Holland and Kell had such different characters even though they are both Antari.
- The evil black stone of doom was fabulously sneaky and a surprising antagonist (alongside some other people). It’s not just a stone, but more like an object possessed by a purely magical being who will attempt to take over the body of any living being it can. There are some tricks to handling it, but since there are no handy dandy instructions inscribed on the surface, there is quite a bit of entertaining chaos as Kell and Lila try to send it back to Black London.
- Kell and Lila’s relationship – I wanted to ship them soooo bad, but there is very little to NO romance in this book. There’s just no time with all the magic and mayhem going on (#realistic). Schwab did a great job of slowly developing their trust in one other (no instafriends here). There was just enough doubt left open about what will happen in the future that I need the next book in my hands ASAP!
The bad stuff
- Normally, I speed read through books I really enjoy (food? Sleep? Hahahahaha. NO IT’S BOOK TIME NOW), but that didn’t happen with A Darker Shade of Magic. While I came to love the world system, it took a while for me to really feel immersed in it, so there were a couple times I picked it up and put it back down to read something else.
- Holland’s character wasn’t as well developed for me as the rest. Like I wrote above, I have NO IDEA what to think of him. Yes, the soul seal means he has to do what the Dane twins tell him – but there were never any signs of him rebelling against their control! Another character does rebel in a way, so it should have been possible for him to show or say what he actual felt/wanted to happen and it frustrated me that HE DIDN’T.
Are you a Schwab fan?? Who is your favorite character from her books? Are you a phoenix burning with undying passion for other fantasy books?