Author: V. E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Publisher: Titan Books, Tor
Date: February 2015
Source: ARC from publisher
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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.
I don’t think it’s fair to all other books that V.E. Schwab’s latest offering publish early in the year. After Vicious, her amazing adult debut last January, I had very high expectations for A Darker Shade of Magic. Not only did I love Schwab as an author, but the book—a fantasy world of parallel Londons, with promised magic, thievery and all around excitement—sounded incredible. When the covers were revealed, my love grew exponentially. In fact, this is my first review that features both, because I can’t even choose.
In the interest of full disclosure, I wanted say how amazingly lucky and privileged I am to have received an early advanced reader copy as a thank you from the author herself. Victoria, you’re the one I should be thanking!
I knew I loved this book before I read it. And the rare reality is, I loved this book even more after I read it. It is a true testament to Schwab’s remarkable characters, writing and world-building that A Darker Shade of Magic exceeded my sky high expectations.
Kell is one of the last Antari, a blood-mage with the ability to travel between worlds. He identifies them by colour: Red London, Kell’s home, where magic thrives. Grey London, a gloomy world with no magic. White London, where magic is power and only the strongest rule. And once upon a time, Black London, now sealed off from the others. The world building is rich and incredible. Every scene is memorable, but my favourite is the spectacular, magicky throne room showdown you absolutely don’t want to miss.
Kell’s is a rather lonely existence, due to his duty and diplomacy, but I loved how he threw a little rebellion and whimsy into the mix by illegally smuggling and collecting artefacts from different Londons. It took me a while to warm up to him, but I liked his strong resolve and I’m intrigued by his clouded past. I especially love his relationship with his adoptive brother and BFF, Prince Rhy Maresh, who radiates the kind of charisma only born princes have. I got attached to Rhy really quickly and my heart broke for him throughout the book.
Then we have the delightful Miss Delilah Bard. The meddling thief and aspiring pirate is a character you want to be—she craves freedom and adventure, and a life as unencumbered as possible. She’s witty and fearless, throwing herself into and delighting in each new experience, no matter how dangerous. Her motivation is living life to the fullest, and it’s such a refreshing point of view. Her and Kell’s reluctant meeting, turned grudging companionship, turned friendship is wonderful to read.
Schwab triumphs at creating complex, likable characters, both heroes and villains (anti-heroes and anti-villains?) alike. Astrid and Athos Dane, the rulers of the savage White London are probably the most fascinating set of royal twins since the Lannisters. They are both ruthless and cruel, but so horrifically engaging. I revelled in their villainy. Equally intriguing was Holland, Kell’s White London counterpart, another Antari whose true intentions are masked by his actions. I was fascinated by them all.
Comparing book for book, I still think I loved Vicious more, but maybe because I was expecting the fullness of standalone Vicious immediately. ADSOM is the start of a trilogy, and I fully expect my love to grow with each book. Absolutely buy it when it comes out. If this first book is anything to go by, there is only more wonder ahead.
Why you should read it:
- Exceptional cast. I enjoyed every single character in this book.
- One London is awesome. FOUR Londons is levels of awesome I can’t even describe.
- Best. Magic. Fight. EVER.
- Kell’s magic coat, which is every coat in one, is a girl’s dream. Can someone manufacture this please?
- I definitely want to visit in Red London. The river radiates magic!
- I loved that pub that was in the same place in all the Londons.