A Darker Shade of Magic
By V.E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books
This book has everything that I love in a book; great characters, snappy dialogue, fantastic world building, and an adventure with a ton of action. I could not have been more pleased from the moment I started reading.
Let’s talk about the world building first. There are three different versions of London, all existing in parallel worlds. The basic landscape is the same, but the worlds are much different. Two of the Londons, Red London and White London, are aware of magic, and some are able to use it regularly – it’s just part of their world and they don’t know any differently. Then there is the third London, the historical version that we’ve all studied and read about. This London, Grey London, has no idea that the other versions of London exist, or that magic is real. But let’s not forget that there was once four Londons. At one time there was a Black London, but something horrible happened in that London, and no one wants to remember or talk about that. That will come up later!
There is a lot of thought and creativity in the way the author describes each London, and the locations are just as much characters of the story as the characters themselves. I was really able to get a feeling of each version. Red London felt warm and sunny, White London cold and icy, and Grey London felt grimy and rainy. I loved this about the book as much as I loved the story.
So, let’s begin.
The story opens with Kell, as he travels from his home in Red London to the London that we’re familiar with, Grey London. Kell is able to travel from London to London because he is Antari, which means he was born with magic in his blood. This is considered rare, as there are only two known Antari in existence left between the three worlds.
Grey London is ruled by King George III – the mad king – and Kell is acting as emissary for the Royal Family of Red London, of which he is a member; although not a member by blood. Kell was adopted by the Royal Family as a child, and the first five years of his life are a complete mystery to him. He has no idea what happened to his parents or why he was adopted, and for some reason his adoptive family is keeping that information a secret.
But Kell has a secret of his own. He’s a smuggler. As he travels from world to world, he picks up trinkets that he trades from one London to another. He knows that he’s breaking the law – it’s forbidden to bring items from one London to another, but he’s careful not to get caught. Until he’s not!
One night, in an act of kindness to an old woman and against his better judgement, Kell agrees to take a letter from White London to Red London. That one act of kindness sets in motion a world of trouble for Kell, and an encounter with a pickpocket named Lila Bard.
Lila is an orphan with secrets of her own. Forced to steal for a living, Lila dreams of becoming a pirate and sailing away from her dismal home in Grey London. When Lila steals something from Kell, she has no idea that there are parallel versions of London, or that real magic exists. Her actions set off a string of events that pits good against evil, and lands both herself and Kell in an wild adventure to try to set things right.
This book crackles with snappy dialogue between Kell and Lila, and their adventure forges a bond of friendship that I hope to see continue. I’ve already pre-ordered the second book, “A Gathering of Shadows”, which is scheduled for release in February 2016, and I look forward to seeing how this story and these characters continue.
As always, please feel free to comment!