Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V. E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books, February 24th 2015
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King—George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered—and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London—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 ne speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, 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. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
This book should have never sat on my shelf for the length of time it did. It should have passed straight from my hands to my mind, and from there—my heart. This book has it all; Victoria Schwab is in no shortage of magic, adventure, danger, loyalty, power, conviction and honor. The novel takes place in the 18th century, between parallel Londons—four cities that share a name and geographic location, but are each in a very different planes of existence. Magical travel between the different Londons has been severely restricted except to two individuals who possess the ability to open doors. Schwab has poured her heart and soul into all four of these Londons, creating a new world of possibility for magic and mayhem. Despite the complexity of the universe and magic system, I found it both parts easy to understand and fascinating. Blood magic and elemental have been done before, but Schwab casts these traits in a new light. From the very first detail of the book—Kell’s mysterious coat—her world building captured my attention and did not let go until the very end.
Schwab’s prose is fluid, beautiful, and easy to read. If the dust jacket isn’t enough to draw you in, her way with words should do the trick. I was riveted from page one, and devoured the entire book in only a few sittings. Dialogue leapt from the characters mouths, and the streets were painted with vivid clarity. I especially enjoyed the dynamic between Kell, our world-traveller, and Lila, a female cutthroat with a sharp tongue and a fine eye for men’s jackets. The last fifty pages of the book had me leaning forward into the book, wetness rimming my eyes as I was taken on the last legs of Kell and Lila’s journey. I gasped more than once, and cried for just a moment at the very end. I found the twists surprising, yet plausible, a fine balance that is hard to come by in today’s young adult literature. Despite my short review of this book, I highly recommend A Darker Shade of Magic to any lover of fantasy. It stands proudly on my shelf as my favorite fantasy read of this year.