Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: New adult/fantasy/historical
Date Read: 01/09/2015 – 10/08/2015
This is kind of weird metaphor, but this book was like a warm, comforting Friday night in after a long week. It had a nice slow pace, interesting and likeable characters, and built its way up to a great climax. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even entirely sure why I’m only giving it four stars… star ratings are really based more on a vibe than any kind of critical analysis for me, and the vibe I got was four. Probably just because it took me a little while to get into it.
Kell is a rare magician who can travel between worlds, specifically Red London, White London and Grey London (Black London no longer exists). While smuggling between worlds is illegal, Kell has a vast collection of artifacts hidden away, and comes across a new one that will put him and all three worlds in a huge amount of danger. While he’s trying to divest himself of this, he meets Lila Bard, who has been waiting her whole life for adventure. She gives Kell no choice but to let her help him, and together they travel between the three worlds to destroy the magic that threatens to destroy them.
Kell is the somewhat broody, somewhat rebellious but very dashing magician with a mysterious past, while Lila is a street urchin yearning for something more. Both Kell and Lila could be cliched characters if not handled correctly, but fortunately, that isn’t the case in this book. I honestly couldn’t tell you which character I liked more; they were very different from each other, but I got very attached to both of them. The supporting characters, such as Kell’s almost-brother, Prince Rhy, and the royal families of both Red and London, are also well-drawn and interesting.
I think the world-building is what makes this book, though. It’s a different take on parallel universes, particularly the fact that it’s magic, not sci-fi, that allows travel between them. And it’s set in the early nineteenth century. While London has the same name in every version of the world, that is the only similarity; the empires and languages are entirely different, and a lot of detail goes into highlighting these differences. The magic system is not entirely unique, but it is also well developed, and Schwab put enough of her own spin on it to make it feel fairly original.
It does get a bit dark at times, and fairly violent, so fair warning for that. There’s quite a bit of blood (both from the fact that a lot of the magic is “blood magic” and requires Kell and the other magicians to slice their hands open in order to use it, and the fact that people are running around killing each other). Having said that, it is a fairly easy read, and I recommend it!