A Darker Shade of Magic
(Shades of Magic #1)
V. E. Schwab
Release: February 24, 2015
Kell is one of the last travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
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 one 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.
I'm going to be upfront with the fact that I loved this strange little book so much! It's diverse, unique, and compelling! Magic, adventure, and danger are found on every page and I loved it so much! I was hooked from page one even though this time I was rereading it.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a story about blood magic and parallel Londons, smugglers and cross-dressing thieves, power struggles and unlikely friendships, forbidden tokens and a truly fabulous coat. And a promiscuous prince that would give Jack Harkness a run for his money. It's a story about Kell, who's gifted (and kind of cursed) with the magical ability to travel between worlds, and Lila, a genderfluid wannabe pirate who wants nothing more than to escape her city for an adventure. They meet in Grey London where Kell is on the run after he makes a big mistake. I'm not going to going into detail about the plot but be reassured that shenanigans and mishaps then ensue.
For me, the story was engrossing from the first but the pace builds up slowly over the first 150ish pages until you couldn't put this book down if you wanted to. The worldbuilding is amazingly complex and intriguing with its four parallel Londons that each have their own personalities and varying magic levels. I enjoyed every moment of losing myself in this world of dingy taverns and pretty palaces and the simple yet complex workings of the magic system. Schwab takes familiar fantasy tropes and turns them on their heads to create something that's not quite like anything I've read before.
The characters are what truly makes ADSOM such an amazing book. The main characters are polar opposites. Kell is reserved, responsible, and surprisingly layered but slightly careless as well. Lila is bold, clever, and seemingly fearless but she has a fragileness to her when you take a closer look. I love them both so much! They balance each other out and make an remarkable team. I loved watching them meet, butt heads, and grow to care for each other. Prince Rhy, Kell's brother, is flamboyant and fabulous and an overall cinnamon roll that I want to protect at all costs. I honestly don't know what to think about Holland, the brooding magical equivalent of Kell in White London. I am torn on whether I want to dislike him or to protect him. The villains of this story are, in my opinion, truly masterfully done and hella scary. They are the kind of evil that makes your blood run cold. I'd never want to run into them. Ever.
Schwab's writing is something else. I have loved everything of hers that I've read and I can say without a doubt that she continues to get better and better with each book she puts out into the world. She has a gradual way of sharing details about the world and character's backstories that keeps you hooked without being info dumpy. I love how she always writes the stories of the characters that are outsiders and don't quite fit into the boxes people would like to shove them in. That's my favorite thing about her stories actually.
ADSOM is everything I want in a fantasy novel: adventurous, magical, immersive, and exciting with a diverse set of characters and awesome worldbuilding. I had high expectations going into this book the first time I read it and I'm happy to say that it exceeded them. In fact, it's one of those books that holds up upon rereading more than once. It's a wonderful adventure that I think everyone should read.
Bravo, Ms. Schwab! Bravo!