A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books
Published on: February 24 2015
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
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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.
A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC is one of those books that I needed to reflect upon before reviewing.
As far as I can tell this happens to me for one of two reasons:
1. It was awful, but in a way that confounded me, either b/c it was an author whom I love and trust and WTH happened? Or b/c my issue(s) is nebulous and thus has to be dissected to determine the root of the problem.
2. It was amazeballs, but in a way that confounded me, b/c SO MUCH CLEVER.
This was a #2 situation. Fyi.
And even though it’s been over a month, I’m still kind of at odds about what to say.
Firstly, it is a fact universally acknowledged that I am a character-driven reader.
I was not more than mildly invested in these characters until I was more than halfway through it.
Secondly, it is a fact universally acknowledged that ROMANCE, I love it.
Yet there was very little romance in this book.
SO. We have:
1. Characters I didn’t immediately connect with.
2. Little to no swoons.
And still . . . I LOVED it.
Do you see why I needed time to traverse the dark and twisty paths of my mind? But ultimately, it comes down to this:
Victoria Schwab is a bloodydamn genius.
No really. She is.
She created a world so vastly different from others I’ve encountered, with hinted at conundrums for a later date, and characters who are . . . oblivious yet discerning, adventurous and daring, scared but determined, arrogant yet realistic, but above all else they are compelling. They are also broken. In remarkably similar ways despite the disparity of their situations.
Kell is a member of the royal family. A prince. Brother to the heir.
Except he isn’t. And he knows it, they know it, everyone knows it. B/c Kell . . . is a young man with a rare and remarkable ability, and was therefore removed from whence he came to become an adjunct extension of a pre-existing family.
But everyone pretends.
Just like Kell pretends not to be consumed with questions about what came before.
Lila . . . *shakes head at Lila*
Lila is a young woman who refuses to be confined by the restrictions of both her gender and her station. She is astonishingly intelligent. She is independent. If she had a middle name, it would almost certainly be Hubris.
And yet, she is bitterly fragile.
She wants nothing from no one, and accepts nothing she cannot immediately repay, negating any debt she feels is owed.
She’s painful to watch.
But I had to watch. Had to. If for no other reason, then to see what she would say/think next:
The rich strutted around, assuming they’d be safe, so long as they stayed in the good parts of town. But Lila knew there were no good parts. Only smart parts and stupid parts, and she was quick enough to know which one to play.
DO YOU SEE WHAT SHE DID THERE?! *head explodes b/c can’t contain the awesome*
That kind of brilliance is around every corner. That kind of brilliance is why, for the first time ever, I neither DNF-ed a book b/c characters I didn’t connect with or lamented my decision to stick with it after the fact. And honestly, I have no idea what my problem was. I’ve already said that, yes, eventually, they began to tug my heartstrings, but why it took so long . . . ? It shall remain a mystery.
But things like this:
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
were the turning point.
Plot-wise, I’m not going to say anything, b/c the less you know, the better.
As for world-building, take the things you think you know about magic systems and toss them out the window.
When I first learned that one of the rulers of Red London had a special talent for controlling the will of others, I was like, “Well, that sucks,” and when Kell walked up the fortress steps that were guarded by ten soldiers who were indeed controlled, I thought, “That is such a waste of power. How many people could this guy possibly control at once, and how could he have any power left over to defend against a direct magical attack?”
But I had made an incorrect assumption. Just b/c that’s the way magic typically works, doesn’t mean that’s the way it works according to Schwab.
Arthos can control as many people as he wants. All he has to do is brand them with his particular kind of magic. And that, my friends, is terrifying.
And all of that is why A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC will be near the top of my Best Books of 2015 list. You will laugh at drunk men stumbling groggily on stairs (HA!), you will nod your head thoughtfully as Kell and Lila reveal the intricacies of what makes them tick, you will gasp in shock and horror when you find yourself walking across the bones of defeated enemies, and you will not regret reading this book for yourself. Highly recommended.