Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic (#1)
Published by: Tor Books (February 24, 2015)
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
A Darker Shade of Magic is my first V.E. Schwab book, but it definitely won’t be my last. I absolutely love her writing style- and I adore the characters she’s created.
“Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”
Kell is one of the last of his kind – a magician with the ability to travel between parallel worlds. From Grey London (a world without magic – much like our own), to Red London (Kell’s home where magic is revered), to White London (where magic is fought and killed for). There was once a Black London, too. But it was destroyed by magic – and sealed off from the other lands.
“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”
Kell travels between words as the behest of the Maresh Empire as he carries correspondence between the royals. But, he moonlights as a smuggler, carrying trinkets from one London to the next for those willing to pay. It’s a risky occupation (and considered treason in Red London). When Kell bumps into Delilah Bard, a professional thief in Grey London, she robs him – and then saves him. And, this chain of events makes them partners of sorts in an adventure neither of them were expecting.
The world in ADSOM isn’t exactly ground breaking. The idea of parallel words is pretty common ins SFF. And, while the magic system is interesting, it’s not extremely well-developed. However, for a first book in a series, it does what it needs to do: it introduces us to the world and makes us want more. But, the real heart of this series isn’t the plot, it’s the characters. They are wonderful, and flawed, and I couldn’t help but to root for them.
Kell has been raised as a member of the royal family, and he considers Prince Rhy to be his brother. But, there is no blood-relation, and Kell knows nothing of his past or his family – nothing before the age of 5. So, he struggles with his identity both within the royal family and the world at large.
“I’m not truly a Maresh, for all that the king and queen have offered me that name. I feel more like a possession than a prince.”
But, the best part of this book is without a doubt – Delilah Bard. She is smart, and tough, and unbelievably feisty. Delilah is a street-wise cut throat who steals partly to survive, and partly because it’s what she does best. She doesn’t even hesitate to follow Kell into the unknown just for the possibility of an adventure. Because dying doesn’t scare Delilah Bard – complacency does.
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
While the world building isn’t lacking is some areas, Schwab does a great job setting the scene. Grey London feels drab and boring, White London is terrifyingly dangerous, Red London is enticing and magical – and Black London is a riddle you want to solve. This first installment in the Shades of Magic trilogy holds so much promise. We meet some fantastic characters, and get a taste for where the series is going. And I for one, can’t wait to continue.