If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ve probably already figured out that I like things that involve England and magic and monsters and fairy tales. Also pirates and adventures. If you haven’t, well… just stick around for a bit longer and it’ll be obvious soon enough.
Which is why it will come as no surprise that I absolutely love V.E. Schwab’s books, both adult and Young Adult. Victoria is a good friend of mine, but long before we become friends I was a huge fan of her writing. I flew through Vicious, devoured The Archive/The Unbound, and I’ve read and re-read The Near Witch more than a few times. And even if we weren’t friends, I would tell you without any hesitation that you want to read this book.
When it was my turn to read the ARC, I maaaaybbbeee flailed a little (okay, a lot) in joy and then lovingly stroked the cover of the book. Maybe.
That might have been me.
Fantasy books have been one of my favorite genres since as soon as I could read, and I devour any that I can find. This book satisfies that fantasy need perfectly. So if you, like me, also love magic and adventure and pirates, get ready: there’s danger ahead.
The Plot (from Goodreads):
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 starts off in a London that is similar to ours, but just different enough that you know you’re immediately in for an adventure. It’s here that we meet Kell and his most magical coat (sorry Joseph), a Traveler with the rare ability to move between Londons as easily as most peopel move between rooms. Kell is a bold protagonist, one that’s easy to root for and care from from the very beginning, yet he’s complex and layered enough that you’re turning the pages quickly to learn as much about him as possible.
Just as it was with Vicious, the world building in ADSOM is strong and solid. Kell steps into the different worlds with ease and it’s through his eyes that we see what makes each London unique and distinct. Red London is a place where magic thrives and it’s the London that Kell calls home. Gray London feels like a skip back in time, giving us a London where magic has seeped away, leaving it as dull and drab as our world. White London is where magic is hoarded and bloody battles are fought over the throne. Then there’s Black London, where no one, not even Kell, sets foot anymore.
In addition to Kell, we meet other players across the various Londons. Rhys, prince of Red London and Kell’s best friend since childhood; Lila Bard, a cross-dressing pirate who hails from Gray London, but soon joins Kell on his journey; and the sadistic Danes twins, who rule over White London with iron fists. As with her previous books, Schwab’s characters, from the sympathetic and courageous protagonists to the sadistic and cunning villains, are vibrant and full of life, practically leaping off the page.
It’s once Lila and Kell cross paths that the story kicks into high gear. Having found a relic from Black London, something that is beyond forbidden and should have been destroyed, Kell and Lila must do everything they can to protect it and keep it from those who wish to claim it and use it for themselves.
Schwab has an amazing mastery of words and a solid grasp on how to tell a page-turning story in a way that leaves you satisfied, yet wanting more. If you’re ready for a fantasy adventure that’s, as Schwab said when the book was first announced, full of “pirates, thieves, and sadist kings,” then you’ll want to be sure to pick up A Darker Shade of Magic. Now.
Oh, and don’t worry, there will be two more books in this series. So if you want more Kell and Lila (and believe me, you will), you’ll be able to join them for more adventures in the future.