Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Review: A Darker Shade of Magic - V.E. Schwab
Officially Kell is the Red traveller, carrying letters between the monarchs of each London. Unofficially he is a smuggler, a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences. His escape to Grey London leads to a run-in with Delilah, a cutpurse with lofty aspirations, who forces Kell to take her on a proper adventure. But perilous magic is afoot, and an adventure becomes a mission to save all of the worlds.
Shades of Magic Series:
A Darker Shade of Magic
A Gathering of Shadows
Future titles and release dates to be confirmed
Visit V.E. Schwab's website for more information
I've heard a lot of great things about V.E. Schwab's writing, in fact I had several of her books on my wish list, so when I was offered a review copy of the first book in her new series, A Darker Shade of Magic, I jumped at the chance to read it. I'm so glad I did because I can certainly see what all the fuss was about and I'm definitely going to be working my way through her previous titles while I wait for the release of the next book in this series.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a wonderful mix of historical fantasy, swashbuckling adventure and magical mayhem. Here there are three very different versions of London, three distinctive parallel universes that only a rare few people known as the Antari are able to travel between. Grey London is closest to a historical version of our world, there is no magic and most people are completely unaware of the other universes. Red London is a lavish kingdom where magic is plentiful and people on the whole are happy and healthy, most people are aware of the other worlds but have no desire to leave their own home. White London has magic but it is a different, darker, kind and people are constantly battling for power over each other, this London is a place where the weak are preyed upon and only the strong survive. There used to be a fourth world but there the magic was twisted and decayed, Black London was being destroyed from the inside out so the other versions of London banded together to permanently close the gateways and cut them off and it is believed that the world has since destroyed itself.
Kell is one of only two known Antari, he was born in Red London and he is tasked with the role of delivering messages between the royal families from each remaining version of London. Although it is forbidden to bring anything between the different worlds Kell is a collector and he regularly smuggles what he believes are harmless trinkets between the Londons to trade with the few people who know of the different realities. Kell meets Lila when his hobby lands him in trouble, injured and trapped in Grey London Kell has nobody to turn to and is forced to rely on Lila to help him. Lila has always dreamed of adventure so when Kell tells her about Red London and the other universes open to him she is determined to find a way to travel there and see them for herself. What the two of them don't realise is that they have dangerous enemies, ones who could be powerful enough to destroy not just Red London but all three remaining universes.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this story, each version of London is vividly described and I found it incredibly easy to picture them. I loved learning about the magical Red London, it sounds like such a brilliant place to visit and I would love to see the glowing red Thames and experience the magic flowing through it. White London sounds absolutely terrifying, it is cold and harsh with danger lurking on every corner and definitely not the kind of place you would choose to go to while Grey London is dreary and smog filled, pretty much exactly what you'd expect of early 1800's London. I loved the descriptions of magic too, we get to see some exciting magical battles and I enjoyed learning more about Kell's ability to travel between the different worlds.
One of the places A Darker Shade of Magic really shines is in it's characters though, nobody is what they first seem to be, they all have complex layers to them and very real motives for everything they do. Kell is great, he is intelligent and powerful but he isn't perfect, he makes a lot of mistakes and has to rely on his wits to get him out of the messes he finds himself in. Lila surprised me, I wasn't sure if I was going to like her at first because she seemed to have so little regard for anyone other than herself but it didn't take me long to warm up to her and I loved how badass she was. Lila is feisty, smart and ruthless, she doesn't play by the rules but she does have her own code of honour and no matter how much she tries to pretend to be completely blasé about things she really does care. What I loved most is the friendship that builds between her and Kell, in the beginning they have no reason to trust each other, they are thrown together though and have to work together if they want to survive. It was great to see that Lila, a girl from Grey London who had no magic of her own, was often the one who rescues Kell even though he is the powerful magician. There are so many other characters who are worth a mention here, prince Rye is definitely someone I'm looking forward to seeing more of but V.E. Schwab also created some truly creepy and terrifying villains.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a fantastic story that was completely different to anything else I've read which is what makes it really stand out. If you love rich world building, brilliant multifaceted characters and plots with plenty of surprising twists then you need this book in your life. It's definitely a series to watch out for and V.E. Schwab has added herself to my list of must read authors.
Source: Received from Titan Books in exchange for an honest review
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