In V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, there is more than one London. In fact, there are four: magic-less and ordinary Grey London; vibrant and thriving Red London; cold and cruel White London; and mysterious and powerful Black London, each with its own society and level of magic. The various worlds have been sealed off from each other for centuries, and only Antari, blood magicians, have the ability to travel between them.
Kell, a privileged traveler from Red London, is one of only two known blood magicians. He’s been moving between worlds for years, delivering the messages of monarchy and secretly harboring trinkets from each London. But when Kell ends up accidently smuggling an object that brings more danger than luck, he finds himself trying to evade the hands of the other traveler, a White London Antari who will stop at nothing to steal power away from Kell.
While on the run, Kell meets Lila Bard, a poor thief from Grey London who longs for freedom and adventure. After saving each other’s lives, the two team up, traveling between Londons to battle the dark magic that’s threatening all of their worlds.
First off, Victoria Schwab has such a talent for creating captivating settings that make you feel, rather than just see, where things are taking place. I love the various Londons with their distinct cultures, languages, and magic. You can tell that Schwab put a lot of effort into building the worlds, and I like the way they play off of one another. Schwab’s writing is also engaging and sucks the reader in from the start. The fast-pace plot and unique setting had me desperately turning pages to find out what was going to happen next.
The magic system in this story is also really fascinating. Most people with magic can control a particular element or maybe even a few. However, magicians like Kell have additional abilities, such as opening doors to other worlds. While I really enjoyed reading about the magic in this book, I wished it had been showcased more. There were also times when it felt like magic could have been used to solve problems more quickly. However, I liked the diversity of how magic is used in the worlds and the importance of balance between man and magic. I feel that this book was mostly about introducing the basics of how magic works, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the magic system in the next books of this trilogy.
While I enjoyed the magic and the setting, the characters were probably the best part about the story. Kell’s powers and cryptic past kept me wanting to know more about him; and feisty Lila, with her knack for pickpocketing and her well-timed sassiness, was a character that I couldn’t help but root for. I found myself appreciating her and Kell’s relationship and how they progressed throughout the story. I was also very intrigued by the mysterious White traveler Holland. I’m excited to learn more about him as the story continues.
Overall, A Darker Shade of Magic had me staying up late into the night in an effort to finish it. If you enjoy alternate universes, magical men in fabulous coats, and cross-dressing thieves, then pick up this excellent fantasy read.