By: V. E. Schwab
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Series: Shades of Magic (Book #1)
Award: Goodreads Choice Award for Fantasy (2015)
There’s something that just draws me to A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. And sitting here behind my keyboard trying to explain why, I find myself returning to the oversimplified non-answers I’ve given when asked why I read fantasy novels. Because it’s wonderful. Because I should read it. Because I must read it. Because it’s the sort of thing that makes you believe in magic, or at least want to. Because A Darker Shade of Magic is a fantastic book, and I loved every second of it.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the first novel in the Shades of Magic series, written by V. E. Schwab. For those playing along at home, this is a pseudonym for Victoria Schwab, author of several young adult series such as Monsters of Verity and The Archived. (Generally, a book bearing V. E. is an adult book, and a book with Victoria is young adult.)
Kell is an Antari, a wielder of magic with unparalleled abilities. Raised by the royal family, his duty is to carry correspondence between magic using Red London to the other Londons – boring Grey London where magic is only found in stories and White London where people struggle to control magic before it controls them. When off duty he smuggles items between worlds, the consequences of which could be dire. Now with firsthand experience of just how dire these consequences are, Kell runs into Delila Bard, Lila to her friends, a thief from Grey London who only sees Kell’s nightmare as her only chance for real adventure.
I love stories that include alternate universes. This one is no exception. Each London is unique. Grey London, our London, is almost completely magic-less and rather drab. Red London is a world where magic is in full use, the seat of a magnificent empire, a place where the Thames shines red. White London is a brutal land where people fight over power and magic, and magic fights back. Then, there is Black London, a place spoken of in whispers and one we never see, a place destroyed by magic and safely sealed off from the rest.
The use of magic in this book is unique in one huge way. Magic isn’t just a tool to be used in Red London, nor any of the others. It’s a real thing, perhaps intangible, but ever present. Some crave it, and the magic ultimately destroys them. This isn’t in the intangible, sometimes intellectual way other books may show – a wizard bent on power, creating the ultimate ‘thing’, or what have you. These people are quite literally killed by magic. This magic has completely consumed one entire world, and it is slowly killing the population of another.
More than that, magic is a real entity treated, in many ways, as a character unto itself. Magic has its own language, its own rules. And, happily, really isn’t all that difficult of a concept to grasp, unlike some other magic systems I’ve seen.
The book is told in third person with the viewpoint switching mainly between Kell and Lila. Now, I love most of the characters in the book. Kell is a little broody, at odds with himself, but determined to make things right. Rhy is, simply put, tons of fun. The twin rulers of White London are utterly terrifying. Lila is likable, and I enjoyed reading from her point of view.
A Darker Shade of Magic is unnaturally readable. The prose is lovely and easy to read. Something about the book simply compelled me to keep reading, egging me to go on. And you can bet I’m going to read the next book in the series.