A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
"A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale...This is a book to treasure."—Deborah Harkeness, New York Times bestselling author of the All Souls trilogy
Shades of Magic series
1. A Darker Shade of Magic
2. A Gathering of Shadows
3. A Conjuring of Light
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
Schwab (Vicious) creates an ingenious set of nesting alternate Londons in this imaginative, well-crafted fantasy. There's Grey London, set in our mundane world's Regency era; Red London, where magic flourishes along with the populace; and White London, where a desperate struggle to control magic has bled the city and its people. No one speaks of Black London, consumed by magic and presumed destroyed. Kell, adopted brother of Red London's prince and one of the few Antari, who can travel between worlds, is a royal emissary and collector of forbidden artifacts from other Londons. When Kell is tricked into taking a dangerous artifact of Black London into Red, he falls in with the cross-dressing Grey thief Lila Bard, a cutpurse with a quick tongue and her own sense of honor. Confident prose and marvelous touches a chameleon coat, a scarlet river of magic, a piratical antiheroine bring exuberant life to an exhilarating adventure among the worlds.
A change in pace for magical worlds
I would the book at first slowed paced but towards the middle it came in handy knowing small bits of information about the worlds.
It showed promise, but...
I read the sample chapter and was intrigued. Parallel worlds, regency London, and a world-shifting protagonist with some definite shades of grey. Hmm! Sounds like fun! So, I bought it.
The novel turned out to be... a good deal less than I had hoped.
After a promising first several chapters, the two protagonists—one the aforementioned grey-shaded Londoner, the second a pickpocket with aspirations of becoming a pirate—meet each other, and the book goes downhill from there. The protagonists seemed to lose several IQ points, and the plot felt like a quickly made Hollywood action flick—and just as predictable. And then there were the cheesy lines from two-dimensional (as in poorly developed, not literally flat) villains—especially during fight scenes. There were also several subject areas where the writer hadn't done her homework—especially anything to do with ships—and it showed. (Don't write what you don't understand.)
The beginning led me to hope for something along the lines of Jo Walton's "Tooth and Claw", or "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" by Susannah Clarke, or Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere". Disappointingly, the middle and end of the book turned out to be more like mediocre young adult fiction, but without the coming-of-age aspect—and with slightly lower hormone levels.
Tor Books, the publisher, dropped the ball on this one even more than the writer. They should have worked more with this new writer to develop what could have been a very interesting novel.
This review was first published on Kurt's Frontier.
Kell lives as one of the last two Antari. Antari are magicians able to travel between specific points in parallel worlds. This point is London, of which there are three: Red, Grey, and White. Once there was a Black London which no one speaks of now, save in whispers. Kell’s home is in Red London, called Arnes by the locals of this world.
Kell serves as ambassador between the Londons, traveling to White London with constant bloody regime changes and Grey London which exists without magic. Kell also smuggles little trinkets between the worlds. When an exchange goes wrong, Kell escapes to Grey London and gets robbed by Delilah Bard, who then saves him from a deadly enemy. Kell takes her to Red London where dangerous magic and treachery lurk at every turn.
I usually don’t pick up alternative world stories as they tend to be confusing. I almost didn’t pick it up the second time I saw it on the Bookery’s shelves. I’m glad I did. The worlds were different enough that I could keep track of which was which. V. E. Schwab uses elemental-based magic, a good grounding point for magical systems. The interplay between the characters proved to be fun.
Kell is a magician who can walk between worlds with the dangerous and highly illegal hobby of smuggling. When he unwittingly smuggles a magical object from Black London, events are set in motion that leads him to Delilah Bard, a Grey London pickpocket who wants a proper adventure. What followed kept me turning the pages. I already picked up the two sequels in the series.