|Title: A Darker Shade of Magic|
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Author: V.E Schwab
Published: February 24, 2015 by Tor Book (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes--as such, he can choose where he lands.
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.
This book is sheer and utter brilliance. There's no other way to describe it. It's dark, complex, and captivating. The worlds and world-building is incredible, the plot is thrilling and enthralling, and the characters are interesting and likable. Everything about it amazing.
One of the most brilliant things of this book is the world and magical system that Victoria Schwab has created. It's incredibly hard to explain either of these things because they are so complex, but that's what makes them so interesting. The larger world of the books has a creative and complex history and lore to it, the kind of world that you want to learn more about while you question everything. One of the interesting things about the history of the world is the magical system. As the synopsis explains, this is a book about a man who can travel between worlds. This travelling is very specific kind of magic with clear rules and guidelines, which is always the best kind. But there is also a few different systems at play depending on which London you are in.
Speaking of those Londons, each one we visit is unlike the previous one, and all of them are such interesting places. The Londons she created are a spectrum of views on magic. Each different world explores the idea of magic and it's relationship to humanity. Either they favor magic, they favor humanity, or they attempt some sort of balance between the two. The characters who live in these Londons embody that idea. The more they favor magic over people, the more they strive for power and control. What I loved about the first V.E. Schwab book I read was her analysis of good and evil. We have that again but here it's in relationship to magic. That is absolutely one of my favorite things about modern fantasy novels. It's no longer the norm that magic solves all our problems. Now magic can either corrupt or fight corruption. It's that darker and more devious magic that makes things more interesting and allows for some really complex heroes. Heroes who have to live in a grey moral sphere while still standing up for what they believe in and helping others.
Which of course means that now I have to mention the absolutely amazing characters that this book introduced us to. Every character in this book is odious and complex, which you know I totally love. Our main characters are the mysterious and brilliant Kell and the fearsome and tough Lila. I adore them both, but for very different reasons. Which is probably because they are very different people. Kell is the more serious and stoic one where Lila is more effervescent and reckless. After all, she is an aspiring pirate. What I liked so much about Lila is that she's basically the lovable rogue in this scenario. They both have elements of that trope but she's the one that really embodies it, and it's impressive to see a female character like that. Kell and Lila apart are great but together they are even better, they make an incredible team and part of that is because of their differences leading to some amazing banter. Then of course there are the amazing secondary characters. Each London has a unique and interesting leader. My personal favorites are the charming prince of Red London, Rhy, and the devious and creepy twins, Astrid and Athos Dane, who rule White London. There's also the dubious and layered traveler from White London Holland and a very sinister and complicated antagonist. Every character we meet is interesting and likable even in a love to hate them sort of way.
When it comes right down to it, A Darker Shade of Magic is an expertly crafted novel that captured my interest from beginning to end. It's a plot-driven story that is both thrilling and complex. It takes a rare book to be so good that I don't want to keep reading. No, not because I want to savor it, that's not my style. In the case of A Darker Shade of Magic, it was so good and pulse-poundingly exciting that I couldn't continue, I was too anxious, too excited. The pacing was exactly how I like it, slowly building to a thrilling climax that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Sure, the beginning was a lot of world-building but the worlds were so fascinating and the characters were so intriguing I never felt the book drag at all. And like all good fantasy there were moments that seemed insignificant peppered throughout the story that ended up making a big impact at the end. But what I loved most about it, was that there wasn't a cliffhanger. It wrapped everything up but still left so many unanswered questions that I cannot wait for the next book.
Very simply this book is perfection. It's everything I love in any book I read but especially in fantasy. The worlds are captivating, the magic is specific and interesting, the plot is enthralling, and the characters are complicated and fantastic. Everything about this book is fantastic.
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: BUY! Is this even a question? If I could make this review say three words, they would be "Flawless. Buy it." This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of fantasy (I mean it's a must read for everyone, but still). It is the perfect example of the modern fantasy that I love. Dark and dramatic with enthralling worlds, a magical system that is complex and unique, and characters you can't help but love.