Another book I stumbled upon late last year is A Darker Shade of Magic by: V.E. Schwab. The cover looked interesting and the jacket offered an interesting look at three different Londons and magic. I thought, “what the heck,” and bought it.
It starts in the first of the three Londons, Grey London, which is our London. Here, magic is all but extinct. Here, mad king George III still sits the throne, though, he doesn’t rule much anymore. We get introduced to the books main character, Kell, the Red Traveler, called such because he hails from Red London. He wears a many-sided coat that changes depending on the way he folds and shifts it. Kell is an Antari, a dying breed of magical persons. They are the only ones who can travel between the three realms. In this tale, there are only two, Kell and Holland, the Antari messenger from White London.
Kell travels between the Londons bringing messages from the royals to give to the other royals. While he is in the other Londons, specifically Grey, he picks up and leaves little tokens from the other Londons. He has a fondness for the music boxes produced in Grey London. Of course, moving objects from one London to another is strictly forbidden, so what Kell is doing is against the rules, and is obviously the plot device used to start the adventure part of the tale.
Kell finds himself in possession of a piece of Black London, a London that has been sealed off from the rest of the Londons. It is filled with dead things and dark magic, so entrance into it is prohibited, and taking things out is foolhardy at best since even the tiniest piece of stone is filled with dark magic that consumes the host. This piece of Black London has been secreted into White London by nefarious forces, but their intent is unclear. Somehow, Kell must get the stone back to Black London before it can do any harm.
Obviously, he runs into a snag. A cutpurse by the name of Delilah Bard of Grey London steals the stone from him when he is wounded. Kell must get the stone back, stay alive, and somehow manage to finish his mission to get rid of the dangerous stone.
Now, to give you an idea of the different Londons. They are all of the same name, but are vastly different in looks and abilities. Grey London is the one that has lost or given up most of its magic. Red London is filled with people and landscapes of varying magical abilities. White London is filled with a barren landscape and people doing all they can to hold onto what little magical abilities they have, going so far as to carve magical symbols into their flesh as well as drinking the blood of others in order to gain their abilities. Those are the three living Londons. The Fourth London, as I’ve said, is Black London. It had been filled with powerful magic until the magic turned dark and consumed the people using it. As for where each London sits, Black London is first, White London sits closest to it, between it and Red London, and Grey London sits the furthest away. Black London is dead, White is dying, Red is still thriving, and Grey has moved in an entirely different direction from the others.
The story has a lot of interesting twists and turns. This one took me a while to figure out, something I look for in a story. It doesn’t quite end like you’d expect it to, but it is an excellent ending that is the beginning for the next book that looks to be centering around Delilah, who is a rather amusing character.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, A Darker Shade of Magic is a very, very good new book. I’m giving this one a solid B+ if not an A-. Schwab didn’t focus on any love angles between the characters and kept the banter between them fresh and engaging. The different landscapes of the different Londons are well detailed without any LOTR level six-page descriptions about trees, so the reader doesn’t become bogged down by them. The characters are well developed and both are equally likable, and the bad guy is one you can empathize with. – 8.0/10
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine