V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is an adult SciFi/Fantasy set in three parallel Londons. The story follows Kell, one of only two wizards in the parallel worlds who can travel between them, and Lila, a thief from our Regency-era London. Moving objects from one world to another is forbidden, but Kell has set up a side-business doing just that. During one of his official trips between worlds, Kell acquires a dangerous magical artifact from destroyed Black London that makes him a target.
I adore the cover. It’s beautiful.
The setting is fantastic. The Londons – White, Red, and Gray – are alike in name only. Gray London is our own rainy magic-less London, England circa 1819. Red London is colorful and vibrant, part of a vast, thriving empire. White London is a violent, dictatorial kingdom that’s slowly dying. (There’s also the destroyed Black London, locked away from the rest of the worlds.) Each one is starkly different, and the non-Gray Londons bear no resemblance to England whatsoever.
The imagery is wonderful: I’m a visual writer/reader and Schwab’s prose is excellent at conveying atmosphere and color and allowing the reader to picture the setting and the action. Description and exposition are woven into the story without interrupting the flow of the action.
The villains/antagonists exude a real sense of menace, and, in Holland’s case, pathos.
I think I was overhyped for Lila – the reviews I’d read painted her as a hilarious and unique character. She was all right. I didn’t find her particularly funny, and the snarky crossdressing heroine is one I have read far too many times. She has a tendency to look down on the feminine female characters she encounters, which I found annoying. I didn’t hate her, but I wasn’t as interested in her chapters as much as Kell’s.
Kell is adopted by the royal family of Red London’s Maresh Empire – and angsts about it. He gets told off (by Lila, who really has not family), but still. I liked his conflicted feelings about being their “possession”, but we never see him being treated as anything other than family. This is thankfully only brought up a few times.
There’s a plot twist that made me roll my eyes, though others probably won’t mind as much as I did. This one’s a spoiler: It’s fairly obviously telegraphed that Lila is an Antari, a Traveler, like Kell. I think this was supposed to be a surprise reveal in later books, but the author dropped some really heavy clues. I would have liked her to remain an unmagical character, rather than be the Super Special Only Antari Ever from Gray London.
I found a number of spelling mistakes in the book, enough to be distracting. Hopefully they’ll be cleaned up in later editions.
I give A Darker Shade of Magic four out of five stars. The worldbuilding is unique and interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. I’ll recommend it to others, and will continue with the series when the next book comes out.