Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Edition: Ebook, 398 pages
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
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.
As someone who adores reading fantasy novels as often as possible it’s always hard to find truly unique and standout stories, and A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those rare gems.
Schwab doesn’t stop at just giving us one vivid and detailed world, instead she gives us three. Grey London, Red London, and White London…a interesting multi-verse like arrangement linked by magic and doors only usable by those like Kell. One of my favorite things about books with magic is the possibility of a new magic system and how the author handles the use of it, and I really love what Schwab did with this one. Magic is portrayed as something entirely different in each world, and it was interesting to see how those differences of perspective lead to different social standings and life styles. Then we also have special magical beings like Kell, who are naturally capable of more and can use magic in ways others only dream of. This combined with the excellent world building (in triplicate) made for a rather beautiful and rich storytelling experience that has truly been a highlight this year.
Then of course comes the actual characters. I fell in love with Kell almost immediately, I loved his quiet unassuming nature and his desire to be independent despite his importance to the royal family. I also like that despite all his power he never has the really desire to abuse it a way that would put him ahead of others. But the real fangirling began when Lila Bard entered the scene. This woman is witty, street smart, has sticky fingers, and is prone to violence. She wants freedom more than anything else, and while it does lead her headlong into danger she’s smart enough to know how to handle the consequences (even if it means running) and brave enough to face even unlikely odds when needed to. I loved these two together and their unlikely partnership truly makes the story. His well mannered calm and her hot headed selfishness were just perfect together because if there is anything I like more than a witty character it’s seeing others scramble to adjust to them.
Overall, I think this was a complete and total win. It has plenty of action, spine-chilling tension, and so many feels! I have no idea where the next book is going to go, but I’m beyond excited to find out.