Book Review | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Quite possibly, A Darker Shade of Magic is one of the most surprisingly entertaining fantasy novels I’ve read in a while. Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind may be more beautiful, Vyleta’s Smoke more mysterious, and Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass more adventuresome, but Schwab took me completely by surprise with an even mixture of all of these elements to create a fantasy that is a gripping ride from start to finish.

In an alternate London, Kell is the ambassador of the Red London throne to other Londons that lie a dimension away. In this world, a fluke of magic has created multiple versions of the great city, each with different languages and cultures, but accessible by only a very few sorcerer-like individuals. While passing messages back and forth between the ruling heads of these alternate cities, Kell is also smuggling between them the little curiosities he finds during his trips. It’s a practice that is illegal, but like a kleptomaniac, he seems unable to hold himself back, even despite warnings against the practice.

Delilah is a thief in Grey London, living a secret life as a vigilante protector of the downtrodden, of which there are many in this version of London, a world very much resembling ours during the reign of mad King George. Her London, unlike Kell’s Red London, has lost most of its magic and is a dull, mundane place.

Kell and Delilah’s worlds cross when returns from a journey to the devious leaders of White London, a place where the inhabitants fight and struggle with magic. Kell finds himself planted with an object of incredible power, one that hearkens from the now quarantined Black London, a place where run amok magic has caused it to be shut off from the other Londons.  As treachery, assassins, and supernatural powers combine to pursue Kell and Delilah, they will have to overcome their distrust of each other to prevent the fall of their combined worlds to a power greater than them all.

Exciting, fast, and compelling, Schwab has begun a new trilogy that is utterly enjoyable. A Darker Shade of Magic is the first of three, and she opens up a world—our world and its parallels—that has plenty of room for expansion and development. I can’t wait to read the next one.

A Darker Shade of Magic Book Cover A Darker Shade of Magic
Shades of Magic
V.E. Schwab
Tor Books
January 19, 2016

Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell 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.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.