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.