Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic #1

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.


 Last year I had the immense pleasure of reading the Viscous by V.E. Schwab which is the pseudonym of Victoria Schwab, who has published numerous other well received books. Viscous had everything that I look for in a book, great idea's and great characters that are combined to make an even better whole. When I finished Viscous I found out that she was working on a new book, this book to be exact. I had high hopes for A Dark Shade of Magic and V.E. Schwab lives up to it to the fullest and then some. When I finished the book I was awed, didn't know what to say but wow. This is an amazing story. V.E. Schwab is one of those authors that you should be reading. You will be missing out if you aren't. 

The story of A Darker Shade of Magic focuses on on Kell. Kell is special, he is one of the last remaining Travelers, an Antari and by this he is able to use magic, blood magic. A Traveler is a person who is able to summon doors and thereby travel to other dimensions, parallel universes. In this case, Kell is a messenger for the different Royal Houses that are present in the alternate versions on London. The Grey, Red and White versions. Where the Grey London lacks everything, there is no magic and aren't many other things to do. Red London, where Kell is originally from is full of everything. Magic is present and the world is vibrant and alive. White London is a dangerous universe full of bloodthristy people that want to get a grab at the throne and be emperor. Next to these three universes there was once a Black London, but this is a dangerous place and better not visited. Even though Kell is held in awe by the many people across the different universes there is more than meets the eye, because even though by his status Kell likes to smuggle and hereby give people a chance to see some of the wonders that are extinct in their universe. Which of course is a dangerous task, and it does often happen with dangerous tasks that things go wrong, badly wrong that is. Kell has an important artifact with him that give him passage to something due to a encounter with a young girl, Kell tables are turned upside down. Here Kell meets Delilah, who didn't knew magic existed but is a young girl who would love to go on an adventure. Now what would be more suited that to go on an adventure with a Traveler, but no one has ever tried to travel with one... Delilah being herself risks it and set off to an adventure of her lifetime. But other things are happening and soon it starts to spiral out of control and both Kell and Delilah find themselves being hunted and uncover a big plot that could topple every Royal House in the different versions of London. Though Kell is powerful there is always someone better, stronger, smarter than you, Kell perilous situation, will he be able to get out of it unscathed? 

What I mention above about the story is only the rough lines, I could talk about A Darker Shade of Magic for hours. The first thing I did when I finished it was tell everybody at work to get reading this book. I was very impressed with Viscous but with A Darker Shade of Magic and then some more. I really enjoyed reading about the different versions of London, how every version had something working for it and against it, also the perspective of Kell added on many an occasion humor in the mix but also a definite tone of seriousness. For me most of all was the magic that completed this story, as the name of the book implies, a darker shade of magic, there is something mysterious and dark going on with it. 

As I say in many reviews I am a big sucker for cool magic. The magic used in A Darker Shade of Magic is called forth by blood sacrifices, i.e. Kell cuts himself and is able to use it to guide the flow of magic into his bidding. This flow of magic can serve many purposes, to heal, to destroy and to travel. This kind of system reminded me best to what David B. Coe/ D.B. Jackson used. Blood magic, the most powerful of all. But V.E. Schwab steps it up a game in way of describing the effects after casting. In the beginning the focus is on calling doors to travel to the alternate versions of London but later in the book, when you get to the fights it becomes a full color display of destructive magic, still the scene in the end wow, could picture it so clearly in my mind with the fire and the broken rocks and whip, awesome. 

Next to achieving an amazing feat with magic, multiple universes and a very engaging plot the story comes fully together by the characters that V.E. Schwab uses. As I already said the focus is mostly on Kell, later on in the story you get to meet the young girl Delilah, now both of them are far from perfect. Calling them flawed is a bit to much, it is better to say that they are not your ordinary straightforward kind of characters. Kell for example is a Royal messenger and what you might expect of such a person would be to act all righteous and virtuous but with the power of being an Antari come other exciting things, smuggling stuff is one of them. I found Kell's character to be very complex, he is not of Royal descent but brought up by them, also his gift makes him actually a bit of a tool for the Royal family and though he does it with pleasure, it does somehow feel for me that he wants more, do more with his gift and this brought him to showing others, that cannot travel, the riches of the other London's. Some complexity is achieved with the relation that Kell has with the Royal Prince Rhy. Next to Kell there is Delilah or Lila. Kell and Lila have a run in with eachother and this sets of a nice relationship. Lila is from Grey London where she makes a living as a pirate. Similarly to Kell, Lila is a highly enjoyable character and a bit contrasting to Kell himself, who is more of a reserved, calculated kind of guy, and of course he is able to use magic. Their initial encounter with Kell explaining magic and his ability to travel was really fun to read, with Lila not giving in that magic exists. Lila being from Grey London, has always led a boring life and she is dying to go on an adventure, here comes a great personality trait of Lila in the mix, her enthusiasm and perhaps her lack of fear. She takes her adventures head on! Besides Kell and Lila there are many smaller characters, like the Ruler's of White London and lets not forget the other last surviving Antari, Holland, what a nasty guys but all very well thought out and fleshed out to the fullest in the book. A great character cast!

Which brings me to the following conclusion: WOW! With A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab has really out done herself. With Viscous last year and A Darker Shade of Magic, she is on a winning streak, these book are just plain awesome. V.E. Schwab knows how to write engaging and in this case multidimensional characters, how to construct interesting, appealing and shocking worlds and events to in the end produce an impressive book. A Darker Shade of Magic has this all and much more. This is one of the must reads for 2015. I don't say this very fast and often, but this is already one of my nominees for the best of list at the end of the year. Really you don't want to miss out on this book.

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