“Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places.”
Kell is one of the last Travelers, a magician with the coveted and closely guarded ability to travel between worlds. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler working for the crown of Red London to dispatch correspondence between the different cities that share the same name.
Kell’s work brings him to Grey London–a dingy, dull place ruled by the increasingly mad King George III where industrialization has all but stamped out magic. There is also White London–a ruthless city where people struggle to control magic as it drains more and more from the city. There used to be Black London. No one talks about that.
Kell’s official position in the magically balanced Red London also allows him to pursue less official activities as a smuggler supplying magical artifacts to Collectors and Enthusiasts in all three Londons.
Meanwhile, Grey Londoner Delilah Bard knows that she is meant to be a pirate. Even if she is currently without a ship and reduced to working as a cut-purse for the time being. When she crosses paths with Kell, Lila knows that she has found something she never realized was missing from her life.
But magic, even small magic smuggled across borders, is a dangerous business where nothing is free. Drawn into a deadly web of magic and conspiracy, Kell and Lila will have to wok together if they want to save any of the Londons in A Darker Shade of Magic (2015) by V. E. Schwab.
A Darker Shade of Magic is Schwab’s second book written for an adult audience. (She has numerous, equally wonderful YA titles published under the name Victoria Schwab.) It is also the start of her new fantasy trilogy.
A Darker Shade of Magic is an evocative fantasy novel with not one but three well-developed worlds that include historical details and logical magic conventions. For all of the characters, perhaps most literally for Kell, magic comes at a cost–one that is quite dear for some–a theme that Schwab skillfully explores throughout the novel.
Despite the dangers and dark elements to be found here, A Darker Shade of Magic is also imbued with a sense of wonder for both magic and exploration as new worlds open before Kell and Lila’s eyes.
Kell and Lila are reckless characters who are dangerously charming. They are also shrewd and often jaded, particularly Lila. These traits make it all the sweeter to read about their evolving bond and to see this unlikely pair work together against some very dangerous enemies. Witty banter throughout is an added bonus in this story filled with sharp observations and vivid prose.
A Darker Shade of Magic strikes the perfect balance between urgency and introspection with a fast-paced plot and characters who often operate in the grey areas of morality. Seeing the story from both Kell and Lila’s perspectives adds another element to this intricate story that hints at marvelous things to come in the rest of the series. Highly recommended for fans of both urban and high fantasy.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White