Written by: Victoria Schwab
Published by: Tor
Release date: February 24th 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Source: Gifted from a friend
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
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 Rhy Maresh, the roguish 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 cutpurse 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.
There’s this feeling I sometimes get after finishing a book — it’s extremely rare, and only happens when the book was a whole other level of intense and amazing. It’s this euphoric, wrung-out, disoriented stupor, and it leaves you speechless and reeling.
Well, I got that feeling after finishing A Darker Shade of Magic. And that’s the highest praise I can give.
Victoria Schwab originally teased A Darker Shade of Magic as “pirates, thieves, and sadist kings.” If you’re any sort of fan of her work, and she throws those words at you, you’re a goner. But then you read the synopsis (Schwab-fan or not), and you sort of side-eye it. How is this possible? This book seems to have way too much going for it, way too many good things in it — How? Why? What’s going on? Is this for real?!
Well, before you get too excited, let me just make it clear how many good things there are in this book, because the synopsis actually doesn’t cover it.
Yep, your eyes do not deceive you. A Darker Shade of Magic ticks ALL THE BOXES — and revels in it.
A Darker Shade of Magic does with the fantasy genre what Vicious did with superheroes. It takes things we’ve seen before — magic, evil tyrants, world(s)-in-danger, etc — and turns them upside-down. Raises the stakes. Makes them new. This is fantasy at its finest — and Victoria Schwab at her best — and it is not to be missed.
From its worldbuilding and characters, to its plot and pacing, A Darker Shade of Magic is complex and intense, but still balanced by aspects that had me grinning like a loon. There’s something about this story that screams, “Magic! Thieves! Adventure! Are you having fun yet?!” It’s not a “light” sort of fun; but like I said, it seems to revel in everything from the heroes and their fabulous coats, to the villains and their unapologetic badness. And that’s something that I appreciate with my entire being. I love the fantasy genre — high fantasy, urban fantasy, what have you — and A Darker Shade of Magic takes great joy in each of its (somewhat familiar) fantastical elements, but it’s also utterly without compare. I adored everything about it.
One thing I can always count on with with Victoria Schwab is that she crafts complex, layered characters. We saw it in Vicious — instead of a true “hero” or “villain”, the main characters were a combination of both. In A Darker Shade of Magic, the lines between good and evil are more clearly drawn, but this doesn’t mean the characters are any less complex. It’s always been my belief that heroes need a bit of darkness in them and that villains should always be more complex than they’re often given credit for. And in both of those roles, A Darker Shade of Magic does not disappoint.
Kell, the Red traveler and ambassador for Red London, is my favorite kind of hero. He’s charming, cocky, a bit defiant, and somewhat bitter about some of the things life has thrown at him. But when it comes down to it, his loyalty runs deep, and he will do anything to protect what he loves — he’s almost self-destructive in his protectiveness. He’s also got this ability — his ability to travel — that, even as it broadens his world, isolates him within it. And yet he cherishes it; it offers him a freedom and joys he wouldn’t have known without it. I just… I have a lot of feelings about his character. He’s amazing.
He also has a truly remarkable coat, which is actually multiple coats — and infinitely stylish. …This has nothing to do with why I love him. Though it certainly doesn’t hurt. >_> What, I like a man in a nice coat, okay?! Jeez. ;)
Lila Bard is a thief and aspiring pirate, and she is flawless. I want to use words like “feisty” and “kickass” and “sassy“, but honestly, those words are over-used — and they don’t do Lila any kind of justice. I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with her.
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
ARC, pg 205
That quote really does encompass who Lila is. Her life is something she’s fought for, killed for, guarded with everything she has. But she’s also filled with this fierce joy, and the drive to wring all the adventure and greatness she can out of her life. So when Kell shows up, and she learns about Grey, Red, White, and Black London, there’s nothing that can stop her from hitching a ride with Kell — and Kell has to let her, because, of course, she’s stolen something pretty important from Kell, and she refuses to return it until he’s taken her to these other Londons.
In addition to Kell and Lila, we also have Rhy Maresh, who holds a very special place in my heart. Rhy is the dashing prince of Red London, a brother to Kell in everything but blood — and who, according to Kell, would “flirt with a nicely upholstered chair” (ARC, pg 254). Then there’s Holland, White London’s traveler, the only other person Kell knows who can open doors between their worlds, and someone whose situation is, shall we say, a lot more complicated than it might appear. And finally, Astrid and Athos Dane — rulers of White London, and the kind of horrifically believable bad guys who make your blood run cold, and who genuinely test your belief that anyone could possibly gain the upper hand against them.
But Astrid and Athos aren’t the only forces for destruction that Kell and Lila have to worry about. In most fantasy books, “black magic” is often just what the user makes of it. In A Darker Shade of Magic, black magic is… rather a force of its own.
Bad magic, Kell had called it.
No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.
I’d love to include so much more in this review. Like, how about Rhy’s and Kell’s incredible friendship, guaranteed to latch onto your heart (and possibly crush it)? Or what about Lila and Kell’s growth from “pickpocket” and “victim”, to friends who understand each other on a level that doesn’t just “bring the feels”, it punches you in the gut with the feels? Or how about all the twists and turns in the plot, and the ending that will have you going “What?! No. That can’t happen. wait, WHAT?! NO. WHAT IS GOING ON?!” in the best way possible? Because seriously, the ending (really, the last 25%) had me absolutely dying.
I may not have had any coherent words for that ending, but I can tell you one thing for sure: A Darker Shade of Magic is hands-down my favorite book of 2015 so far — and I will not be surprised when it remains my favorite as the year goes on, despite all the good things coming our way. Yes, it is that good.
I loved A Darker Shade of Magic so much that I feel compelled to give away a copy. It happens sometimes, just go with it. ;P If you haven’t already been convinced to preorder this book (which I would highly recommend — you can even get a poster if you buy from one of these indies!), then this giveaway is for you! ;)