My Rating: 7.5/10
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. (Goodreads Summary)
So what can I say about this book? A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab is your standard fantasy adventure with parallel universes and magic. When my friend lent me this book, I was very curious to see how they would handle these two concepts and the moral ambiguity of the main character, Kell, with his smuggling activities.
I have to admit that it was a bit difficult to get into this book at first. The book starts out bogged down in a lot of setup. For a fantasy novel that had a lot of world building and characters to establish, I realize that the setup was essential. My problem is in how much it seems to be reiterated to the audience. The problem in part laid in how the story was told. It is told from a very close third person perspective from various characters’ point of view. Information that was told from one’s character’s perspective was often repeated for the first time by another character or reiterated to those who weren’t as familiar with the concepts of magic or worlds. I felt that most of the information was therefore told to us rather than shown.
This is not to say that I didn’t care for explanations. I loved the lush and vivid descriptions of the Three Londons (Grey, Red, White and the mysterious Black). It was interesting to see how each world was set up and how the prevalence of magic (or lack thereof) affected their development. The worlds jumped right off the page for me and I loved the way magic was explained as a living thing that lived within the blood. I was enchanted with how magic was utilized, its history, and how dangerous it was when used in excess. Magic being one of the main antagonistic forces within the story also showed how intoxicating it was. It showed that it had a will and how it was indeed a living thing. I saw this clearly without the constant explanation and would have really appreciated if some the story could have spoken for itself. As it stood, it was a tad excessive.
After the initial setup, I steadily got more into the novel. This book is chalk full of action, adventure, thieves, and cross dressing heroes. The main characters were fairly interesting. Kell, as one of the last Antari, is one of the very few people who can travel through the various Londons. Despite his position as a respected magic user and adopted prince, he still craves for something more which is somewhat fulfilled by his illegal smuggling between the worlds. The other main character was the lovely Delilah Bard, a young woman who aspires to be a pirate and does whatever she needs to do to survive in the pit of Grey London. The chemistry between these two characters as they travel through the worlds was great and brought moments of hilarity. It’s not overly romantic as some other books I’ve read with a male and female leads which was refreshing. They were actually at each other’s throats for at least half the book
The plot was also really engrossing. When the action was in full force, the story became fast pace and the tension was high. I wanted to see the characters succeed while being fully aware of the dangers that seemed to be just outside the leads’ field of view. It was rife with twists and turns that had me bulldozing through the last two hundred pages. It was interesting to see the characters struggle against corrupt magicians, unwilling soldiers, and the all-consuming nature of dangerous magic made concrete through an evil stone from the bowls of Black London. The only shortcoming I saw in this regard was the ending to a certain extent. Though I loved the climax, the resolution seemed a bit too neat after the messiness of all the little plot threads at play.
All in all, however, this was an awesome fantasy novel. I’m curious to get my hands on the next book in the series.