Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
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.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse 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.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is everything you could want in a fantasy series and more. The world feels alive, the magic intricate, and the characters have a wit all their own.
The story isn’t broken into chapters, but episodes. Each episode has about 3-4 chapters within which feels as if you’re watching a show. Schwab has said on twitter she’s a fan of anime and that’s exactly what I can liken the episode breaks to – an anime program.
Honestly, the overall plot for this first book is quite simple, but the world and magic and characters are what really make it a rich story. It’s like working on art with all the different layers folded atop each other to construct a perfect masterpiece.
The worlds in which the story take place are rich with cultural differences, magic, and waring patriarchies. I love how V.E. Schwab invented her own languages for each of the three Londons in the book, making each world feel more alive. She frequently talks about having grown up wanting the world to be stranger than it is and you can definitely feel that whimsical, strangeness in the lyrical writing.
I also love how V.E. Schwab approaching sexual representation and races in her story. Nothing is of our social norms, except for the prejudices of 1860 Grey London (our London). Lila is considered to be gender-fluid, but the term is loose as it wasn’t a concept that existed in the 1800s. Prince Rhy of Red London is considered bi-sexual as he fancies both genders. However, gender isn’t what dictates love or sexual attraction in the series – its power. Pretty much anyone will sleep with anyone who has power and it’s quite an interesting take. Therefore, sexual norms are far and few between in the worlds of White and Red London.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading A Darker Shade of Magic I sincerely hope you’ll go pick it up. This is a fantastical work for the ages and you don’t want to miss out.