My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 1/2
Series: Shades of Magic (Book 1)
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 24th 2015
“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…more”
After hearing all the hype surrounding A Darker Shade of Magic, I was expecting a fantastic read filled with action, adventure, magic, intriguing characters, and extreme world-building. Did I get what I asked for?
Why yes, yes I did. V.E. Schwab’s first installment to her Shades of Magic series is an exciting adventure that is filled to the brim with well-developed characters and powerful world-building.
Kell, a powerful magician that acts as both prince and loyal servant (prisoner?) to the crown, is a visibly flawed character who makes a good many mistakes but has the decency to own up to them. He realizes his mistakes and strives to correct them as well as he can, even if it means putting his own life at risk. Kell is a magician who understands the limitations of his own rare abilities and when the occasion calls for it, he is willing to go beyond those bounds to save his home and those whom he loves and cares for, namely his brother, Rhy (who I’ll gush about later), and Lila Bard.
Lila Bard is a character I did not connect with initially, only because I believed her to be ridiculously selfish and self-confident for no apparent reason, but I soon learned what type of character she is meant to be. She is a cunning thief who is willing to go to great lengths in order to get what she wants, even if that means killing. Lila is a strong, independent female protagonist who rejects traditional feminine fashion and behaviors in favor for a persona that is much more rough around the edges. She is likable in her ambition and resourcefulness, both of which add up to a charm tinted by sarcasm and frankness. In the end, I found her to be one of the best female characters I’ve read about in a while!
The best part about these characters is that they lack perfection and definitive roles in many different ways. While there are the concrete, irredeemable characters (i.e. The Dane Twins), there are also characters that don’t fit into a black and white context. Lila is one, but there is also Holland, the only other Antari known to the Londons. He is both a villain and a tortured soul, and I wasn’t sure whether to hate him or pity him, which is fantastic writing on Schwab’s part.
Prince Rhy is another character that I see as flawed since he has a huge hand in the unfortunate events that play out. Although we don’t get a chance to see his reflection on his decisions in this book, it wouldn’t be hard to believe that he, too, would contemplate his actions and try to atone for them. Even though I loved the brotherly dynamic he had with Kell, I almost felt as if he was used a bit too often as a plot device. Which basically means I wanted to see more of him, mostly because he’s such a charming character. Hopefully, I’ll get to see him take on a larger role in the next book.
As for the world-building, Schwab swept me off my feet with her differing visions among the four Londons. The cities all live up to their name, and Red London, in particular, offers something spectacular in its glittering landscapes, differing dialects, and magical atmosphere. There is a lot of care given to the way the author feeds us the ins and outs of her world. Instead of dumping all the info into one explanatory section, Schwab constantly constructs her world by educating us here and there about the languages, the cultural traditions and customs, as well as the rules of magic throughout the entirety of the novel.
Some parts seemed slow but they were few and far in-between. And also, I was a bit bothered by how Lila is portrayed in relation to the other feminine characters. Too often Lila looks down on the women who adopt “traditional” female behaviors. Not all strong female protagonists need to act like a man in order to be seen as strong. But this is a discussion best saved for another day. Besides that, there’s not much I can complain about in this book. It is fantastically written with potent world-building, complex characters, and suspenseful action sequences. There is also romance, though subtle, and humor that will coax a genuine laugh out of you.
So, if you’re in need of a great fantasy with action, adventure, atmosphere and romance, this book, and probably this series, is most certainly one you would enjoy. I can’t recommend this book enough.