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31 January 2015

Book Review | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab


A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab | February 2015 | Tor | Hardcover $25.99

Here's a quick summary of the book from the publisher, via Edelweiss (where I was delighted to obtain an e-ARC):

Kell is one of the last Travelers — magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, with one mad king — George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered — and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to the throne. 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, he's a smuggler, a dangerous, defiant hobby to have — as proven when Kell stumbles into a setup with a forbidden token from Black London.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, who first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Parallel universes. An interesting magic system. And a cross-dressing aspiring pirate.

What's not to love?

This is actually the first Victoria Schwab book I've read. She's written several YA/MG books, but this is her second adult novel published under the "V.E." semi-pseudonym. (Is a semi-pseudonym even a thing? Well, it is now.) I moved it up to the top of my virtual to-read pile after seeing Nikki of There Were Books Involved and Angie of Disquietus Reads rave about it all over Twitter.

Here are a few things that I really liked about A Darker Shade of Magic. . . .

The world building is fantastic. I don't mean just the concept of parallel universes layered over one another and traversable at certain magical places, which makes for fun fantasy but has been done in a great many variations (I got some major Through the Looking Glass vibes at one point, but that may have just been a side effect of staying up until 2:00 AM reading). I'm talking about the "flavors" of the different Londons, the way they aren't just described in a stage-setting way but seem to come alive in discovery for the reader over the course of the book.

Death is death. Or is it? What I mean by this is that, yes, some characters will die. And not just the bad guys, either, I'm talking about characters that I was rooting for and maybe got a little attached to, though I hesitate to say too much for fear of spoiling the story. So the reader gets the sense that death is a very real danger to the main characters, that not everyone is guaranteed to make it out of the plotline alive. There are 2 major exceptions: a character who sort of dies but who is definitely alive by the end of the book, and a character who is sort of dies but who is maybe alive at the end of the book and who could maybe come back to haunt us later on. And that's as much as I can say without spoiling everything!

The balance of humorous banter, thrilling action, and angsty introspection is superb. The whole thing was just so dang clever. I wasn't bored for a single minute while reading, which often happens when an otherwise good story is heavy on just one of those things.

Interesting, intimidating villains are always delightful. And the thing is, there's not just one "bad guy" in A Darker Shade of Magic. I mean, sure, there's a primary set of antagonists, though it is notable that their identities and motivations aren't 100% obvious to our protagonists right from the start. There's one villain in particular who is particularly complicated, even sympathy-inducing to a point, and yet still rather terrifying and dangerous.

The reader is left to figure some things out for his/herself. I want SO BADLY to talk about my suspicions for what's going to happen in the next book in this series (and I want it nowwwww) but I also really, really don't want to spoil it for anyone! In any case, I do very much like it when authors drop hints about things but don't resolve all the problems or questions at the end of the book, tied up in a nice neat package. Leaving a little room for the reader's imagination is nice.

Also, Kell's coat is fantastic. Here's the opening lines, which just happen to feature it:

Kell wore a very peculiar coat.

It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

This book comes on in late February, so if you're interested, NOW is the time to place that pre-order or purchase request at the library!

Relevant links:

Publication information:
Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic. New York: Tor, 2015. EPUB file.

Provided by publisher via Edelweiss.

I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Reno said...

Wow, I love the premise of this book! I'm glad to hear you liked it; I'll have to add it to the TBR. (Great cover also...). I added The Archived when it first came out but haven't gotten to it yet. Sounds like Schwab has a great imagination.

jen mullen said...

I arrived here after visiting Falling Letter's post about the book. Thanks for a great review, a new title, a new author to try!

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