Narrator: Steven Crossley
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Epic Fantasy
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 cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, 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.
Oh my goodness I can’t believe I waited so long to read A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s been on my TBR for forever. (Like, since it came out in 2015 which makes it ANCIENT). And I finally decided to give it a go and I wish I had read this gloriousness sooner!
Ok, enough of the flailing and onto the actual review.
The languages in A Darker Shade of Magic are beautiful.
Why am I starting with this? Becuase honestly, even though it’s such a small thing, it’s one of the aspects that made me love it. There are parallel worlds, each with their own London. But each world also has its own language, because even though they started off by having a heck of a lot more in common, they’ve each diverged in their own way. And as you might imagine, that means how they treat language is different.
In Red London, for example, everyone speaks Arnesian, because they live in the country that is Arn. And like medieval Europe, a different language is spoken by the nobility as a sign of class distinction. In this case, the nobility and the very wealthy speak English.
The White London, nobody even bothers to learn language. Instead, when an additional language is require, people just carve a spell for translation into their skin. I forget the exact phrase, but it’s “the warriors response to a diplomat’s problem,” or something loosely similar. I love it!
Magic itself also has its own language. And that has so much more depth to explore that I don’t even know what to say.
My favorite part? The languages are actually spoken in the book. It’s not just like there’s random mention of the thing. It’s actually written out, and people use it. And it’s almost like Kell translates for us when necessary.
The Worldbuilding is imaginative and vivid.
So parallel worlds may not be the most unique thing ever. But the way Schwab structured her universe is incredibly unique, and terribly well thought-out. There’s history to it, but some of that history is vague because of the way history is, you know? People forget things, and some information devolves into rumor and speculation.
But each London is so vividly distinct that I didn’t have any trouble keeping track of where Kell was. And the idea that as you get further away from Black London, the less magic exists in the world is so spectacular! And there are distinct details that are entirely realistic even though Red London and White London are completely foreign to us mere Earthlings. They have different cultures, different games, different interests, different priorities. Even the way leaders succeed one another is completely different. And yet … There are clear parallels that make them all feel like London in a way.
Also, I want Kell’s coat. It has infinite sides. He loses things in his coat. It is badass and I will FIND ONE!
Lila. ‘Nuff Said.
Lila is a badass. And she is very good at inserting herself where she doesn’t belong. Like, everywhere. And she is blunt and doesn’t give a rat’s ass who she offends. More importantly, she’s phenomenal at keeping Kell in check. And not listening to him.
All of the characters are consistent with themselves and go through some seriously meaningful development, but I think Lila experiences the biggest change in her person throughout A Darker Shade of Magic. She discovers that magic is real. She decides to take some time to care about someone other than herself. She completely changes her environment.
And even though she has no idea what’s going on most the time or how this magic thing works, she plows right on ahead and gets the job done. From the very beginning she had a good instinct for it, but by the end of the book, it was clear that she was beginning to understand the magic. And we were able to see the stepping stones of her learning more along the way and that was truly lovely.
Random other thoughts:
- Again, I REALLY want Kell’s coat
- All of the characters were splendiforous
- There’s plenty of stabby stab
- Somewhat predictable but I didn’t even care because it was such good writing
- The “antagonists” are very very bad. I like them. And Holland, who they minionized.
- I kind of felt like the climactic bits might have been a bit too easy? That’s not to say that, you know, Kell and Lila didn’t both almost die. But, like, the cleverness that worked wasn’t honestly that clever. But it was still good.
Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? Did you love it as much as I did, or am I just gushing about silliness? Let me know in the comments!