A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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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.

THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW

So, like…it was fine.  It didn’t live up to the hype but it didn’t utterly fail me, either.  It was engaging, the characters were interesting, the world was cool, but I just didn’t find myself particularly engaged at any point.  Like an “okay” first date, there was nothing wrong that I could put my finger on, but there was no…spark.  For this reason, I probably won’t be continuing with the series.

What Worked for Me

The biggest draw for me–and, I think, for most readers–was the world.  This idea of different worlds all hinged together by London is an awesome idea, and having a particular sect of people able to go between them using blood?  I’m down.  There was definitely nothing lacking in the idea.

To be fair, there wasn’t anything lacking in the execution of the idea, either.  There was adventure, action, humor, romance, drama, political intrigue–the whole package, expertly woven together and well-balanced.  And I liked Ms. Schwab’s writing style, which I thought did the world credit by being punchy yet vaguely philosophical.

The characters were a big draw, as well.  I loved Kell’s magical coat and his mismatched eyes and tortured soul.  I loved Lila’s sharp tongue and adventurous attitude.  I thought they matched well, the two of them.  I appreciated how Lila didn’t flounder as she entered Kell’s magical world; she didn’t have to be saved all the time like a damsel in distress.

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg.” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”

She could hold her own physically and verbally even when magical malarkey was going down.  And she had ambitions before she met the hero and didn’t throw them away for him, which was a huge plus for me.

So, all that being said, why did I not love this?  Everyone else seems to.

What Didn’t

There was no spark.  Everything worked.  All the boxes were checked.  It was even funny, which is a huge factor for me, because I’ll deal with shit writing, lackluster worlds, and shoddy characters just so long as it’s funny.  But this just…didn’t capture me.

Takeaway

A great book for a lot of people, but it just didn’t resonate with me.

Book Info

400 pages • Book 1 • Published February 2015 by Tor Books

Quotes

He would see her again. He knew he would. Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places. But sometimes, rarely, they were people. For someone who never stood still, Lila felt like a pin in Kell’s world. One he was sure to snag on.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.

She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

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