A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (4 stars)
Kel Thursday, June 18, 2015 reviewI was a little iffy on how to rate this, partly because I read the first third or so in a NetGalley sample a while back and then had a decent wait before my library got a copy and I could pick up where I left off. However, upon finishing, I was happy with the main characters, willing to buy the book, willing to reread the book and, most importantly, one of the main characters has my name. ;) Hence, the coveted 4 stars are yours!
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Genres: Adult/YA, Fantasy
Published on February 24, 2015
Published by Tor Books
Final Rating: 4 stars
Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.
I already have a soft spot for parallel worlds, but I love the three Londons Kell visits, as well as the unseen but menacing Black London. The differing balances of magic and normality and their surrounding cultures and populaces are well written and take you everywhere from historic 1800's London to the White Witch's castle (with a touch of Battle Royale). (Just realized as I wrote this that it is kind of like the White Witch's castle with the statues and everything!)
The two main characters, Kell and Lila, are excellent, somewhat opposite protagonists. They both propel the story forward and, while their friendship and interactions are highly entertaining, they're good individually, too. It would be easy for a loud, extroverted personality like Lila's to overpower and outshine a quieter, less in-your-face character like Kell, but their different personalities make for equally compelling characters. They both have a certain intensity and purpose to them. They're very driven, and they're both relatable to boot (though in different ways).
The other star of the story is the conflict, which is everywhere. Really, everywhere. Between any two characters in any London, there is some source of conflict. The big, overarching problem has widespread consequences, but without all these other little conflicts, I don't think readers would be as invested in the characters, and it might even be possible to get bored and zone out until the big climax. Not so here. The characters and the myriad of conflicts, internal and external, never drop the intensity or pacing and keep you interested right up until the last bell and beyond--as a good adventure should.
I think I see at least two future plot "twists" coming, but I'm excited to see what the author does with both of them because they should make for even more conflict, explosions and fun. And if I'm completely off base in my predictions, even better.
Long story short: if you like a good fantasy world, spunky characters and lots of magic, definitely give this a try. It's a good crossover book for adult and YA readers and a great story period.
And for anyone who took that quiz about which London you belong in, I got White London. ;)