Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24, 2015
Genres: adult, fantasy
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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.
Hello! Do you like humorously told fantasies, unique magic, complex heroes, heroic villains, parallel worlds, and London(s)? Of course you do. You are a person of quality and good taste. So, great news! This book has all of those things.
I mean, honestly, it had me at “parallel Londons!” Each London is distinct and wondrous in its own way. I loved being able to follow the characters through to the different worlds. Even our own dreary, magic-less* Grey London is a joy to visit. Red London is vibrant, opulent, and full of life. White London is gorgeously dark, creepy, and dangerous. Atmospheric, beautifully detailed, and rich in the character of its worlds; Schwab writes in such a way that I felt like I could step off from the main story and wander around in her various Londons exploring for days. This is world building done right.
And give me a book with uniquely done magic any day. This is a sentient, creeping magic that runs as a lifeblood through the story. It can be wielded for good or for ill but also maybe sometimes has a will of its own. It is practically a character in its own right. There is a sense of epicness to the story. I suppose little things like living magic and breath taking battles with ruthless Viking-like rulers can do that. The writing is so strong, the magic so real, so different, and so whimsical that to describe this book is kind of like trying to describe a dream.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The question was directed at Lila.
“Just having a bit of fun,” she said.
“You can’t go around making people.”
“Obviously I can,” she said.
The text is infused with Schwab’s trademark humor. This is mostly evident in any/all things to do with Delilah Bard. Oh, Lila, Lila, Lila. A cross dressing thief, and pirate-to-be, from Grey London, Lila has enough spark and will to power a sun. Kell is a perfectly serviceable and loveably decent hero. No, really, he’s wonderful and I adored him. It’s just that Lila shines. Delightfully mischievous, and an adventure seeker, her pure want to seize as much of life as she can climbed right off of the page and snagged on my heart.
“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”
The character work was my favorite aspect of the book. Kell and Lila’s partnership, their banter and camaraderie, Kell’s exasperation and Lila’s impish charm, all combine to make them a fantastic duo and just plain fun to read about. Prince Rhy, Kell’s adopted brother of a sort, is charming and flirtatious and I am nothing if not essentially a professional bromance appreciator.
And then we have the villains of the piece, both of the deliciously evil and delightfully complex varieties. The ruthless Dane twins rule over White London, that which is slowly but surely leaching of all magic and life.
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
That sort of quote just puts a huge, creepy smile on my face. I’m not even a little bit sorry for my dark, twisted heart.
Holland, the White Traveller, is their servant, and certainly no friend to our heroes. But Schwab so convincingly creates sympathy for this character. You can’t help but want to root for him. And let’s also not forget the magic itself which may or may not have its own agenda. Hmmm.
”But, Kim,” you ask. “What about the romance? Surely if you enjoyed a book this much there must be an epic ship!” Actually no! There is no romance in this book. So what I did instead was basically ship everyone with everyone. Kell and Lila? That would be delightful! I know Rhy and Kell are basically brothers so that’d be weird, but they had some great chemistry. Kell and Holland? Oh, there were feels there. They’re the last two of their kind. Come on.
With its political machinations, uniquely creepy/beautiful worlds, sentient magic, fun, and humor, this is one to reach for when you’re tired of the same old formulaic fantasy story. I closed the book with a sense of soaring, wondrous adventure in my heart. I cannot wait to return to this world.
* It is said in the book that,”No London is truly without magic.” True story! Be sure to come back on Thursday for our stop on the ADSOM tour!