A Darker Shade of Magic was a pleasant surprise to find on an afternoon which made Grey London seem vibrant by comparison. While its initial impression on me was ‘oh god not more generic fantasy’, it had enough different in it to keep me hooked for the few hours it took to read.
Four London’s, separated by their attitude and ability with magic, between which only a few can travel. This by itself has a lot of potential. It could go for an invasion of some sort, or a cultural revolution sparked by the travellers, maybe even a smuggling ring of some kind. V.E. Schwab decided to go for all three.
“Some people steal to stay alive, and some steal to feel alive. Simple as that.”
So we follow Kell, an almost prince who smuggles items from one London to another, and through a well telegraphed chain of events has to fight off an invasion from parallel London’s. These plot threads are weaved together with a couple of engaging of familiar characters, along with a host of generic secondary characters. The fact these characters aren’t too original, and don’t go through any appreciable arc, doesn’t detract too much as the pace is so rapid you’ve hardly got time to notice. Same can be said with the world building and the magic system. Both appear to be vast and fleshed out as you read, but the moment you take a second to consider them they show themselves to be a bit weak.
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
I don’t want you to think I didn’t enjoy this book by the way. I did. It’s just the world building and characters seemed to be secondary to the themes explored in it. There’s a lot to unpack with Kell’s struggle between his light and dark sides, symbolised by his biochromatic eyes. His relationship with pain, with how he has to cut himself to the blood needed for his more powerful abilities. Lila’s use of masks to hide her true feelings from everybody, including herself. That last one I feel is going to lead to some revelations in the sequels about her abilities, they were pretty heavily sign posted so I only hope its done well and not overblown.
If you want to read into a book, find the hidden facets of a work and discuss their meaning with others passionate about literature and fantasy then you’ve got to read this book. Should you prefer a more methodical, more in depth look at a fantasy setting, then maybe look elsewhere. This is a heroic fantasy novel through and through, with all the pros and pitfalls associated with that tradition.
“Time isn’t the same for the mad and the blind.”
Amazon Link:A Darker Shade of Magic