Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor (Macmillan imprint)
Kell is one of the last Travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes—as such, he can choose where he lands. There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there's Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne—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, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, 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—a dangerous hobby, and one that has set him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, who first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces him to spirit her to another world for a 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—and that is proving trickier than they hoped.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a deadly book dripping with magic and blood, mystery and fear. It is a journey through worlds, a journey of one person filled to the brim with magic and another looking to escape. Their journey towards survival, everyone's survival, as death nips at their heels.
Kell is a rather rare creature indeed. The magic in his blood gives him the ability to travel between different worlds, but all this freedom and power gets him is the job of messenger between his adopted family and the other royals. He both is and isn't held captive, the chains that bind him are invisible and extremely loose. They need him. What Kell needs, wants, is to do as little as possible with the evil king and queen of White London, to work as an occasional smuggler. To discover the secrets in his past, his years before he was taken in by the royal family of Red London. To continue to live.
In Grey London, there's the stubborn and clever Delilah Bard. Lila is a thief, a young woman trying to find her own place, trying to climb up out of dark alleyways and shady taverns. A young woman whose heart yearns for freedom on the open seas. A woman with plans. I wonder if others will find her annoying, obstinate. I certainly did. There was a moment for me when it hit hard, when she just wouldn't listen to Kell, or to reason, and I wanted to scream with frustration. But that's the sign of an excellently crafted character, yes? It's not supposed to be easy with Lila, she's not supposed to give in to Kell. This is who she is.
As Kell runs, as he hides, as he searches and prepares, it's because of consequences. Consequences of his own actions and mistakes. Consequences of events from a distant past. Everything is connected, through magic or fate or simple coincidence. Or through Kell. This is all about choices and decisions, which is right and which is wrong, and the ripple effect they have through the worlds. And Kell has to find a way to stop it before everything is ripped apart.
The world-building in this book is so well done. The different Londons, the different worlds, the different levels of magic. All have their similarities but each are described in ways that set them apart, be it a look or a scent or a breeze in the air. The same goes for the characters. Kell's magic, Lila's disguise, the prince of Red London Rhy and his rather charming personality. The king and queen of White London and the stench of magic and death that circle them.
This is all magic mixed with blood, mysterious and complex and complicated characters, and sadistic villains who sit on thrones and play at being royalty. It's a whirlwind of a tale, accidents and fights and dark, dangerous magic that won't stop. Knowing there will be more excites me and I can't help but wonder what will happen next. It could be anything and I have my guesses.
(I received an advance copy of this title to review from Raincoast Books.)