Tuesday, 26 July 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E Schwab
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Series: #1 in the Shades of Magic series
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tor Books
First Published: February 24, 2015
First Line: "Kell wore a very peculiar coat."

Book Description from GoodReadsKell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that 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 take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

My Review: V.E Schwab has written a unique historical fantasy read set within the YA genre. There's action, magic and even a want-to-be pirate.  She gives her readers strong characters, an interesting premise with some great twists all within fantastically unique settings.

In this world there are four different London's existing in parallel universes, each with their own degree of magic which has affected each city in significantly different ways.  Grey London which is quite similar to our own world, has no magic and is unaware of any of the other Londons.  White London has a darker kind of magic with constant power struggles where the weak are held in check by the powerful.  Red London is well-to-do and uses magic to benefit its people.  They realize there are other magical realms but since they live lavishly and safely they have no need to bother with worlds outside their own.  Finally, there was Black London which succumbed to darker magic leading the other London's to seal all gateways to it and assume that Black London destroyed itself.

Only a select few, called Antari, can travel between the different worlds.  This is where Kell comes in.  He is an Antari and uses his ability to relay messages from royalty between the different realms ... as well as smuggle, what he deems as innocent, artifacts between the Londons.  When one of his smuggling missions puts him in danger he is forced to rely on Lila, a thief from Grey London whose only goals are to survive and find adventure.  Unfortunately, Kell and Lila have many enemies who are out to get them and Lila may get more adventure than she bargained for.

This book started off quite strong.  Schwab clearly describes her unique setting with the various Londons and I was really drawn to Kell and, even more so, Lila. She's feisty, doesn't put up with a lot of guff and plays by her own set of rules.  Kell is quite powerful in his own right and struggles to find where he truly fits in.  He makes mistakes and finds himself relying on Lila, a common street thief.  There are some decent twists and I enjoyed that no one is who they seem - except maybe the villains who were evil-to-the-core nasties who didn't appear to have any redeeming qualities.

I'd give the first half of the book a solid 4 stars but my rating of the second half faltered to a three when my attention started to wain about two-thirds through.  The ending seemed a bit rushed and felt like it fell into place a little too easily.  I also wasn't fond that I was left with quite a few unanswered questions.

This book is all about brilliant world building with unique characters and ruthless villains. And while the ending was a little lackluster after all of the build up I can't help but think that things will be explained better in the second installment of this series, A Gathering of Shadows (Feb 2015).  Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure.

Favourite Quotes

"I'm not going to die," she said. "Not till I've seen it."
"Seen what?"
Her smile widened. "Everything."

"You know so little of war. Battles may be fought from the outside in, but wars are won from the inside out."

"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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