Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication date: February 24, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Magic
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
V.E. Schwab takes 1819 London and transforms it to a dark, magical place. Blood grants access to power. Kell must cut himself, and his blood acts as the catalyst to let him create a door to another universe (and to create other spells). While some have managed to live peacefully in balance with magic, others bind it tightly for ultimate control. The Antari are a rare breed of magician–one fully black eye marks them as magicians powerful enough to travel between alternate universes. Kell is one of two Antari known to the world of magic.
Kell is a conflicted protagonist. He likes to follow the rules and understands the risk of magic–the ease of loosing control. Yet, he’s compelled to risk himself for trading magical objects for trifles like music boxes and maps, even though it’s illegal. He also belongs to the royal family of Red London, and though he feels loved by his adopted brother, the prince regent, Rhys, he can’t help but feel owned. Brought to the royal family at a young age for his rare power, he has no memory of his life before the palace. Despite these doubts, and the danger that befalls him, he’s determined to set things right—and save his world even if he has to sacrifice himself.
Lila is from Grey London—a London that has forgotten magic. Lila is a thief, knows how to defend herself, and is fiercely determined to have an adventure. When her path crosses Kell’s, she leaps at the opportunity to accompany him on his world-saving mission. Kell is reluctant for her companionship, but Lila proves her worth and might have some magic in her blood after all.
I was intrigued by V.E. Schwab’s worlds. She created multiple compelling universes and multidimensional characters in Kell and Lila. And some characters that are so horrible you love to hate them. Magic, itself, was a terribly frightening being.
Sidenote: Dear V. E. Schwab,
I don’t know if you’re going to pursue a romantic relationship between Kell and Lila (I approve. I think they learn from each other and compliment one another), but please please please don’t make it a triangle with Rhys too. I couldn’t tell if that was a hint at the end or not, but if you want to generally please me, which I think you should, just don’t.
This is the first book in a series. I was glad to get a conclusion to the story, and I’m excited to see what adventures Schwab will take these characters on in the next book. We do find out that there aren’t just alternate Londons, Kell’s duty only includes London; so there’s a whole world of alternates to explore!
Would I let my teen read this book?
A Darker Shade of Magic is a dark fantasy. The characters are adults, which makes me wonder what categorizes this as a young adult novel. There was some confusion about this even on the book’s Goodreads page. I don’t think it belongs in the YA category, even though it might be marketed that way. Content-wise, there are many dark themes, violence, some language, attempted sexual abuse, and a disturbing sexual scene. I would not recommend this book for young teens.
Age recommendation: 17
Language – generally mild, but two f-words
Drugs and Alcohol – casual drinking in taverns
Sex – A few friendly kisses; references to characters having many sexual partners (male and female); a sex scene where dark magic is transferred between two people in a brothel.
Violence – Blood drawn multiple times for spells; multiple people stabbed and throats slit; Lila is groped and assaulted, then kills the man; boy gets whipped by tyrants in White London.
My Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Buy: A Darker Shade of Magic on Amazon.com
I read a lot. I'm a Mom. I'm officially in my 30s, but strangers often don't believe I'm old enough to drink. I love Young Adult fiction, and thought it was worthwhile to help teens and adults find age-appropriate options.