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.
A Darker Shade of Magic has been on my to read list for ages. I heard about it a couple of times, and I follow Victoria Schwab on twitter, so I kept reading about parallel worlds, magic, and pirates. I read and reviewed Vicious, her adult book, and now I finally got around to this one. And let me tell you – I was intrigued from the start! I think the first few chapters are the strongest of the book, because they’re such a great introduction to the world and the characters of A Darker Shade of Magic. The writing just felt magical (unrelated to the book’s subject) and, like with Vicious, I found it very cinematic. Worldbuilding at its best!
The title of the book isn’t just a random phrase that sounds good, it’s a very fitting description of its contents. The characters in A Darker Shade of Magic are very morally ambiguous, and they constantly make questionable decisions. Kell and Lila meet under stressful circumstances, but somehow end up having each other’s backs. I have no idea how it happened, but I’m pretty sure they don’t either. I can hear you think oh no here we go again, insta love, but hold your horses (although I’m guessing you don’t have a horse handy, so, er.. hold your books?) Classifying their relationship as insta love would be laughable; it’s absolutely nothing like that at all.
I liked Kell and I sooort of liked Lila, but the character I wanted to see more of was Rhy. He’s Kell’s adopted brother and heir to the throne of Red London. He’s shown as this charming, sexually prolific prince, but there’s one part in the book where Kell talks to Lila about him and tells her something that shows that Rhy’s really effing kind, which is why I’d like to get to know him better. Lila on the other hand is anything but kind. She’s a thief, not above killing when she feels she has to and trusts no one but herself. She aspires to be a pirate and, truthfully, she’d probably make a great one. In fact, she’s kind of Jack Sparrow-like – MIGHT help you if she likes you and she feels like it, but just as likely to run off in search of a great adventure. Kell is somewhere between Lila and Rhy – he’s not very battle-experienced, but he’s a smuggler and not a stranger to killing either. I wasn’t always comfortable with the decisions Kell and Lila make, but I applaud Victoria Schwab for taking chances and making her characters imperfect.
So as mentioned I liked the world and the characters are interesting, but I wasn’t 100% satisfied with the plot. It takes a while for the story to take off, and then it’s a little vague and standard. The characters are often just travelling around somewhat aimlessly, and I struggled to see where things were going. I would have wished for a tighter, more interesting plot. Even though we see most of the story through Kell and Lila’s eyes, there were quite a few POVs. I usually hate that, but there was actually a valid reason for it in this book and it was well executed. I still didn’t like it much, because it always takes me a few sentences to realize whose POV I’m dealing with and whether I should care about that person, but I can’t complain because for once the choice made sense.
All in all, I’m giving this 4.5 cupcakes. I had some minor issues with the book, but the world and the writing sucked me in and reminded me of how fascinated I’d get with new worlds in my childhood. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel!