Shades of Magic #1
by V.E. Schwab
Published on February 24, 2015 by Tor
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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Kell 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.
A man who walks through walls. A cross-dressing thief hidden in shadows. A London by any other
name color. Schwab’s first book in the Shades of Magic series is one of the most captivating fantasies I’ve read to date. The worlds Kell visits intrigue and inspire a whole new kind of magic.
Kell is an Antari, one of two throughout the four Londons, in fact. And yes, there are four Londons: Grey, Red, White, and Black. Of course they each have a name past a singular color but this is how they’re most easily distinguished throughout the novel. At first, I expected a mishap to set the story on its promising action-packed path. Kell acts as a means of communication between the rulers of each of the Londons so something is bound to go wrong, right?
It does, but not in the way I expected. Kell has a…quirk, if you will. He collects things, trinkets from each of the worlds. Of course, that’s expressively forbidden. This marks the beginning of something much bigger than a single man when a piece of Black London — a world that was left to die — reappears in the other worlds. Which is how we meet Lila, the cross-dressing shadow thief from Grey London.
These characters were perfect. Truly. Kell has this whole “duty first” kind of attitude, a little standoffish but loyal and loving to his adoptive family in Red London. They raised him much higher than most. Yet there’s an element of his past and a lack of memories from an early age that make me want more. I need more. I have to know what his backstory is! And Lila acted as the energetic sassy balance. She exudes confidence but underneath it all wants a place of her own, a place where she belongs. Lila has dreams and aspirations. She steals but she sees the world as it is, the good and the bad. This thief is far from helpless but there’s a certain level of vulnerability to her character that connects her and Kell as they team up to stop a true evil from awakening in their worlds.
And let me just say, those Londons? Amazing. Each is distinctive not just in name but characteristics. You feel it each time Kell steps through a wall into the next city. Grey London is what you’d expect from our world set a couple centuries back. It’s dark and dreary and magicless. Red London blooms with life and color, rich with magic to the point of overflowing. White London strikes fear, washed out and controlled by power-hungry twins on a throne of blood. And Black London…it just isn’t there anymore, or so goes the tale.
I saw a quiz online to determine what London you belong in and decided on a whim to take it. Like Lila, I’m a Grey London inhabitant but I think I would also want to explore the other worlds much as she does.
So what London do you belong in? Read A Darker Shade of Magic and find out! If you love fantastic adventures, imaginative worlds, and striking characters, this is the book for you.