Like most, if not all readers, I’m always on the lookout for new reads and authors. I subscribe to several bookish sites that regularly feature new and upcoming authors and their novels, look back on best-loved Classics, and recommend books for every occasion/taste.
Sometime in 2016, I came across an npr.org article reviewing V.E. Schwab‘s adult novel (as opposed to a Young Adult novel and not because it’s obscene…) A Darker Shade of Magic. I scanned the article (lest there by spoilers) and was intrigued by the general description of the novel. I filed it away in the back of my mind as a book I’ll look out for but not necessarily go out of my way to buy. Luckily, several months later, I saw the novel in one of my favorite bookstores. I bought it in June, and it sat on my shelf, wrapped and unopened, until Christmas day 2016. A few pages into the book, I berated myself for keeping it on my shelf unread for so long. It could have been because I was hiding out in my car on Christmas day to avoid relatives, because the book I read before it was a total downer, or because of the magic of Christmas itself…whatever it was, I was hooked from page 1!
V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in her Shades of Magic trilogy. The story takes place in 1819 in a world where there exists not one London, the one we are all familiar with, but four Londons, where magic plays an important role in how the cities and their inhabitants live, thrive, and survive. The main character of A Darker Shade of Magic is Kell, a rare and special kind of magician who can travel to the four different Londons he distinguishes as Grey London, which is the one we all know and the one without magic; Red London, which is his home, where magic is in harmony with everyone and everything; White London, which is a city at war with itself and with magic, which it believes must be enslaved and commanded; and Black London, with the most magic, which was destroyed long ago by its power and folly.
Kell regularly visits the three Londons as a special envoy to each city’s rulers and to satisfy his own curiosity about their cultures and lifestyles, which are so different from his magical world. In the course of his court function, he developed a habit of collecting trinkets belonging to the other worlds and transporting (smuggling), them to his own world, secretly. It is one such instance that leads him to inadvertently transport an object of great power from one city to his own, the consequences of which will prove dire and far reaching. During his misadventure, he literally bumps into Lila Bard in Grey London, who is a street smart pickpocket and whose fate suddenly becomes entangled with his own, possibly forever. Lila has never met anyone like Kell, (and vice versa), and in their short time together, she got to see and do things she had never done and seen before.
Their story, which is an adventure filled with magic, mayhem, its fair share of young adult angst, and a possible budding romance, is nothing extraordinary if you really look at it. To be honest, the story took a totally different direction from what I was expecting, but it is the unique worlds, magical concepts, and characters that make A Darker Shade of Magic truly magical. V.E. Schwab draws you into Kell’s world in such a way that you will forget that it took a hundred or so pages for the story to actually begin and that the story left you a bit wanting.
I don’t know what it is exactly that makes A Darker Shade of Magic such a captivating read. Perhaps it’s the well-combined elements of imaginative world building and the creation of lovable many-sided magical and nonmagical characters. Whatever it is, it succeeded in making an immensely readable and enjoyable book. It’s the kind of book you’d want to keep reading, uninterrupted, but won’t want to end. Thankfully it’s a three-part series. It’s the kind of book that will keep you up at night reading into the wee hours of the morning (only to curse yourself later because now you’ve read so much), and in my experience, it’s the kind of book that will keep you sane during the holidays.
A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) (2015) – V.E. Schwab
Tor; 398 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 4/5