Like most, if not all readers, I’m always on the lookout for new reads, and authors. I subscribe to several bookish sites which regularly feature new and upcoming authors and their novels, look back on best-loved Classics, and also recommend books for every occasion / interest, etc.
Sometime in 2016, I came across an npr.org article reviewing V.E. Schwab‘s novel adult novel (as opposed to Young-Adult novel, 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 in my mind as a book I’ll look out for, but won’t necessarily go out of my way to buy. Luckily, several months later, I saw the novel in one of my favorite bookstores. I bought the book in June, but 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, or it could have been because the book I read before it was a total downer, or it could have been the magic of Christmas itself…but whatever it was, the book got me hooked and reeled me in from page one!
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 London, in a world where there exists not just one London – the London that we are all familiar with, but 4 Londons, where magic plays an important role in how the cities and its inhabitants lived, thrived, and survived. The main character in A Darker Shade of Magic is Kell, a rare and special kind of magician who can travel to the 4 different Londons he distinguishes as Grey London – for the London we all know, the one without magic; Red London, as his home, where magic is in harmony with everyone and everything; White London, a city at war with itself and with magic, which it believes must be enslaved and commanded; and Black London, the one with the most magic, destroyed long ago by its own power and folly.
Kell regularly visits the 3 Londons as a special envoy to each city’s rulers, but to satisfy his own curiosity about their culture and lifestyle, so different from his own magical world, he developed a unique hobby 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, a street smart, pick-pocket, whose fate suddenly becomes entangled to 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 been able to before.
Their story, an adventure filled with magic, mayhem, its fair share of young adult angst – that and a possibility of a budding romance, is nothing out of the ordinary, if you really look at it. To be honest, the story took a totally different direction from what I thought (and hoped) the book was going to be about. But it’s the unique worlds, magical concepts, and characters which makes A Darker Shade of Magic truly magical. V.E. Schwab draws you into Kell’s world in such a way that you will forget, (and ultimately forgive), that it took a hundred or so pages for the story to actually begin, and that that actual story will leave 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 non-magical characters. Whatever it is, it succeeded in making an immensely readable and enjoyable book. It’s the kind of book that you want to keep reading, uninterrupted, but don’t want to end; thankfully it’s a 3-part series. And it’s the kind of book that keeps you up at night reading into the wee hours of the morning (only to curse yourself later because now you’ve read so much of the book), 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