The fates of four parallel worlds collide in V.E. Schwab‘s A Darker Shade of Magic, the first in a trilogy of high-concept fantasy novels from the Monsters of Verity author. Pairing a plane-shifting magician with a ne’er-do-well teenage pirate, Schwab invites readers into a world in which magic is real, and another version of their home is only a token away.
A Darker Shade of Magic centers on Kell, the court Antari — the word used to denote the aforementioned plane-shifting magician class — from Red London, the third of four parallel versions of the famous city. Red London sits between magic-less Grey London — our world, where King George III has already gone mad — and the war-torn White London, which is ruled over by twins whose magical abilities ensure that no one will ever challenge them for the throne. On the other side of White London lies Black London, a land destroyed long ago by black magic that threatened to take over all four worlds. Since then, the doors between the planes have been sealed, and only Antari like Kell and the White London agent called Holland may travel from one world to the next.
As you can imagine, keeping the four Londons separate is of tantamount importance, what with Black London poised to infect the rest of the known multiverse with its evil magic. Kell frequently smuggles small trinkets between White, Red, and Grey Londons, selling them to collectors to line his pockets. But when he is set up with a powerful artifact from Black London, and loses it to a Grey London pickpocket named Lila Bard, Kell’s history of petty crime catches up to him, and fast. The artifact is a runestone that allows anyone to use magic, simply by willing things to happen, and it has the power to animate and infect those who come into contact with it. Departing from Grey London, Kell and Lila must race to return the rune to Black London before it falls into the wrong hands.
A Darker Shade of Magic proceeds at a breakneck pace, following Kell from world to world, stopping only occasionally to introduce Lila and other important characters. Schwab’s secondary cast members feel three-dimensional, but the novel breezes past many compelling stories in its effort to keep the plot moving. In doing so, Schwab risks leaving some readers feeling as if they’ve been forced to leave behind potential favorite characters in the wake of her novel’s fast-paced narrative. Rest assured, however, that these characters, once mentioned, will undoubtedly show up again, even if they do not stay around for long.
Although it goes by quickly, A Darker Shade of Magic introduces a compelling fantasy world worth spending your time in. Gamers beware, you’ll crave adventures of your own in Kell and Lila’s world. If you’re a fast reader, you’ll want to have the sequels on hand when you begin reading A Darker Shade of Magic, because as soon as you close one cover, you’ll be dying to open the next.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.
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Image credit: Florian Giorgio