Saturday, 24 June 2017
#CBR9 Book 53: "A Darker Shade of Magic" by V.E. Schwab
Rating: 4 stars
In the world of V.E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy, in which this is the first book, there are parallel worlds. There used to be gateways between them, but now only the magical Antari (identified by having one normal and one fully black eyeball) are able to travel through to the various worlds, using their blood and magical ability. Young Kell, fostered with the royal family in Red London is one of these Antari. In each of the four worlds, there is a London, the geographical location of which overlaps. There is Grey London, which is the England of George III, where pretty much all the magic is completely gone and people live more mundane lives. There is Red London, where Kell is from, where magic flows freely. There is white London, where magic is greedily sought after or controlled with an iron hand by whomever currently rules there. And there used to be Black London, but something went badly wrong there, and it's now been completely sealed off to protect the other three worlds.
Kell travels back and forth between worlds as an ambassador. He also likes smuggling small items from one world to the other, selling them to those interested, not so much because he needs the money, but because he loves the thrill. This hobby of his eventually gets him into a lot of trouble, when someone asks him to take an item from White London to Red London, and it turns out he's being set up and suddenly rather a lot of people want to kill him. He flees to Grey London in the hopes of escaping his pursuers. This is where he meets Lila.
Delilah "Lila" Bard is a pickpocket who's been dressing up as a man and made quite a name for herself as a masked thief. She dreams of becoming the captain of her own pirate vessel and escaping her dreary life in London, when a mysterious stranger falls into her path, clearly near death. She steals from him, only to discover to her shock that he is able to materialise in her rooms, having used magic to track her. She ends up saving his life, but demands that he take her along to Red London so she can experience a proper adventure (also, she's pretty sure he's not going to survive his mission without her).
Although it should be impossible for anyone apart from the Antari to cross between worlds, the magical artifact Kell has found himself in possession of seems to help, and soon Kell and Lila are plotting to outsmart their pursuers, fighting to stay alive and racing against time to save all three worlds from magical destruction.
While this book is a bit slow in the beginning, I'd read enough positive reviews from people I trust to stick with it, and once the initial premise of the various Londons and the magical abilities of Kell and his fellow Antari were established, and things really started happening, I was pretty much hooked. It doesn't hurt that the chapters are short, so you keep being tempted to just read that little bit more.
Kell was a pretty cool character, and I would absolutely murder to have his magical coat, but Lila is the one who stole my heart from her very first appearance. She's just so ambitious and brave and morally ambiguous and adventurous. While she's a thief, she's unable to run away, leaving Kell to be killed. She knows that she may be attracting more danger by saving him, but feels she cannot walk away. Once she realises how serious a predicament he (and by association, she) has landed in, she forces him to take her along, fully realising that there's no way he'll manage to solve things on his own.
I found the glimpses of the various Londons rather fascinating, even if I wasn't overly fond of any of the villains. I wish that Rye's character had gotten a bit more page time, as even when he was in danger, it was difficult to care much, as the reader had not got a change to really relate to him. We were told that Kell cared for him, but this should have been shown.
This is a good start to a trilogy, and I'm certainly interested in reading more. I have my suspicions about Lila, there is clearly a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. I liked the hints of romance between her and Kell, but will be just as happy if they just stay friends in the books to come.
Judging a book by its cover: Black, white and red are always eye-catching colours to choose for a cover and I like the hints of Kell's magical multi-sided coat. The overlapping circles of various colours suggesting the various Londons and worlds that Kell can cross to - also a nice touch. It's a good fantasy cover, it makes you interested without being too much.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.