Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

"No London is truly without magic."

Published February 24, A Darker Shade of Magic is the second novel from V.E. Schwab. The author, who also writes YA fiction (hello The Archived and The Unbound!) as Victoria Schwab, has once again proven her ability to craft rich, fantastical stories regardless of intended audience age. A Darker Shade of Magic brings to life a world in which there are four parallel Londons, and a man named Kell who can travel between them. As one of the last Antari, Kell serves as ambassador for his home London, but gets ensnared in a plot that puts all four worlds into peril.

Let it be said that Schwab is a master of world building. The setting itself was such a presence in this novel. The very concept of four parallel Londons, each named a color that represents its relationship with magic, demands to be read. I felt inspired as a reader just by this very premise. Red London is full of magic and prospers from it. In White London, magic is scarce and fought over in a kingdom ruled by malevolent twins. Grey London is ordinary, a world dull with barely even the memory of magic. Black London, where people allowed themselves to be consumed by magic, was closed off from the others - no one speaks of it anymore. Schwab makes magic its own character, and the way it's represented throughout the book is incredibly intricate and luscious (magic smells of flowers. flowers.) Magic is so present as an entity in ADSOM: Kell, weak and desperate, is able to travel by simply asking the magic nicely. Seriously?! I mean...yes. Yes.

Ah, this world! I'd like an entire book on each London, please. The world building, intricate on its own and then woven with a magic system tied to elements and blood, does not get bogged down in some info dump. Rather, it unfolds throughout the novel - truly one of the most successful aspects of ADSOM. It also takes up nearly the entire first half of the book, which didn't bother me as it would in other books, other world. That is simply because it was so richly done.

The first half of ADSOM introduces us to this world of Londons, and to Kell. One of the last of his kind, Kell serves as an ambassador for Red London, but also smuggles items between worlds. Kell would make a brilliant Doctor Who, just saying. A solitary traveler with a magic coat and a penchant for trinkets from other worlds - it's hard not to be enamored with Kell. Considered part of the royal family, he still feels more like a possession than person, and hides the black eye that marks him as Antari. It's not until nearly halfway that he meets Delilah Bard, the pickpocket aspiring pirate who has bigger plans for herself. The two are rapidly caught up in a ploy that takes them across each London in order to save them all.

I was a bit unsure how to feel about Lila. I love that she's tough and clever, but at times in the beginning her character came a bit close to cliche.  But as the story develops, so does your understanding (and my appreciation) of Lila. She joins Kell on this incredible journey and still remains true to who she is. I felt like the ending really solidified this for me, and I appreciated that Lila wasn't there to be Kell's love interest. There's little to no romance in this book, but that felt appropriate. And for perhaps the first time, I didn't want a romance. I was so focused on the conflict that it was relief to not have ill-paced and timed insta-love in the middle of all that action. Now, in future installments...

The ending of ADSOM was left open ended - not in a cliffhanger fashion, but rather in the sense that anything could happen in the next book. The audience wasn't presented with a new villain or threat, so who knows what ADSOM2 will bring. That's honestly a huge reason why I'm looking forward to it already. Schwab could have made this a very successful stand alone, but she's got enough up her sleeve for an entire trilogy - and that's got me intrigued.

I truly enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic, and am pleased that Schwab delivered another brilliant novel. She's become a favorite author of mine, and her versatility is apparent to anyone who reads her words. It should be clear by now that if Victoria Schwab writes it, I'm going to read it. And love it.

GoodReads rating: 4.5/5 stars

Which London would you want to live in? I like the idea of Red London, but you've got to admit there's something intriguing about Black London...

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