Book reviews / Fantasy / Top picks

Book review: A Darker Shade of Magic

I can’t remember how I came across this book, probably another random search of ‘best sci fi women 2015’ or something like that. Even though it isn’t sci-fi, it’s still a pretty good read.

I was very nearly not going to get it as the list made me hate all fantasy novels. However, V E Schwab has made me reconsider my potential ban on the genre.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in what is so far a 3-book series. It takes place in an unspecified time but I think it’s probably the 16th or 17th century. One of the main characters is the delightful Delilah (Lila) Bard, a thief who wants to be a pirate. The other main character is Kell, an Antari or magician. Though what makes him special is that he can travel to different Londons (think parallel universes). There’s Grey London (pretty much our world with no magic), Red London where Kell lives (which has lots of magic), White London (which is magic poor) and Black London (which was sealed off because it went bad).

The monarchs of the 3 remaining London’s communicate, kept in touch with the two remaining Antari, Kell and Holland, who can make doors to travel through to each of them.

The main plot kicks in quite late (my main criticism of the book is that it takes a little too long to get going) when Kell is handed a mysterious object to take from White London to Red London. It turns out to be a bad thing from Black London and immediately he’s being chased for it by other magicians and also Holland, who is forced to do a lot of things he doesn’t want by his monarchs in White London (who are vicious and awful).

In his attempt to escape from all the people trying to murder him, he travels to grey London where he’s pickpocketed by Lila, which is how she gets involved in the whole saga.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot but it’s obvious that Kell and Lila team up and save the day. I really enjoyed both the characters, Lila especially. I think she gets the best line in the book.

Rhy laughed silently. “I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”

She’s a tough street kid, full of knives and guns and there’s no fucking about with her not being able to fight (or kill people). From the get go, we know she’s no pushover and there’s never a time where she suddenly questions what she’s been doing or wants to be more girly. When there’s a time she has to get all dressed up, she dresses like a guy, retains all her weapons and swaggers up to the party. Brilliant.

While I think it doesn’t have a gender balance, it’s still pretty good with it’s female characters. Lots of the generic soldiers are all male, but those with speaking parts and generally pretty good. So there’s Kell and Lila as main characters, the King and Queen of Red London, the twins in White London who are brother and sister. But then there’s also Rhys (Kell’s brother) and Holland (the other Antari). But some of the miscellaneous characters balance out. For example, there are two inns/pubs in differen Londons with one having a male owner and the other having a female owner. It does totally pass the test though.

Anyway, if you like fantasy novels, give it a whirl. It’s interesting and I love the central conceit of different Londons. The worlds are great and so are Kell and Lila who are the stars of the show. I’m reasonably certain I’m going to pick up the sequels. I give it 4/5 stars.

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